Friday, November 06, 2009

What Will the PILA Grant Situation Be Like This Year?

On the calendar, two important invents: first, the PILA auction is next week, November 14th - the cost is 35 dollars, which is the same as it has been the last two years (can we give a hat-tip to PILA here, who has not succumbed to the "inflation in a time of deflation" mentality that has caused the Law School to raise tuition by almost 10% in the same period? Yes we can!). Will there be another email telling students that it's OK if they get wrecked because there "no drink limit at the event" (emphasis in original)? One can only hope . . .

Second, the applications for 2L PILA grants were due yesterday at Five PM. We're going to go out on a huge limb here and say that given the economy and the effect that it has had on second-year OGI, there are going to be more PILA applications than ever before.

Which also means that a lot of students are going to go home empty handed: Although PILA has always been somewhat clandestine about the total number of students who apply for grants versus the total number who receive them, we know that last year 66 first-years and 15 second-years were awarded PILA grants, from what as a record setting number of applications (breaking the previous year's record of "well over a hundred").

There's an interesting phenomenon here: many more first-years got grants than second-years. We know as a matter of fact that many second-years were in fact denied grants (some in both cycles - second-years can apply in the fall and the spring), while many first years received them.

Will this year be different? Should it be?

Most of you have already heard my shtick on the funding process in general, but for those of you who missed it:
All students who meet the qualifications set by PILA would be given money, first from PILA’s fundraising efforts and matching Law School Foundation grants, and then from the Law School’s operating budget or endowment. However, if any of those students went on to a lucrative career in private practice (either the next summer or immediately upon graduation), then the grant would “convert” into a loan, either interest-free or with a small amount of interest keyed to inflation, and the student would have to repay the balance in full to the source from which it came.

Several law schools use a similar system, and it would have the benefit not only of strengthening the Law School’s commitment to public service but also letting students who wouldn’t have gotten PILA grants under the current system spend their summer doing good without having to take out more private loans at steep interest rates.

It should be noted (to allay some confusion) that when we say we want "guaranteed funding", we're not advocating the argument that the school should just take over funding all of the grants and give grants to everyone, at least not at this stage: that would almost certainly lead to further increases in tuition that UVA Law students can ill-afford right now (see UC-Berkeley - guaranteed summer grant funding, but $48,152.50 out-of-state tuition - makes UVA look cheap!)

But let's assume for a moment that we can't do any of that, we feel that all second-years should receive priority in getting summer funding before any first-years. Here's why:
  • Historically, second-year students have a much higher expectation of making money than first-year students: in a normal economy, most of students spent their second summer at a lucrative firm job. That many won't be doing so this year is a short of an unexpected shortfall which - one could argue - means from a planning standpoint such students might need the money more. This is related to the next point . . .
  • PILA has said that one of its criteria in deciding to whom to award grants is to what extent the summer job in question furthers the student's career goals. Historically, students are far more likely to return to the place where their second-year summer is spent as opposed to their first-year summer, assuming that they are different. This means two things: First, the student would conceivably have a better chance of returning to the a summer public interest job in the same field and/or location 2L year than 1L year (we just think this intuitively true - we can't cite anything to show it). Second, there's a probably going to be greater financial need, as it's more likely that students will spend their 2L summer either away from Charlottesville or their original home (i.e. where their parents live) if applicable.
  • From a rather simple-but-broad balancing of the equities standpoint: First-years still have a shot of earning big bucks their second-year summer - and indeed, many first years who received PILA grants did, in fact, go to firms their second-year summer, and proceeded to start at those firms after graduation. Second-years spending their summers in public interest will not have the opportunity to make $ 36k+ in twelve weeks, so that should be considered. Of course, this rationale gets muted somewhat when you consider the first-years who will spend their first- and second-year summers in public interest and therefore have won't be spending either summer at a firm (which is why we believe our "convertible loan" idea makes the most sense! But that's for another day . . .)
Of course, it's certainly not our place to tell PILA how to disburse its money that its members work so hard raising. Our take on the situation is simply from a "what would be the most fair" perspective (which obviously raises all kinds of challenges on its own). So please, give your own two cents in the comments, anonymously if you wish.

PILA Website
PILA Provides Record $378,000 in Grants [Virginia Law]
PILA Sees Increased Applications for Grants (Spring 2009) [Law Weekly]
PILA, Redux (links to the coverage the Law Weekly did on the fallout from 2 years ago when a lot of folks weren't able to get PILA grants - lots of different viewpoints)


Anonymous said...

"it's certainly not our place to tell PILA how to disburse its money that its members work so hard raising"

Have to disagree here. PILA, as I understand it, is more of a public trust -- the law school doesn't provide summer funding b/c PILA does it, so PILA's distributions should be both entirely public AND subject to at least some oversight/input by the student body and administration. A good bit of the "hard work" raising money comes from events like the PILA Auction and Rock-a-PILA that only work because the whole student body turns out in support (buying fairly expensive tickets and drinks that, frankly, I think we wouldn't buy except that we want to support our fellow students).

So I think while we should defer to the institution to which we have delegated these decisions, they shouldn't have carte blanche.

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