The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School is getting a $50 million gift to double the number of graduates who intend to pursue careers in serving the public interest.
The gift from the Robert and Jane Toll Foundation will fund three-year scholarships for students who are committed to a public interest or government career to participate in the Toll Public Interest Scholars and Fellows Program.
“The goal is for those students to graduate with very little debt so they have the financial flexibility to take more impactful jobs, jobs which usually pay much less than private practice,” said Ted Ruger, dean of Penn Law. “We’ll be able to double the number of those scholarships from seven to 14. It’s really important for our country right now.”
The Toll Foundation’s $50 million donation, which will launch in 2021, is the largest gift in history to be devoted entirely to the training and support of public interest lawyers, according to Penn Law, and among the 10 largest gifts ever to a law school in the U.S.
It’s hoped that the graduates would work as public defenders, or in such areas as civil rights, environmental protection, consumer rights, and social justice.
“The timing could not be more important, as our country acknowledges how inadequately our criminal justice system and other institutions have responded to the country’s long history of racism and inequality,” Penn president Amy Gutmann said in a statement. “The Tolls’ visionary philanthropy firmly places Penn Carey Law in a preeminent position to support a new generation of leaders to do the substantial work required for serious reform.”
Robert Toll — the billionaire who founded the luxury home builder Toll Brothers with his sibling Bruce — graduated from Penn Law in 1966; Jane Toll graduated from Penn’s Graduate School of Education the same year.
Their gift also will allow for current law students who decide to pursue “a more publicly spirited career” to transfer during their second year into the Toll Fellows program, Ruger said. The foundation money will pick up the cost of tuition for those students with scholarships midstream.
“It was important to us and the Tolls to have two pathways into the program,” Ruger said. “Not every student knows exactly what pathway they want to take when they first start out.”
Tuition and fees at Penn Law are about $69,130 a year, and living expenses can tack on an additional $26,000 or more.
Though it can seem as if the country is overrun with lawyers, Ruger said the pandemic has exposed “a big gap in access to legal services,” especially for poor people and small businesses.
“What’s clear is that there’s a number of legal and social problems that would benefit from innovative lawyering,” Ruger said, “and to enable students to graduate with vastly reduced debt so that they might pursue those solutions is more important now than ever. We know these grads will be able to hit the ground running to solve those problems.”