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April 2, 2001

EPIC group becoming
'conscience of law school'

By Stacia Brown


While the School of Law may be best known for churning out skilled corporate lawyers, big businesses aren’t the only recipients of Gambrell Hall’s best and brightest.

With the financial and networking assistance of the student-governed Emory Public Interest Committee (EPIC),law students are enjoying increasing numbers of opportunities to provide legal aid to impoverished communities.

EPIC might sound like a dream come true for law students interested in public service. Its evolution, however, sounds more like a hard day’s—or decade’s—work. Lynne Tucker, co-president of EPIC and a second-year law student, said continuity in leadership has been a challenge for the 12-year-old organization.

“Our board changes every year because we’re completely student-led,” Tucker said. “Without the support of Sue McAvoy [in the law school’s Career Services], we would have no clear sense of our own institutional history.”

The challenges EPIC has faced make its successes all the more remarkable. This year, the group raised approximately $45,000 for its public interest internship program through EPIC’s annual Inspiration Awards ceremony, which honors local attorneys for outstanding service in the public interest field. Individual ticketholders and local firms chime in to promote the event and help raise money.

Corporate firms are among their largest contributors: King & Spalding, Hunton & Williams, and Sutherland Ashbill & Brennan were last year’s most generous sponsors.

“The money raised from the Inspiration Awards is divided into a number of $4,000 summer grants,” said EPIC’s other co-president, Kelli Zappas. “Students interested in public interest law go out into their communities and find their own internship. Then they come to us and apply for funding.”

Last year EPIC received 17 applications for 12 internship slots at agencies like the Truancy Intervention Project in Atlanta, the DeKalb district attorney’s office’s Crimes Against Children Unit, the Upper Chattahoochee River Keeper, and the U.S. Equal Employment Commission in Atlanta.

While such agencies are well known for their ethical clout, they are less known for their financial prosperity. “Public interest organizations can’t spend a lot of money recruiting good lawyers with the same intensity that corporations can,” Tucker said.

With that impediment in mind, EPIC’s leaders have set twin goals: to help law students get connected with the needs of the community, and to help public interest agencies get connected with law students.

In February, EPIC joined with Georgia State, Georgia Tech and Mercer Univesrity to sponsor a public interest career forum for law students. More than 50 organizations participated, and students from across the state showed up seeking internships and job opportunities.

EPIC’s role in the forum—and in many other projects—has been aided by the presence of its alumni advisory board, a group of Emory law alums actively engaged in promoting the organization’s presence in both the corporate and nonprofit communities.

“The alumni are our most important link to job opportunities and to corporate funding,” Zappas said. “They’ve played a large role in the successes we’ve enjoyed these past few years.”

Zappas and Tucker are already thinking like alumni themselves; they’ve set EPIC’s sights on a long-range target: loan forgiveness programs.

“When we leave Emory, we will walk out of here with anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 in loans,” Tucker said. “Someone desperately needs to revive the loan forgiveness program that was once in place at the law school. Students who move into public interest jobs are never going to make the kind of money necessary to pay off their debts.”

A loan forgiveness program, in Tucker’s vision, would offer financial incentives to public interest work. Students who commit themselves to a certain number of years in public interest fields would have some or all of their loans paid by the program EPIC is trying to establish.

Zappas admits that the amount of work involved in directing EPIC can sometimes be difficult in and of itself.

“As a full-time student, I don’t have many hours to spare,” she said. “But EPIC is worth it. It’s become the conscience of the law school.”


Back to Emory Report April 2, 2001