In this issue of Vanderbilt Law, we celebrate the endowment of the George Barrett Social Justice Program by Darren Robbins ’93. Darren first met George Barrett ’57 in 1997 when he was seeking a Nashville-based co-counsel in a securities fraud case. Despite the fact that George graduated from law school before Darren was born, the two became fast friends and often worked together. After George’s death in 2014, Darren decided to honor his friend and mentor’s fierce commitment to civil rights and social justice by endowing the law school’s social justice program.
An endowed program has a significant positive impact on the law school. A reliable pool of available resources enables us to make long-term strategic plans to maximize our success and productivity. In addition to strengthening our offerings in a particular area, a program endowment meaningfully improves our ability to recruit students and to recruit and retain faculty.
For example, Vanderbilt’s Cecil D. Branstetter Litigation and Dispute Resolution Program was endowed in 2005 through a cy pres award. That gift has permitted us to bolster our litigation-related curriculum and programming, support expanded faculty research, and provide summer stipends to students who do unpaid litigation-related work. We are also now able to invite nationally prominent judges to the law school each year to work with our faculty and students. During the decade since we received this endowment, our litigation and dispute resolution program has grown stronger and gained national and international visibility, enhancing our law school’s reputation.
Immediate beneficiaries of the George Barrett Social Justice Program’s expanded resources include Nathan Walsh ’16, our first George Barrett Social Justice Fellow, and five Vanderbilt Law students, including Darrius Woods ’17 and Carly Myers ’17, who received George Barrett Summer Stipends to defray their living expenses while working pro bono for legal advocacy organizations this summer. Nathan, Darrius and Carly are featured on this issue’s cover.
Social justice legal work is challenging, rewarding and, all too often, low-paying. Despite the low pay, the job market for public interest positions is extremely competitive. Fellowships such as those sponsored by the Skadden Foundation help young lawyers launch careers with social justice advocacy organizations by paying their salary and benefits for two years of work. Going forward, we plan to award two George Barrett Social Justice Fellowships each year to deserving graduates, as well as to invest in faculty and program development, build on our longstanding commitment to support students’ public interest aspirations, and instill the ethic of volunteering for pro bono legal work in all of our graduates.
The most exciting thing about endowments is that some of their most important benefits are impossible to predict. Last spring, Darrius conceived of, organized and garnered funding from the George Barrett Social Justice Program and other sources for 16 VLS students to travel to New Orleans and spend a week working pro bono for the Orleans Public Defenders, the New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. I can’t wait to see what other student- and faculty-initiated projects will be inspired and funded, fully or in part, by the George Barrett Social Justice Program.
Dean and John Wade–Kent Syverud Professor of Law