On May 18th, The Public Interest Law Project celebrated its 15th Anniversary in the Sky Room of Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP in downtown San Francisco. Private and public interest attorneys, community advocates, clients, family and friends from throughout the Bay Area assembled to enjoy the breathtaking views and to honor an organization that has expanded considerably since its inception in 1996. In that year, Congress prohibited the use of federal legal services funding to bring class actions or lobby on behalf of low-income persons, leaving them without critical legal advocacy to protect and enforce their rights. Mike Rawson and Steve Ronfeldt, Co-Directors, established PILP to provide the major litigation and legislative and administrative advocacy for which federal funds would no longer be available. They began as a “two-person operation,” relying first upon a grant from the Legal Aid Society of Alameda County and then primarily upon attorneys fees from successful litigation, and funding from the State Bar Legal Services Trust Program (“IOLTA”) as a state support center for local legal services programs.
Fifteen years later, PILP has more than tripled its staff, and now includes six permanent attorneys, a private firm fellow, a legal assistant, an administrator, and an accountant. “The Public Interest Law Project has one of the most effective, creative and dedicated teams of public interest lawyers in the country,” says Bill Hebert, State Bar President and a PILP Board member. PILP attorneys have litigated over 200 high impact cases, drafted key legislation, provided critical training and expertise in affordable housing and public benefits to legal services field programs throughout California, and produced results benefiting tens of thousands of low-income individuals and families.
PILP’s success is rooted in its close relationship with the legal services community. In almost all of its cases, PILP co-counsels with a local legal services program, most recently including Bay Area Legal Aid, California Rural Legal Assistance, Legal Services of Northern California, Public Counsel and others. PILP’s strength reflects the dedication, skill, and trust of the local legal services programs that PILP serves and views as full partners in executing its mission.
PILP’s success also is due to its strong relationships with major law firms such as Paul Hastings LLP, Bingham McCutcheon LLP, Morrison & Forrester LLP, Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP, and Altshuler Berzon LLP. The combined firepower of PILP, legal services programs, and private firms enables us to provide high quality representation to low-income individuals, families, and communities whose rights we vindicate.
To honor just a few of some of its valued partners, PILP took the opportunity at its anniversary event to acknowledge Paul Hastings LLP, Bay Area Legal Aid, and Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett for their distinguished leadership, service and commitment, and PILP’s client Parent Voices for its advocacy on behalf of affordable child care. PILP also recognized its superb and committed Board members, several of whom have served since PILP’s inception.
From its modest beginning in 1996, PILP has become a powerful advocate for the disadvantaged, helping to ensure their access to justice after legal services programs’ hands were tied. PILP’s 15th anniversary celebration on May 18th brought California’s public interest law community together to acknowledge our shared successes and common mission. We thank all who attended, whether in person or in spirit.