Law Schools

'Social entrepreneurs' awarded grants from their alma mater, Harvard Law

Two Harvard alumni are launching a nonprofit civil rights law firm, thanks to a new program that awards grants to grads working in public service, including grads who create their own jobs.

It’s the first law school program to offer grants for “social entrepreneurs,” according to a press release. The program, called the Public Service Venture Fund, selects seed grant recipients from law students and recent alumni who identify unmet legal needs and develop initiatives to meet them. The fund also provides “salary support” for grads working at existing organizations.

The new civil rights firm will be called Equal Justice Under Law. Its founders are two 2008 graduates, Alec Karakatsanis, who litigates criminal and civil rights cases in the District of Columbia Public Defender Service, and Phil Telfeyan, a trial lawyer in the Justice Department’s civil rights division. In the press release, Karakatsanis criticizes mass incarceration and says the new firm provides “the opportunity to strike at the financial interests and incentives that have corrupted our justice system.”

Also receiving a seed grant is David Wertime, a 2007 Harvard law graduate who co-founded Tea Leaf Nation, a news site that gauges Chinese citizen sentiment by analyzing the Chinese Internet.

Thirteen other law grads were awarded grants for working at existing public service jobs.

Those awarded seed grants are paid $80,000 a year, including a $45,000 stipend, with the expectation the grant will be renewed a second year. (Since they are working together, Karakatsanis and Telfeyan will share overhead support.) Those who are working in an existing nonprofit or government agency will receive $45,000. The Public Service Venture Fund will award up to $1 million each year.

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