Law School labors on Promise

Members of a Yale Law School clinic helped draft the multi-million dollar agreement between the University and the city that resulted in the New Haven Promise.

Lindsey Luebchow LAW ’11, student director of the Education Reform group in the Community and Development clinic at the law school, said she and her colleagues mediated the negotiation over funding between Yale, the Community Foundation of New Haven and the New Haven Board of Education. The group, which works to close the achievement gap in New Haven, also helped draft several other contracts for the Promise, including one for office space, and participated in non-legal aspects of the program launch such as creating brochures and materials for the program.

“The clinic allows law and other graduate students to get involved in the ground-breaking education reform efforts happening in our backyard,” Leubchow said in an e-mail.

Robin Golden ’79 LAW ’98, clinic co-director and Yale Law School lecturer, said the city has asked her group to continue to do legal work for the Promise. The clinic’s client would no longer be the city of New Haven, Golden said, since the Promise program is now a component fund of the Community Foundation. The program will pay the full college or university tuition of New Haven public school students who meet its requirements for achievement, starting with current freshmen.

Contract negotiations between Yale, New Haven and the Community Foundation lasted for about two months, starting in September and resulting in the New Haven Promise announcement Nov. 9, said Michael Love LAW ’12.

“We would keep sending drafts of the contract to the city until we had a draft they liked, and then we would share it with the other two parties and hammer out any disagreements,” Love said. “Overall, the process was very smooth; there were just a few minor things that needed to be worked out.”

He added that clinic students met regularly with Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and were involved with smaller projects, such as defining the residency requirements for scholarship eligibility and meeting with local parents to discuss details.

Stephanie Lee LAW ’12, who worked with Love to draft the contracts, said the group was involved in figuring out the logistics of the program. Other Promise programs — including those in Kalamazoo, Mich. and Pittsburgh, Penn. — are independent, non-profit organizations, she said, but New Haven decided to house its program within the Community Foundation.

“We had to draft and negotiate the legal form of this somewhat unique arrangement, which was a great learning experience for our clinic,” Luebchow said.

Lee said that it is not unusual for law school students to take on projects in the community like this one. For example, the Veterans Legal Services clinic helps local veterans navigate a complex legal system.

“DeStefano is a very hands-on mayor, and he has worked with this clinic a lot before,” Lee said. “New Haven is great for law school students because it is not too big for projects to have a direct impact, and it’s not too small that there is a dearth of projects.”

Lydia Gensheimer SOM ’11, one of three School of Management students in the clinic, found a software services group to create a database that will monitor whether or not students are on track to receive the scholarship. To be eligible for the scholarship, students must maintain a cumulative 3.0 grade point average, have at least a 90 percent attendance rate and complete 40 hours of community service during high school.

Gensheimer said she joined the project because she plans to work in public education after her graduation from business school next year. All five clinic members interviewed said they admired the New Haven Promise for its commitment to New Haven students.

“I think the Promise program is a fantastic opportunity for Yale to be involved in the New Haven community,” Gensheimer said. “I hope it encourages Yale students to tutor or volunteer to really help make college a reality for New Haven students, many of whom would be the first of their families to attend.”

So far, Yale has only committed to paying for the first four New Haven public school classes that graduate under the Promise.

Correction: December 1, 2010

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Robin Golden’s ’79 LAW ’98 class year from Yale College. In addition, it described New Haven Promise as a subset of the Community Foundation. It is actually a component fund of the foundation.

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