Debt relief fund aids alumni working in public interest law

This year, the Public Interest Law Loan Fund celebrates 15 years of aiding University of South Carolina School of Law alumni who have chosen careers in public interest law and dedicated their practice to helping those who are often unable to help themselves.

The fund was created in 2002 by retired law professor Bill McAninch, who taught classes and clinics that often stressed the relevance of public interest jobs. He showed students how to represent inmates, how poverty affects the law and the importance of representing one’s clients well, regardless of circumstance. When he retired, McAninch and his wife decided that they would take one more step to promote such philanthropic endeavors.

“The burden of law school debt often precludes an attorney from practicing in these relatively low-paying positions,” McAninch said. “Consequently, my wife, Jerry, and I donated $50,000 to establish a fund to provide debt relief to these lawyers.”

The 2002 graduating class adopted the fund as its class project, pledging their first year’s alumni contributions to it. McAninch also gives credit for the project’s success to law professor Lewis Burke and Pam Robinson, director of the Pro Bono Program. Over the years, the fund has continued to grow, thanks to generous donations, and has paid off more than $102,000 of student loan debt for 40 South Carolina law graduates.

“Receiving this student loan relief not only has helped me financially, but is a reminder that my law school community is proud of me and wants to recognize the work I do,” said Cheslyne Brighthop, a 2012 graduate and Richland County public defender. “This fund motivates me to give back because it is so evident that my school still cares about me.”

“We stress the need for public interest work during law school, especially through the efforts of our Pro Bono Program, and it just seems natural that we support those who make it their career,” said Robinson. “The lawyers who seek to help these clients are the real heroes of the justice system and deserve every bit of extra help we can provide them.”

Learn more

To learn more about donating to or benefiting from this fund, visit the School of Law's Pro Bono Program website.