Gismondi Donation to Benefit Law Students and Low Income Families
February 13, 2014 – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The officers of the Allegheny County Bar Foundation today announced the creation of the Gismondi Fund that will be used to create a Summer Fellowship Program to annually place six second-year University of Pittsburgh Law School students in law clerk positions at Neighborhood Legal Services Association (NLSA). The Fund as well as the Gismondi Certified Law Student Summer Fellowship Program will be financed by a $225,000 donation to the Foundation by Pittsburgh attorney John P. Gismondi. Gismondi, a well-known, local trial attorney and Past President of the Allegheny County Bar Association, has been an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law for more than 25 years and is a graduate of the university and its law school.
According to Gismondi, it is anticipated that the second-year law students, once certified by the local Courts, will be able to handle issues such as landlord tenant disputes, unemployment compensation hearings and other cases in front of judges or hearing officers.
Gismondi said the program aims to serve two important needs in the legal community. “Law students crave real-world experience, and NLSA has a critical need for more manpower,” he said. “This program should address both areas. It will allow second-year students to handle actual cases in front of magistrates or government agencies, and it will give more low-income families access to legal representation.”
“We hope to staff six summer positions a year at NLSA over the next several years,” says Gismondi. “I think it is a great opportunity for the students to learn how to handle an actual case in front of a decision-maker. Just as important, it is going to help NLSA at a time when their funding has been cut drastically. I hope this program can just do a little to alleviate the crunch at NLSA.”
Gismondi said the program should reduce the number of people that NLSA has to turn away. “It’s a shame when those most in need can’t have a lawyer to help them with basic things like housing or unemployment benefits.” An added benefit of the program is creating additional summer positions in a very tight job market for law students. “These are new jobs,” said Gismondi. “NLSA would not be able from a financial standpoint to hire these students if not for this program.”
Gismondi said the type of experience available at NLSA was an important reason why he selected the organization as the beneficiary of the law students’ work. “I did not want to create a program that stuck law students in a library for the summer. They get enough of that at school. I wanted them to be put into a position where they would have a real client and have to handle a case in an adversary setting, and, obviously, NLSA has an abundance of clients who need that sort of representation.”
Gismondi is also hopeful that the program will raise law students’ awareness and appreciation of NLSA. “The service that NLSA provides is among the most important in our legal community, and law students should be aware of that. Also, they should understand that it has served as a training ground for some of the best judges and lawyers in Allegheny County.”
Gismondi believes that the program should benefit everyone involved. “I think it is the classic win-win situation. The law students will get what they want, experience handling cases, and NLSA will get what they need, the ability to serve more people.”
According to Kenneth M. Argentieri, president of the Allegheny County Bar Foundation, “The Allegheny County Bar Foundation is proud to oversee both The Gismondi Fund and Summer Fellowship Program, and we are extremely grateful for the generosity of our friend and Foundation trustee John Gismondi. Not only is John a highly respected leader in our legal community, but he has been a long-time supporter of our Foundation, of Neighborhood Legal Services Association and of Pitt Law School. This fund will help law students prepare to practice law and assist NLSA in the valuable services it provides. It is a win-win-win opportunity for all of the organizations.”
The Allegheny County Bar Foundation will have oversight of the Gismondi Fund and Fellowship Program and for the selection of Fellowship awardees.
Robert Racunas, executive director of NLSA, said that his organization is excited about the opportunity to be able to mentor law school students through the Gismondi Fellowship Program.
“We really appreciate John's generosity in creating this fund. He is not only a great lawyer, but a great friend to NLSA and our mission of equal justice under law,” said Racunas. “It is an obvious help to NLSA and our many clients in need, but it will also help Pitt Law school with the placements and enhanced legal experience for their students. “
According to the University of Pittsburgh School of Law Dean William M. Carter, Jr., “I am deeply thankful to John Gismondi for funding the Gismondi Certified Law Student Summer Fellowship Program. This program will add further depth to Pitt Law’s range of substantive experiential learning opportunities, while simultaneously advancing the cause of providing affordable legal services and furthering access to justice. Continuing his legacy of giving, John’s gift will allow our students to learn how to effectively represent our community’s vulnerable populations, thereby gaining practical experience in direct client representation that will advance their careers while also providing invaluable service to those most in need. John has let me know that he is motivated to support this initiative by his loyalty to and belief in Pitt Law, our shared commitment to access to justice, and our shared belief that those of us who are fortunate enough to be in a position to help our students and to advance justice must step forward to do so, now more than ever."
The fellowship awardees will be announced in April, and the students will begin working at NLSA this summer.
John P. Gismondi, Esq
Kenneth M. Argentieri, Esq.
Robert V. Racunas, Esq.