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Supporting Opportunity One Law Student at a Time
"I feel really grateful for Joe's support ... . People like him make it possible for the school to keep its vibrant and diverse community, which enables the kind of collaboration that doesn’t happen at other schools. I couldn’t think of any other place I'd rather be."
–Stefan Sperling, MA '98, JD '13
Joe Coyne, JD '80, was, by his own description, a "little Irish kid" of little means who grew up in the small town of Indian Orchard, Massachusetts. His father never made it through high school but he and Coyne's mother, a nurse, "were big proponents of getting an education as a means of getting ahead," the attorney says.
Coyne still holds to that ethic, which has motivated his $1 million gift to Stanford Law School in October 2011 to establish the Joseph F. Coyne, Jr., Law Scholarship. The gift amplifies a $250,000 donation he committed to establish the endowed financial aid fund in 2009.
Coyne himself was able to come to Stanford straight out of Notre Dame through "a lot of hard work" and a generous scholarship. "Back in 1977, the $9,000 per year the school granted me seemed like an enormous amount of money," says Coyne, who had previously done his part by working 50- to 70-hour weeks in high school and even creating a pizza restaurant in his dorm in college. "I wouldn't have been able to attend law school without the financial aid—and I wanted not only to pay it back, but also to go to the next step. I'm a firm believer that charity should take care of a lot of our societal needs."
A partner in Sheppard Mullin, Coyne has been "paying back" since he graduated, gifting contributions while simultaneously making loan payments. "I wanted to get in the financial habit of giving from day one," he says. "I've long recognized that even the full tuition doesn't cover the cost of an education at Stanford. The school really relies on its donors."
That could not be truer today. While the school's financial aid income is projected to be at $8.5 million by 2014, its need is anticipated to be $11 million. The school is counting on its alumni to address that more than $2 million deficit, which has been born of the global economic downturn. "To keep making Stanford Law School accessible to all qualified applicants, regardless of their financial means, we simply need more donor support," says SLS Dean Larry Kramer.
At Stanford, 58 percent of students receive scholarship aid, with the average scholarship running $24,000. The typical loan assistance package comes to an additional $12,000 for students who choose to serve in public interest law after graduating.
Working in partnership with Dean Kramer, Coyne recognized that his initial $250,000 gift would create an endowed fund that could provide partial scholarship aid to one or more students every year. Eventually, Coyne, who has had not only a string of record-breaking cases but also great successes with oil and gas enterprises in Texas, decided to go bigger. "Another $1 million of endowed funds provides full tuition and room and board for one student every year," he says. "I feel good knowing that I'm enabling someone to go to Stanford who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend."
Stefan Sperling, a German national with a doctorate in anthropology from Princeton who has taught at Harvard, Humbolt University in Berlin, and other places, is the first student to have received funding. Having grown up in communist East Berlin before the wall went down, having given orders as a drill instructor in the German army, and having researched and written about the slippery slope of bioethics, Sperling says, "I'm fascinated by the formative role of the law in shaping the conditions of our collective existence."
"I feel really grateful for Joe's support," says Sperling, who has received a partial tuition scholarship his first two years as the fund has ramped up in preparation for supporting another student fully next year. "People like him make it possible for the school to keep its vibrant and diverse community, which enables the kind of collaboration that doesn't happen at other schools. I couldn't think of any other place I'd rather be."
Such diversity makes a real difference in the quality of education for all students. Sperling, for example, brings to course discussions a consideration of "cultural factors that influence law," a theme that he sees as "a bit of a blind spot in the classroom." "My training as an anthropologist makes me look at law from an 'outsider' perspective, which, in turn, helps my classmates—and even my professors—think about law in novel ways."
"You don't have to be Bill Gates to make a significant contribution," says Coyne, who goes down on record as the second lawyer in history to defeat the U.S. Department of Justice in a jury trial under the amended False Claims Act (U.S. vs. Northrop Grumman). "I get tremendous gratification from the fact that through this fund I'll be paying for one student a year not only while I'm alive, but also for many years beyond that. If you want to make a difference in people's lives, this is a great way to go. As Ralph Waldo Emerson maintained, we should all be responsible for opening doors for those who come after us."