MLaw's Student Funded Fellowships auction: Silly for a serious purpose

Auction raises more than $70,000

By Allison Hight
U-M Law

With a standing-room-only crowd and an air of celebration, Michigan Law’s recent Student Funded Fellowships (SFF) auction set out to raise more than $60,000 in under three hours. Rather than auctioning off purely physical items, the live auction consisted of 27 items ranging from skydiving to a murder mystery dinner party with two faculty members. This year’s emcees, Assistant Dean Sarah Zearfoss and 3L Carly Weiss, kept the energy level high throughout the evening by joking with the audience and highlighting the most interesting aspects of the items up for bid. Six of the Law School’s professors acted as the auctioneers.

Although Dean Mark West noted that the auction attendees would “see some of the world’s preeminent legal scholars at their silliest,” the event had a serious purpose. Each year, SFF raises money to fund unpaid public interest summer internships for 1Ls. SFF’s continued efforts — combined with significant gifts in 2015 from the Himan Brown Charitable Trust and Lisa and Chris Jeffries — allows Michigan Law to guarantee summer funding for all 1Ls, in addition to its previous commitment to supporting 2Ls in unpaid public interest internships. “SFF provides public interest students with the opportunity to work within and help underserved communities across the country,” said 3L and SFF co-chair Rebecca Seguin-Skrabucha. “I love that our fundraising efforts have such far-reaching effects.”

Although the auction culminates in one night, co-chair Nathan Montalto, a 2L, described SFF as a yearlong endeavor. “Planning for the auction begins as soon as the previous auction ends. The process takes all year and involves multiple teams who are responsible for securing donations and planning the auction itself. It’s a massive undertaking.”

One of the most unique items auctioned off this year was a Secret Law School Progressive Dinner that will “take place at various locations throughout the Quad that normally nobody gets to visit,” according to the description. It went on to say that the location of the appetizer course promises to be especially interesting. In addition to the pre-advertised items up for bid, SFF also added several surprise items the night of the auction, including the opportunity to add a personalized sandwich to the menu at Zingerman’s Delicatessen for a year. Other popular items included attending a Detroit Tigers game with Professor Richard Friedman, a tour of the Michigan ACLU office, and Stephen Colbert tickets, where the bidding rose quickly.
Both of the SFF co-chairs said that they became involved in the organization to help support public interest work. “I worked with a nonprofit during undergrad and planned their annual auction, so joining SFF was a natural fit for me,” Seguin-Skrabucha explained. “SFF has, in many ways, defined my law school experience, and I am thankful to have learned from and contributed to such a devoted group of student leaders.” Montalto agreed. “I’ve always known that I wanted to go to a large firm, but also that I wanted to support public interest and the people who are committed to doing this important work,” he said.

The highest grossing item of the night was an opportunity for up to eight students to spend an evening singing karaoke with Professors Maureen Carroll and John Pottow. A weekend trip in the Berkshires also was popular.

In total, the live auction, supplemented by an additional 250 smaller items that were available through a silent auction, raised more than $70,000—a record for SFF. “Planning and pulling off the auction is always stressful, but watching the Michigan Law community come together to support each other is highly rewarding and certainly worth all of the effort,” Montalto commented after the event. Added Seguin-Skrabucha, “The excitement and success of the evening continues to amaze me.”