Pinot, Panache, and Public Interest: A Night at the Auction

BY KELLY BROWN

Committee Chairs Sheila Gogate, Emily Broad, Meg Ryan, Norah Bringer and Jessica Lindemann and Auction Co-Chair Liane Ong take a break from the auction planning craziness to get a picture together in their elegant attire.
The stars arrive! Austin Hall filled up quickly and early as hundreds of HLS students came out to bid on fabulous items which varied from a Dinner and Grey’s Anatomy viewing to a stay at a summer home in Australia.

Lights, Camera, Auction!, the 13th annual Public Interest Auction at Harvard Law School, played to a motley crowd of HLS students and professors last Thursday night in Austin Hall. Some in attendance used the event’s theme as an excuse to drape themselves in Dior and Dolce – or at least decent knockoffs. Others kept it casual, sporting jeans and tees not suited for the “real” red-carpet but perfect for a long night of carousing.

“People seemed to have a lot fun,” said Auction Co-Chair Andrew Aqui, who oversaw multiple committees and praised the school’s dedication to public interest. “[T]he HLS community knows how to come together for another very important cause: having a great party.”

Aqui and the three other co-chairs, Kate Hill, Liane Ong, and Cynthia Cook Robertson spearheaded an effort that united about 1000 individuals and organizations in fundraising for the Summer Public Interest Funding programs, which supports law students who pursue legal internships in public interest during their 1L or 2L summers.

“[I] think raising awareness of public interest work as a workable and realistic possibility for a career track after law school is very important,” said Ong, who will be working this summer for the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, advocating for the elderly and the disabled.

Four hundred fifty individuals registered to bid, but far more attended, said Robertson, who, in one of her capacities as co-chair, managed event statistics. The auction reaped about $125,000 for SPIF. Last year’s auction raised $155,000, but a substantial chunk of that money came from a foundation which matched all cash donations, according to Robertson. There were no matching funds this year.

The $125,000 was substantially short of the co-chairs’ initial goal of $175,000, but surpassed the yield of many previous auctions, said Robertson. Aqui agreed, and said that the organizers’ focus shifted away from hard financial targets as they got deeper into planning.

“Once we set that goal it became clear that this event is more about having fun and getting the whole campus involved, rather than just money raised,” Aqui said. “[S]o any financial goal we had was not the primary objective.”

Movie posters bedecked Austin’s classrooms, and a faux red carpet, made of paper and plastic, stretched through the halls. Wigs, hats and sunglasses perched atop students’ heads. The beer and wine flowed, and the students and professors bid. Registrants had two hours to peruse the silent auction and make their best offer for items like sushi with Professor Mark Ramseyer, orchestra tickets to see “Wicked” in New York City, and a helicopter ride. Some of the more unusual items donated included a Scrabble partner, a night out with four self-described “short girls,” an afternoon spent with a fat cat named Lily, and an item which had received considerable buzz, an easement to Matt Boulos’ right foot.

Nick Rose, ’07, bid $204 dollars with several friends to win a picnic and tour for four at Fenway Park. He said he remembered that a similar item had been auctioned last year and that he had hoped to see it offered again.

“I’m a huge Red Sox fan so the chance to get behind the scene for a tour and picnic on top of the [Green] monster was too much to pass up,” Rose said.

After bidding closed on the silent auction, volunteers shepherded the masses up into the Ames Courtroom, where Dean Elena Kagan and Professor Jonathan Zittrain presided over the live auction. The audience chanted “JZ! JZ!” as Zittrain bounded into view, and cheered for Kagan as she commenced auctioneering “An Oenophile’s Dream Come True,” a seven-course wine-tasting for four at Radius in Boston, donated by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Professor Warren introduced her own donation to the auction: a graduation (or simply “end-of-the-year”) soiree in her home, for up to 30 people. She gave the crowd a sales pitch that garnered a high bid of $1700, just $100 short of last year’s.

“I will say to your mother, oh-so-quietly but oh-so-persuasively, ‘This one, she was my favorite. She may be the best we’ve ever seen, this one. Not since Oliver Wendell Holmes…'” Warren said, trailing off. “Every mother believes me.”

In between bids, organizers showed a short film made by Steve Gee and a group of volunteers. Professors and students performed spoofs of classics like Gone With the Wind, Pulp Fiction, and Office Space. Professor Subramanian put on superhero duds to play the title character in Subramanianman, and Professor Martha Minow and Assistant Dean for Public Service Alex Shabecoff went head to head in a skit dubbed Top Gunner. Dean Kagan herself made an appearance as The Lawfather.

A French dinner for six, donated by Professors Fred Schauer and Virginia Wise and open to professors only, received the highest bid of the night: $4000, contributed by Dean Kagan and Professors Warren, Daniel Meltzer and Andrew Kaufman. A week at a beach home in Australia garnered $2800 from a group of students.

But some chose to simply bid vicariously through others.

“I encouraged my friends, but I didn’t register,” said Kim Sung, an LLM student. “I had a good time just being a spectator.”

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