Law School Auction Funds Public Interest WorkBy Sarah Galer
At the beginning of Winter Quarter, several law students who do not normally sport facial hair were seen wandering the Law School with five o’clock shadows, which then grew into various stages of stubble and beards.
The more they grew, the better their chances were of winning the Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Mustache Contest. The contest, part of the Chicago Law Foundation’s annual charity auction, helps raise funds for law students who forego high-paying summer jobs at law firms to work in public interest.
Chicago Law Foundation is a student-run, nonprofit organization at the Law School. It raises most of its money through donations from students who frequently give a portion of their summer earnings to the cause, law firms who may match those donations and the annual auction.
CLF President and law student Jessica Waller said, “CLF is important because it awards grants to students devoting their summers and careers to public interest work. Students in the past have worked for such organizations as AIDS Legal Counsel, the Institute for Justice, Brooklyn Legal Services, the National Wildlife Federation and the Author’s Guild. Because few public interest organizations have the money to pay law students for summer employment or for bar expenses, CLF assists law students who would not otherwise be able to work for such causes.”
The mustache contest, in its second year, first began to raise a few hundred dollars for the cause. It was aptly named for Justice Holmes, known for sporting a military-style mustache, and who is one of the most widely cited United States Supreme Court justices in history.
“The simple premise of the contest is that everyone shaves on the same day, they grow, grow, grow their facial hair, and for the last week they have to shave down to a mustache,” explains Tom Gorman, one of this year’s organizers.
On the evening of the CLF auction, large donation bags, each displaying a participant and his mustache, were set out for donations. The mustaches ranged from cowboy style to freestyle to 1970s disco.
Voters had a tough choice to make, but Winston Liaw pulled out a win.
Liaw said he entered the contest because it was for a good cause but also out of curiosity. “I think every guy is a little curious about what they would look like with a moustache, and the auction gives you a perfect excuse to find out.”
Liaw’s strategy for success was to apply subtle pressure.
“Because the winner was determined by dollar amount, my strategy was to wander around the auction room, holding my donation bag and giving everybody puppy-dog eyes. And if people didn’t want to donate, I would give them dirty looks. Finally, if that didn’t work, I would go back to people who had already donated and asked them for more. Hey, it’s for a good cause!”
The top winners—Liaw, Eitan Hoenig and Adam Marvin—were presented with autographed pictures of a swimsuit-clad Tom Selleck standing on a beach.
In addition to the mustache contest, the auction included a total of nearly 150 silent and live items to bid on. Students, faculty and staff, as well as law firms and other businesses, donated the items, which ranged from a five-day California wine country getaway and wilderness survival lessons, to babysitting and song writing.
Douglas Baird, the Harry A. Bigelow Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School, emceed the live auction portion of the evening. With his help, bidding was rigorous. The item that received the highest bid, at $3,700, was the trip to the Sonoma/Napa wine country. Other popular events included a chef-prepared meal with Baird at $2,000 and a $2,200 authentic Indian dinner cooked by Martha Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, Philosophy and the Divinity School, with special guest Judge Richard Posner, a Senior Lecturer in the Law School.
The mustache contest raised about $300 while the overall auction raised more than $40,000.
“Our event was mostly a fun diversion,” said Gorman of the mustache contest. “We’ve already had a few people let us know that they’re going to participate next year, and that they feel foolish for not joining us on our mustache odyssey.”
As a result of the event, the CLF expects to help support 10 to 15 public interest law students this summer.