Doubling Down typography
Tolls’ $50 Million Gift Paves Way for Influx of Young Lawyers into Public Service
The Robert and Jane Toll Foundation, founded by Robert Toll L’66 and Jane Toll GSE’66, made a $50 million gift to the Law School to dramatically expand the Toll Public Interest Scholars and Fellows Program, doubling the number of public interest graduates in the coming decade through a combination of full and partial tuition scholarships.

The Toll Foundation’s $50 million gift is the largest gift in history devoted entirely to the training and support of public interest lawyers, and among the ten largest gifts ever to a law school in the United States. This transformative gift comes at an unprecedented time in history, when lawyers working for a more just and fair system are desperately needed. Beginning in the 2021 academic year, the Toll gift will be implemented to support the tuition and programming for students working towards the crucial goals of public service. This will place the Law School in the unique position to catalyze its unwavering commitment to put service and justice into action in ways that have never before been possible, through recruiting, enrolling, and empowering the next generation of advocates.

As the world continues to grapple with a global pandemic that has exposed deep inequality, the U.S. finds itself in the midst of facing and correcting the deep racial inequities present through its society. This gift will enable the Law School to widen the gateways to service for students who will change the world for the better through their careers in the public interest. By increasing the number of Toll Public Interest Scholars and Fellows, the Law School can exponentially increase the capacity of our global public interest community to fight the most significant legal battles of the time while expanding access to justice.

“A gift of this magnitude, in this current moment, creates a significant opportunity to expand on the long-standing commitment of the Law School to educate, train and launch the advocates needed to fight the injustices of our world today,” said Ted Ruger, Dean of the Law School. “These scholarships will make public interest careers accessible to a broader pool of students, many of whom are from underrepresented backgrounds. The Tolls’ generosity truly supercharges the Law School’s ability to create meaningful change in the future of our communities.”

Megan Russo C’15, L’22, a current 2L Toll Scholar and first generation college student, weathered a long period of uprootedness in her life to arrive in the program with a fervor to engage in law and public policy following graduation.

Russo, who grew up in a suburb of Atlanta, saw her world crumble when her parents divorced, and her father abandoned the family. Her mother could not pay the mortgage and lost the house, leaving Megan, her brother and mother to live with other families.

The experience of suddenly losing everything concentrated her mind and led Russo to study sociology at Penn. “People shouldn’t wonder where they’re going to sleep at night, or where their next meal is coming from … Studying sociology helped me to contextualize my experiences and better understand how and why poverty exists … My experiences were frankly the better end of the spectrum as far as poverty goes and it was a difficult experience that will last with me forever.”

This scholarship really changed my life. It allows me to pursue a field that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue otherwise.
Megan Russo C’15, L’22
Current Toll Public Interest Scholar
Russo, who entered the Toll Scholars program as a first-year student, has made good use of the first year-and-a-half, interning for the ACLU of Pennsylvania this fall, and for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law this past summer, and performing pro bono work helping to draft criminal record pardon applications in a Second Chance program. Russo was also a researcher for Presidential Assistant Professor of Law Shaun Ossei-Owusu, with whom she took a criminal law class, and a researcher for the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, where she helped evaluate the efficacy of review processes undertaken to eliminate errors in policing. And she will be taking a special public interest class focused on how to use her legal skills for positive social change.

“This scholarship really changed my life,” Russo said. “It allows me to pursue a field that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue otherwise.”

Makayla Reynolds C’18, L’23, a IL Toll Scholar, was the first African American woman to become class president at Penn — an extraordinary accomplishment considering the formidable challenges she had to overcome. Her HIV-stricken father died when she was young, and her mother battled mental health issues and substance abuse.

Driven to support other students who have faced similar challenges, as class president Reynolds advocated for underrepresented low-income students, putting in place subsidies so they could attend events and buy school apparel such as the traditional junior year “P” sweater.

A first generation college graduate, Reynolds worked two years for Teach for America after graduation, which reaffirmed her interest in assisting vulnerable populations, especially low-income children. This past summer, she served as a graduate assistant for the Penn Rising Seniors Summer Academy, a free preparatory college program in which she graded papers and mentored about 20 students. This semester, she’s participating in the Custody and Support Assistance Clinic.

Reynolds looks forward to getting to know her fellow Toll Scholars, learning how to network and leveraging new opportunities.

“I want to instill the love of public service to my classmates, and once I’m in a career, to my co-workers,” Reynolds said.

Even though Reynolds just entered the program, she’s fixed on her career goals: child advocacy in an area such as family law or juvenile justice.

Russo and Reynolds represent just a sliver of the Toll Scholars who have passed through the program and into public service — there have been more than 80 students since its inception in 2006.

Robert Toll, Jane Toll, and students at the Toll Public Interest Center
Robert Toll L’66 and Jane Toll GSE’66 are staunch supporters of the Toll Public Interest Center, which provides students (bottom right) with ample opportunities to perform public service work.
Robert Toll, the Co-Founder of the American luxury homebuilder company Toll Brothers, Inc., and his wife, Jane, have previously committed philanthropic efforts to the Law School and its public interest programming. Their most recent gift expands upon a $3 million donation made in 2018 to create and launch the Toll Public Service Corps, which includes Toll Scholars and Fellows, while also establishing Alumni Impact Awards and funding additional financial and career support for alumni through loan forgiveness and the existing Toll Loan Repayment and Assistance Program (TolLRAP), under which $3.5 million has been awarded since 2014.

Additionally, in 2006, the Tolls made a $10 million gift to the Law School’s public interest program, which resulted in renaming to the Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC). Originally founded in 1989, the public service program at the Law School rendered it among the first institutions to require all students to complete 70 hours of public service before graduation.

In 2000, Penn Law was the first law school to receive the ABA’s Pro Bono Publico Award. The Tolls’ donation in 2006 resulted in significant expansion for the program, and helped TPIC grow into an exceptional hub for public service at Penn. TPIC now facilitates a wide array of pro bono and public service opportunities that focus on impactful service, personal enrichment, and professional skill development, including the promise that each graduating class dedicates approximately 30,000 hours of pro bono legal service.

“Our goal is to greatly increase the number of students entering careers in public interest,” said Robert Toll. “It’s my hope that this opportunity leads to even more tangible, positive change from future Law School graduates.”