Maida family donates additional $1.275M to innovative Rutgers Law program

Program, which is committed to serving vulnerable communities, was started in 2015

An innovative public interest program at Rutgers Law School — committed to serving vulnerable communities in the New Jersey region while providing Rutgers students with exceptional support and learning experiences — received $1,275,750 from James and Sharon Maida, the school announced Friday.

In addition, the Maidas have donated $100,000 to support the James and Sharon Maida Endowed Scholarship at Rutgers Law School.

The new gift will allow Rutgers Law School to extend the Maida Public Interest Fellowships Program for the next five years, building on the founding $1 million gift from the Maidas that established the program in 2015, and an additional bridge gift from the Maidas in 2020.

James Maida, a 1990 graduate of Rutgers Law School in Camden, is the founder and CEO of Gaming Laboratories International, headquartered in Lakewood.

The first and largest testing lab of its kind, Gaming Laboratories International specializes in the testing, certification and security of gaming, as well as consultation to gaming boards, lotteries and casino operators globally.

Sharon O’Mara Maida, a 1997 Rutgers Graduate School of Education alumna, is a pioneer in the field of orientation and mobility of blind and visually impaired children, and is nationally recognized for her work in this area. She also maintains a private practice specializing in children with visual impairments.

They are the trustees of the James and Sharon Maida Foundation Inc., which creates opportunities for young people to continue their education.

The couple said they are passionate about “paying it forward.”

“The first five years of the Maida Public Interest Fellowships Program were a pilot project,” James Maida said. “We developed an investing model to provide Rutgers Law students with a source of income, pair them with nonprofit organizations that need legal expertise and connect those partnerships with a whole litany of folks who don’t have access to legal aid and lawyers.

“The project has been wildly successful, with tens of thousands of hours given in legal aid. It’s truly heartwarming to see how Rutgers Law is helping families and individuals. Sharon and I are honored to make this new investment to extend the gift for a total of 11 years. The model we put forth really works. If I were another law school, I’d take a look at what we’re doing at Rutgers. Students no longer need to wait for third-year clinical experiences in order to seek out this type of civic duty early in their careers.”

This new gift will continue to benefit Rutgers students and the community through the Maida Public Interest Summer Fellowships, which pay up to 40 students each year to work for public interest legal organizations in positions that are normally unpaid, imparting valuable professional experience to the students while advancing the public good. Additionally, the Maida Post-Graduate Public Interest Fellowship funds the full-time salary of a selected fellow working in the public interest. These extraordinary funding opportunities help attract a cohort of high-achieving prospective law students with a demonstrated commitment to social change.

Since its inception in 2015, the program has funded 195 Rutgers Law student summer fellowships, allowing students to provide 73,800 hours of service to communities in need through the James and Sharon Maida Summer Public Interest Fellowship. The Maida Post-Graduate Fellowship has allowed six new graduates to deliver 12,000 hours of service.

Since its launch, the Maida program at Rutgers Law School has provided 85,800 hours of pro bono legal service that otherwise might have cost nearly $13 million. More than 50% of the Rutgers Law students participating in the Maida program have been placed with New Jersey organizations, with close to 30% in Pennsylvania, 10% in New York, and 10% in California, Washington, D.C., and other locations.

“Many people talk about ‘paying it forward,’ but it is both humbling and empowering to meet individuals like James and Sharon Maida, who choose action over words,” Kimberly Mutcherson, co-dean of Rutgers Law School in Camden, said.

“This gift is literally making the law school a better place and gives us an opportunity to help our students and graduates build careers that use the law for the purpose of achieving justice. The impact of the Maidas’ visionary gift will reverberate for decades, if not generations. Their support is providing vulnerable communities with legal assistance that is especially important as people cope with the economic and health impacts of the pandemic.

“The Maida gift has helped to establish Rutgers Law School as a national destination for students with a deep commitment to public interest work. Thanks to Sharon and James, we will continue to provide those students with financial support and impactful learning opportunities at both of our locations in Camden and Newark.”