Lawyering Up!

USD School of Law alums David Casey ’74 (JD) and Virginia Nelson '79 (JD)


The two friends having lunch at Cucina Urbana near Balboa Park had known each other for years. There were old times to be relived, to be sure, but their conversation was focused on the future.

David Casey ’74 (JD) had re-cently accepted the challenge of serving as chair of the School of Law’s fundraising efforts, part of Leading Change: The Campaign for USD. Casey invited his friend and fellow trial lawyer, Virginia Nelson ’79 (JD), to be vice chair.

Their conversation quickly moved past the school’s campaign goals.

“Of course we had a dollar-figure goal,” Casey says, “but that was just the start of it. We wanted to create ways to engage alumni and expand the community of givers, not just for the campaign, but for the longer-range benefit of the school.”

The Leading Change campaign raised $317.3 million to support scholarships, classroom infrastructure and other essential needs for the University of San Diego. Under the leadership of Casey and Nelson, combined with critical support from Dean Stephen Ferruolo, the law school exceeded its $31.5 million dollar goal — going over the top during the final days of the campaign.

The total was generated over many months of breakfasts, lunches and phone calls with fellow alumni and friends of the school. Casey, an experienced fundraiser who has raised millions of dollars for other causes, says finding creative ways for people to give is the key to success.

As one example, Nelson focused on the law school’s named scholarship effort, which resulted in an increase from 34 to 118 named scholarships during the campaign. “The key to our success was finding that meaningful point or passion that motivated donors to create a scholarship, whether it be a person, a program, a clinic or a cause.”

Nelson, who also serves as an adjunct professor, found through her teaching that it was easy to speak firsthand to the skills, talent and drive of USD’s law students. “It’s been very easy for me to talk to potential donors about our remarkably talented students; their abilities are right in front of me in every class.”

“A crucial element to effective fundraising is showing your own willingness to write a check,” Casey adds. Having long ago established a school of law scholarship in his father’s name, Casey created another in the name of his mother, designed specifically for a USD undergraduate who continues his or her education as a USD School of Law student.

Nelson is a generous supporter of a scholarship named for Lou Kerig — a faculty member who had a profound influence on her career — as well as the Class of 1979 Merit Scholarship, the Julianne D. Fellmeth Public Interest Law Scholarship and an endowed graduation prize in Nelson’s name, awarded to the student with the highest GPA in Advanced Trial Advocacy.

With the Leading Change campaign goals met, then exceeded, Casey, Nelson and many of their fellow alumni are preparing for the next step in the evolution of what Casey calls “one of the most prestigious law schools in the United States.”

“USD’s School of Law currently ranks 30th in the nation for faculty quality, and the quality of the students we attract is so impressive,” Casey says.

“While Warren Hall is one of the original campus buildings, we have witnessed increasing interest and support for upgrading technology in the classroom and legal clinics. The clinics are now able to conduct client interviews by video conferencing, which is a game changer for disabled military veterans and the low-income clients who are not easily able to travel to the clinics for services. We are confident these changes are just the beginning.” — Timothy McKernan

Photo by Marshall Williams

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