So you want to do PI?

(Rankings, Profiles, Tuition, Student Life, . . . )
User avatar
twenty
Posts: 3153
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:17 pm

So you want to do PI?

Postby twenty » Mon Nov 25, 2013 4:27 pm

It's Thanksgiving week, and there's nothing to do at work. I can either shoot the remaining coworkers still in the office with a rubber band gun, OR I can make a really long thread for people looking at law school for the purposes of getting PI gigs. I pick B.

Why should I care about what you say?

If you're not a 0L thinking you want to do public interest law, you probably shouldn't. There are plenty of people far more qualified than I to comment on the ins and outs of traditional legal hiring.

If you are a 0L planning on doing public interest law, there are two reasons. One, no one else seems to understand how public interest hiring works. I don't say that snobbishly -- it's just that the majority of folks on TLS, even 1Ls and 2Ls, seem to grossly misunderstand how the PI process works. They're then pretty quick to write the whole ordeal off as "more competitive than biglaw." Two, I've worked on security clearances and background investigations for hires at a federal agency, so I get to see the resumes and backgrounds of pretty much every attorney we employ.

What is public interest law?

For all our purposes, public interest law is:

- Working for a government agency as an attorney
- Working for a non-profit as an attorney
- Working for the military as an attorney
- Working in a JD Preferred/Advantage position for a non-profit, government or military
- Working overseas for a U.S. non-profit/U.S. government

Public interest law is not:

- Working at a large firm and performing lots of pro bono work
- Doing public interest legal work at a for-profit organization
- Running for partisan office/working on a campaign
- Working for a labor union/religious organization
- "International law"
- A back-up option if you strike out at OCI.

Why don't more people do PI?

There's a strange phenomenon where people that claim they want to do PI as 0Ls end up doing summer associate gigs as 2Ls. Really, though, it's not very surprising.

1) Debt sucks.

Even if you expect to rely on LRAP, you have to realize that your sticker-paying friends are going to be debt-free in 4 years of biglaw, while you're going to be stuck in public interest/government for the next ten years of your life. And if you bail, you're actually in worse shape than if you'd started biglaw from day one.

2) Salaries suck.

PI salaries are notoriously bad. After your friends pay off their debt in 4 years, they'll be making upwards of five times your salary.

3) Timelines suck.

Most PI hiring happens in 3L, or post-graduation. Most biglaw hiring happens in 2L. Are you really going to turn down 160k/yr + bonuses for the chance of getting a PI job that pays 40k/yr?

4) Lateral opportunities suck.

If you do a really great job in a PI gig, your reward is that you might be able to move to another PI gig. So your prize at the pie-eating contest is more pie. There are clearly some notable exceptions, but expect that most of your lateral opportunities will be in the same line of work for slightly more money and slightly more responsibility.

There are some notable exceptions to this rule (i.e, Manhattan DA's office), but many a young attorney comes to our agency from law school and leaves within six months because they don't want to practice labor/admin law for the rest of their careers.

5) Peer pressure sucks.

One fairly notable pitfall that does get under-covered by the PI law community is the peer pressure. PI legal hiring is also notoriously slow, and your peers may be working in biglaw for months before you even get an offer of employment. While all your friends have offers from large firms, you'll be that person who still has to worry about 3L grades, your friends will avoid talking about how great their summers were, and someone (probably your uncle/aunt) will suggest the ACLU, and that you should apply to lots of places.

If you still feel like you're willing to overcome all those obstacles:


How to get into PI law

You will hear this over and over again. Your grades do not matter. Your school ranking on USNWR does not matter. This is the hardest part for people to overcome -- all that work you did on the LSAT, all that debt you took out to go to a T14 school, and all those sleepless nights you put in during 1L to get decent grades are now wasted. Obviously you can't get Cs at a TTTT and expect to go work for the SEC, but there is very, very little difference between a A- average student at Cornell and a B student at Mercer in terms of low-prestige government/PI hiring.

The biggest thing you have to do to get into public interest is hustle.

You must never stop hustling. Spend your last free summer working as a volunteer in an area related to the PI field you want to work in. Spend your 1L year (yes, 1L year) volunteering. Spend your 1L summer volunteering. Spend the winter break between semesters... you get it. A cooperative career services office is critical in this process.

If you want to work for the government, veteran's status helps tremendously*. Three or more years of prior full-time experience will also help you a lot.** If you want to work for a PI organization, everyone in the office should know your name, your dog's birthday, and your favorite color. I can not stress this enough. People complain about how insanely slow PI hiring is, but if you know people on the inside that can speak to your work product and dedication, it's like putting metaphorical rockets on a snail.

The federal government puts up 1-week long postings for jobs in order to meet administrative requirements, but they definitely already have someone in mind. Be that someone.

How does this affect my school choices?

IN MY PERSONAL OPINION you are better off going to law school in a large metro area with a strong career services office than a law school in a ruralish area with a weak career services office. Here's why.

1) Big metro areas are far more likely to provide you with local PI gigs than are small township areas. Also, big cities tend to care less about regional ties (yes, this is a thing in PI as well) than do small towns.
2) A strong career services office that has a vested interest in getting you into a volunteer PI gig is going to be essential. I have yet to see a T20 school that doesn't have a strong CSO, though there are plenty of T2 schools that meet this description.

I don't really believe you when you say the school name doesn't matter.

Here's how the government hiring system [OPM model] works.

Your application (resume) gets sent to a round 1 hiring person. If you meet the minimum requirements for the job, you move on to round 2. This is basically almost everyone.

In round 2, your application is awarded points, and a new resume is created. Your new resume is a score card in which you are given a 1 to 100 score based on your first resume. You get points based on your competency related to the job you post for. You get 0 points for going to Harvard over McGeorge. This scorecard is forwarded on to round 3.

In round 3, your future boss will evaluate the scorecards and interview people in order of highest to lowest points. They usually have a cut-off of people they just won't interview. That could be below the top 3 candidates, or top 20. Does it help if you know this future boss by his first name and have been to his house for Thanksgiving? Absolutely. In short, if your future employer does not take the most qualified application (number 1), they must justify why they chose a less-qualified candidate. The employer is not going to do this for "some guy who volunteered at a non-profit during his 1L summer."

But HYS + Chicago and Berkeley!

HYS, Chicago and Berkeley all enjoy a very minor advantage in PI hiring (especially black-box hiring like DoJ) because their grades are unconverted. This tiny advantage makes no difference at 99% of PI/Govt jobs. For the most competitive PI/Govt jobs (particularly DoJ), this distinction sets these students apart from the hordes of other candidates looking to snag one of these spots.

*you get an extra 5 points, even above the 100 point total, for veteran's preference
**status is like tenure. This happens in federal, local and state government spots. You are vastly more competitive for these positions if you have this background.

Open to all helpful thoughts, angry rage-filled comments, and ideas.
Last edited by twenty on Sat Oct 25, 2014 8:10 pm, edited 2 times in total.

User avatar
CitrusFruit
Posts: 153
Joined: Fri Oct 18, 2013 3:21 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby CitrusFruit » Mon Nov 25, 2013 4:36 pm

Helpful! Thanks!

User avatar
worldtraveler
Posts: 7662
Joined: Mon Oct 15, 2007 4:47 am

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby worldtraveler » Mon Nov 25, 2013 5:07 pm

I agree with most of it, but I think this pertains mostly to people wanting government. Non-profit/NGO hiring is quite different, and school rank can really matter.

User avatar
Tanicius
Posts: 2957
Joined: Sat Feb 07, 2009 12:54 am

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby Tanicius » Mon Nov 25, 2013 5:12 pm

As someone in the home stretch of this process, I agree almost completely with this post. The one small caveat (and I do think it is a small one), is that sometimes the school has actually come up as a bonus. Some offices have flat-out told me they aren't interviewing at other schools and are making a conscious effort to recruit at the top national name schools. In another example, I got a second-round interview with a well reputed PD office by shooting the shit at EJW table talk with their recruiter about my school for two minutes. It's a negligible advantage in the grand scheme, but it has helped a few times. What it does is open doors, and I guess I would say I am thankful for the limited number of opportunities it's gotten me so far, probably enough to justify the cost of all the extra loans I had to take out.

User avatar
twenty
Posts: 3153
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:17 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby twenty » Mon Nov 25, 2013 6:20 pm

Professor Campos had an excellent post where he detailed out exactly how few full time non-government PI jobs there were (the number was in the high hundreds). While my experience is very government-centric, I'd imagine a hustling-T1 kid that does 8 hours of volunteer time a week at a legal aid clinic is more likely to get that spot post-law school than a Northwestern kid who has a no-offer 2L SA on his resume.

I definitely agree school name confers "door opening" advantages when it comes to non-government PI spots.

User avatar
Tanicius
Posts: 2957
Joined: Sat Feb 07, 2009 12:54 am

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby Tanicius » Mon Nov 25, 2013 8:19 pm

twentypercentmore wrote:While my experience is very government-centric, I'd imagine a hustling-T1 kid that does 8 hours of volunteer time a week at a legal aid clinic is more likely to get that spot post-law school than a Northwestern kid who has a no-offer 2L SA on his resume.


Probably true. But that's also likely to do with the fact that the Northwestern guy just isn't dedicated. A fair comparison of the school name privilege would take two people with approximately equal amounts of hustling/dedication on their resume.

User avatar
ilovesf
Posts: 11735
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2010 5:20 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby ilovesf » Mon Nov 25, 2013 8:24 pm

Awesome! This could be helpful for law students as well.

User avatar
twenty
Posts: 3153
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:17 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby twenty » Mon Nov 25, 2013 9:02 pm

Tanicius wrote:
twentypercentmore wrote:While my experience is very government-centric, I'd imagine a hustling-T1 kid that does 8 hours of volunteer time a week at a legal aid clinic is more likely to get that spot post-law school than a Northwestern kid who has a no-offer 2L SA on his resume.


Probably true. But that's also likely to do with the fact that the Northwestern guy just isn't dedicated. A fair comparison of the school name privilege would take two people with approximately equal amounts of hustling/dedication on their resume.


No question! :) I guess the point I'm trying to get across is that, unlike for biglaw hiring, the difference between a regional school and a T14 school is far less noticeable for PI and basically non-existent for government.

But yeah, I agree with the idea that between two equally-"hustling" candidates, one from NU and the other from a regional T1, the NU kid will be more likely to get a call back.

txpasley
Posts: 6
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2013 9:33 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby txpasley » Tue Nov 26, 2013 1:23 pm

Do you see distinctions among schools of similar reputation which are more "PI-oriented?" A particular example I in mind is NYU,which heavily markets its public interest friendliness, and does, in fact, offer quite a few clinics and PI scholarships.

Or is a better distinction to be made in the quality of career services provided, rather than academic offerings?

User avatar
Nonconsecutive
Posts: 2240
Joined: Thu Sep 27, 2012 4:58 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby Nonconsecutive » Tue Nov 26, 2013 1:29 pm

Very interesting read, this is something I admittedly know very little about. Thanks for typing all that up!

User avatar
McGruff
Posts: 187
Joined: Wed Sep 25, 2013 3:16 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby McGruff » Tue Nov 26, 2013 1:40 pm

Twenty doing the Lord's work... you really have a gift for writing these sorts of guides. Even though I'm not really thinking I want to do PI, this is great information and well-presented, tyvm

ETA: you should link to this thread in your LRAP guide under your "brief note" on PI gigs, if you want...

User avatar
Dr.Zer0
Posts: 1030
Joined: Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:11 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby Dr.Zer0 » Tue Nov 26, 2013 2:01 pm

Tag

User avatar
twenty
Posts: 3153
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:17 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby twenty » Tue Nov 26, 2013 2:12 pm

Do you see distinctions among schools of similar reputation which are more "PI-oriented?" A particular example I in mind is NYU,which heavily markets its public interest friendliness, and does, in fact, offer quite a few clinics and PI scholarships.


Certainly. One of the greatest mysteries to me is the fact that UPenn arguably has "the best" LRAP (objectively better than Columbia and Chicago, probably better than NYU, possibly better than HYS), but has an abnormally low percentage of students doing PI/Govt. My guess is that Penn doesn't offer a lot of ability for students to get exposure to day-to-day PI work that might extend to permanent job offers, and instead focuses its purchasing power on 2L OCI.

Furthermore, there's something to be said about a school's fellowships that range from making copies for $14 an hour for 9 months and a day, and Yale's incredibly prestigious school-funded programs that are more competitive than biglaw. While far from necessary to obtain PI employment, some of these can be very helpful in landing a long-term PI gig post-graduation.

you should link to this thread in your LRAP guide under your "brief note" on PI gigs


Done. :)

User avatar
worldtraveler
Posts: 7662
Joined: Mon Oct 15, 2007 4:47 am

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby worldtraveler » Tue Nov 26, 2013 3:14 pm

txpasley wrote:Do you see distinctions among schools of similar reputation which are more "PI-oriented?" A particular example I in mind is NYU,which heavily markets its public interest friendliness, and does, in fact, offer quite a few clinics and PI scholarships.

Or is a better distinction to be made in the quality of career services provided, rather than academic offerings?


One thing to keep in mind is that you have limited time in law school. You can't do 8 clinics, so it doesn't really matter if they offer 4 or 8 as long as there is one that interests and will give you experience. I think a lot of 0Ls get excited at having 5 journals, 9 clinics, and 10 extracurricular clubs to join but you can't actually handle that much.

The availability of PI scholarships, career services committed to PI students, funded summer work, course offerings, LRAP, and enough PI oriented students to have these kinds of services do matter though. You can do PI from any school, but some do give you more support along the way if that is what you really want.

Honestly I think the biggest difference is the funding of post-graduate opportunities. Yale has just a shocking amount of PI opportunities for new grads that no one else can do, because no one else is going to get funding to work at the Hague for a year right out of law school. Most T10 schools offer some kind of funding like this, and I think Fordham and American and maybe a few others do too. Often the easiest way to get PI employment is to take one of these opportunities and then get it to turn into a real job, or get the experience to get a real job. Also takes care of one year of PSLF.

User avatar
twenty
Posts: 3153
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:17 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby twenty » Tue Nov 26, 2013 4:33 pm

worldtraveler wrote:Also takes care of one year of PSLF.


While you probably can't speak to everywhere, does Berkeley count one-year PI fellowships as qualifying extensions of LRAP eligibility, or as participation in LRAP?

I.e, say Berkeley's LRAP program has an immediate entry requirement and a two year extension policy. Does participating in the fellowship mean you now have 9 more years of LRAP remaining, or 10 more?

User avatar
Pleasye
Posts: 7957
Joined: Sun Mar 14, 2010 4:22 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby Pleasye » Tue Nov 26, 2013 4:44 pm

Thanks for this. Can I ask what fed agency you work for? It's okay if you can't answer (or maybe you can PM?)

User avatar
twenty
Posts: 3153
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:17 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby twenty » Tue Nov 26, 2013 5:50 pm

PM'd.

To everyone else, it's not SEC, DoJ, etc. which are notable for black-box hiring.

User avatar
worldtraveler
Posts: 7662
Joined: Mon Oct 15, 2007 4:47 am

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby worldtraveler » Tue Nov 26, 2013 6:21 pm

twentypercentmore wrote:
worldtraveler wrote:Also takes care of one year of PSLF.


While you probably can't speak to everywhere, does Berkeley count one-year PI fellowships as qualifying extensions of LRAP eligibility, or as participation in LRAP?

I.e, say Berkeley's LRAP program has an immediate entry requirement and a two year extension policy. Does participating in the fellowship mean you now have 9 more years of LRAP remaining, or 10 more?


It's kind of complicated.

The thing to worry about with all LRAPs or IBR is whether you count as an employee As a law fellow, whether through Skadden or school funded or whatever, you technically don't count as an employee. It's up to your sponsoring organization to sign the paperwork and verify your employment. Some might not do that, but at least for my employer, once I explained why I needed it they were ok with it.

So in my case, Berkeley counts a one year fellowship as LRAP eligible so long as my fellowship host will sign that I am employed with them. However, I can enroll in LRAP within 3 years of graduation anyway and my payments under IBR right now are $0 anyway, so it didn't really even matter. The LRAP is linked with IBR but have different qualifications. The idea is that you do 120 months of PSLF eligible work, and if that work requires a jd or is jd preferred, the LRAP will make your IBR or PAYE adjusted payments for you. So for example if I work as a high school teacher I can still be on the PSLF plan but be booted from LRAP at least for a while and have to make my own payments. It gets more complicated if you do a Fulbright or something that is LRAP eligible but not PSLF eligible.

So essentially, after my one year fellowship is done, I will have roughly 9 years left until my debt is forgiven. If my employer wouldn't have signed the paperwork, I would have been on the regular IBR plan making $0 payments anyway, but I'd still have 10 years left.

eaternation
Posts: 59
Joined: Tue Nov 26, 2013 6:12 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby eaternation » Tue Nov 26, 2013 6:49 pm

I understand grades are not considered as much in PI hiring, but how much are they considered? Ex. Are they not considered as long as you have above a 2.0 or are they simply considered much less?

User avatar
Tanicius
Posts: 2957
Joined: Sat Feb 07, 2009 12:54 am

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby Tanicius » Tue Nov 26, 2013 6:57 pm

eaternation wrote:I understand grades are not considered as much in PI hiring, but how much are they considered? Ex. Are they not considered as long as you have above a 2.0 or are they simply considered much less?


It just really depends on the individual job. "Prestigiou" PI like DOJ, AUSA or ACLU will care about grades a lot. Most public defender offices, though, don't even ask for your transcript.

User avatar
twenty
Posts: 3153
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:17 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby twenty » Tue Nov 26, 2013 7:59 pm

worldtraveler wrote:
twentypercentmore wrote:
worldtraveler wrote:Also takes care of one year of PSLF.


While you probably can't speak to everywhere, does Berkeley count one-year PI fellowships as qualifying extensions of LRAP eligibility, or as participation in LRAP?

I.e, say Berkeley's LRAP program has an immediate entry requirement and a two year extension policy. Does participating in the fellowship mean you now have 9 more years of LRAP remaining, or 10 more?


It's kind of complicated.

The thing to worry about with all LRAPs or IBR is whether you count as an employee As a law fellow, whether through Skadden or school funded or whatever, you technically don't count as an employee. It's up to your sponsoring organization to sign the paperwork and verify your employment. Some might not do that, but at least for my employer, once I explained why I needed it they were ok with it.

So in my case, Berkeley counts a one year fellowship as LRAP eligible so long as my fellowship host will sign that I am employed with them. However, I can enroll in LRAP within 3 years of graduation anyway and my payments under IBR right now are $0 anyway, so it didn't really even matter. The LRAP is linked with IBR but have different qualifications. The idea is that you do 120 months of PSLF eligible work, and if that work requires a jd or is jd preferred, the LRAP will make your IBR or PAYE adjusted payments for you. So for example if I work as a high school teacher I can still be on the PSLF plan but be booted from LRAP at least for a while and have to make my own payments. It gets more complicated if you do a Fulbright or something that is LRAP eligible but not PSLF eligible.

So essentially, after my one year fellowship is done, I will have roughly 9 years left until my debt is forgiven. If my employer wouldn't have signed the paperwork, I would have been on the regular IBR plan making $0 payments anyway, but I'd still have 10 years left.


Does your employer have to sign the paperwork every single month, or is it a once every six months/year thing?

(Also, that is very helpful advice -- thanks for your input! :) )

I understand grades are not considered as much in PI hiring, but how much are they considered? Ex. Are they not considered as long as you have above a 2.0 or are they simply considered much less?


For DOJ, AUSA, ACLU, etc. the pool you're competing against is very competitive, so it's unfair to say your grades are "just the tie-breaker" like they might be at other PI gigs.

User avatar
ManoftheHour
Posts: 3396
Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2013 6:03 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby ManoftheHour » Tue Nov 26, 2013 8:03 pm

Dr.Zer0 wrote:Tag

User avatar
midwest17
Posts: 1686
Joined: Sat Aug 31, 2013 5:27 pm

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby midwest17 » Tue Nov 26, 2013 9:20 pm

Do the federal defenders ever hire right out of law school, or do you have to get trial experience elsewhere first?

User avatar
worldtraveler
Posts: 7662
Joined: Mon Oct 15, 2007 4:47 am

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby worldtraveler » Tue Nov 26, 2013 9:48 pm

In regards to grades, I have only submitted grades in job applications a few times: for the DOJ, clerkships, Human Rights Watch, and for a couple non-profits. However, I get the impression that when some employers ask for transcripts, sometimes it's more about verifying that you have taken relevant coursework and have a commitment to a certain issue.

And as for PSLF/LRAP, every time you change jobs you have to resubmit applications, and even if you don't there is paperwork you have to annually submit. Honestly it's a giant pain. I am not an organized person and if I ever end up having to repay my loans, it will be due to my ineptness at keeping track of this stuff.

I am on the hiring committee for two organizations, and we do not ask for grades. However, we've thought about asking for transcripts because we are trying to avoid hiring people who are not really interested in the job (summer job), and only want it as a backup because they didn't get a firm job. If they have a transcript full of corporate law, we want to know that.

User avatar
Tanicius
Posts: 2957
Joined: Sat Feb 07, 2009 12:54 am

Re: So you want to do PI?

Postby Tanicius » Tue Nov 26, 2013 10:07 pm

midwest17 wrote:Do the federal defenders ever hire right out of law school, or do you have to get trial experience elsewhere first?


They rarely do, not necessarily because of lack of trial skills, but actually research skills. A fed defender's job involves much less oral argument time, be it in front of a judge or jury, than a local PD does. They are in some respects more closely related to the work you do as an associate at a law firm.

Also, nowadays, there's also been the whole sequestration thing, which has effectively destroyed the ability of any fed PD's anywhere in the country to hire, even the ones that have hired graduates in the past, like San Diego Fed PD.




Return to “Choosing a Law School”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: 20171lhopeful, Google Adsense [Bot], ohhellocharmedimsure, Sushi and 3 guests