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. The good news is, if you're a 0L, your grades/law school ranking/etc. don't really matter! 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 PI hiring.
The biggest thing you have to do to get into PI law 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 are small towns. Sorry Ithaca.
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.Objectively speaking
- Either go to a T14 school with the best LRAP program for your goals:
(An excellent thread by a handsome and brilliant poster can clear that all up for you: viewtopic.php?f=5&t=211835
- Or go to a regional school for free.
This advice is similar to the conventional TLS wisdom for people interested in going to law school for no particular objective. The mindset is that they will either end up unemployed and debt-free, or well employed; in which case debt isn't a big issue. The mindset here is that the name of the school doesn't really matter, you're realistically better off taking a strong regional school over a T14, even with a good LRAP.
Now, of course, this should give you kind of a queasy feeling. By taking the regional school, you more or less lock yourself out of biglaw. If you're at all thinking you want biglaw, take the T14.I don't really believe you when you say the school name doesn't matter.
Here's how the government hiring system 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.
It's lunch time. I'll add more stuff to this later.
Open to all helpful thoughts, angry rage-filled comments, and ideas.