Best Law Schools for Public Interest?

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Best Law Schools for Public Interest?

Postby mtn1995 » Mon Aug 28, 2017 1:15 pm

Hi, all,

I'm currently buried in LSAT prep material and the plethora of information regarding approaches to choosing your "ideal law school." My overarching goal is to become a public interest lawyer, hopefully working in research or policy formation. However, I'm struggling a bit to identify schools that will best assist me in reaching those goals.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Maybe a few schools to consider or websites that will provide information that I could use?

Also, I'm shooting for a 165 on the LSAT and my undergraduate GPA was 3.5, so obviously I'm not considering the top law schools in the nation.

Please let me know!


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Re: Best Law Schools for Public Interest?

Postby Pozzo » Mon Aug 28, 2017 3:42 pm

First, I would look at the reasons why you want to attend law school in the first place. There are plenty of opportunities to do "research and policy formation" that do not require a JD. Further, the type of influential PI work you're describing typically requires a degree from one of the top schools. If you're sure you want to actually practice law, then I'd put in the effort to get into the 170 range, which will begin to open those doors for you. Otherwise, evaluate whether you'd be content doing more local-level PI work. If so, then take as big a scholarship you can get to a school in an area you'd like to work. There aren't really schools that are "PI-focused" in a way that is meaningful enough to impact your decision.

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Re: Best Law Schools for Public Interest?

Postby esq » Mon Aug 28, 2017 5:29 pm

I'm biased since I love my alma mater, but I chose UVa Law because of their repayment plan for PI attorneys. Since that time, they've become even more public interest friendly. For e.g., for graduates they still have the:


(1) repayment plan, where they will make all your payments until your income based repayment debt is forgiven in 10 years. The stipulation is that you need to land a PI attorney gig within 2 years after graduating.

They have also stepped up their game for PI attorneys in other areas--FYI I was lucky to be able to take advantage of the fellowship (which was really helpful since a life crisis during law school meant I needed to move to a new area and leave my networking opportunities developed during law school behind):

(2) Kennedy Fellowship: I'm not sure that this only applies to PI attorneys, but the law school will pay you a pretty great stipend for a year after graduating to work in government/PI organizations. This allowed me to move, get involved with another public defense office, make an impression (I won two cases that were considered lost causes), and get hired.

(3) Bar Exam Stipend: They have a stipend for graduates that will pay for their bar exam course and bar exam fees.


(1) Guaranteed Summer Funding: When I went to UVa Law, you applied for PI summer funding through a PILA grant. Now all PI minded students can get funding for their summer positions, which is incredible.

(2) PI On Grounds Interviews/Career Center: While I didn't find the career center, which has a PI focused section, entirely beneficial to my PI job hunt, I know that many did. First, they invite many PI organizations to interview PI students--and there are definitely plenty of organizations that participate. It looks like they also have a list of organizations that are willing to take PI students right out of the gate upon graduation through the Kennedy Fellowship. Also, throughout the year they are constantly sending emails to students concerning projects that need student researchers, volunteers, from PI and government agencies. There is a great network through UVa Law on top of it all that can be utilized to land a PI position in some really great organizations.

(3) Clinics/3rd Year Practice Cert: UVa Law has some really great clinics that let me get litigation experience during my 3rd year. I obviously participated in the public defense clinic, though there were many other clinics with public interest work. The clinic was ran by this very helpful Federal PD. We were assigned different criminal defense attorneys who did a great job serving as mentors throughout the process. We were each given cases that were likely to go to trial, and so on top of the summer work I did, I ended up practicing in two different jurisdictions during my third year in this clinic. This clinic helped to clarify the approach, the laws, and the in court ins and outs better than my summer clerkship--which, in many cases, was like the wild wild west [lots of big assignments, but you were generally just hanging on for the ride and trying to figure it out as it was assigned].


It's no secret that UVa Law has the early enrollment (though you have to accept if they take you) option. I took advantage of this and had similar stats to what you have [166 LSAT + 3.95 GPA]. Though my LSAT was at their absolute low end, I'm convinced that they considered my GPA a lot more because I wrote a solid personal statement that also explained that I wanted to practice public interest law, why, and how my life experiences would be a benefit to the people I wanted to serve. I also overnight Fed Exed my application on the first possible day I could (since they have more leeway to accept reaches before they fill up the seats). It was a Friday. The following Monday, I received a phone call and was accepted.

Overall, UVa Law does have a soft spot in its heart for public interest minded students. It's important to the school that the public interest point of view is represented in the classroom, and carries on after law school, because it's valuable to the UVa Law community--and they put their money where there mouth is on that. If you can write a compelling PS, that demonstrates your intelligence and commitment to public interest, you can overcome your LSAT score.


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Re: Best Law Schools for Public Interest?

Postby Lawnghorn_2018 » Wed Sep 06, 2017 10:50 am

Why are you shooting for a 165? It is a very learnable test and is probably the most important test (aside from the bar exam) you will take for your legal career. Shoot for a 175 and get into the best law school you can.


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Re: Best Law Schools for Public Interest?

Postby bigpapi » Thu Sep 07, 2017 9:41 pm

Lawnghorn_2018 wrote:Why are you shooting for a 165? It is a very learnable test and is probably the most important test (aside from the bar exam) you will take for your legal career. Shoot for a 175 and get into the best law school you can.

Seconded. Aim high and learn the shit out of that test. It is 100% trainable, and an outstanding LSAT score will open doors that a high GPA alone will not.

As for the question in the OP: I went to UCLA and it has an excellent public interest program. The school works hard to place students in public interest jobs and externships, and there are more local and on-campus volunteering opportunities than you could possibly ever take advantage of. Every single person I know in my class who wanted to go into public interest law got into public interest law.


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Re: Best Law Schools for Public Interest?

Postby thedogwalker » Sun Sep 10, 2017 4:50 pm

Just to add my two-cents to the LSAT discussion from personal experience. It is 100% the single most important piece of law school admission, and you should absolutely study to do the best you can and aim for above a 165. The more you study, the better you will do (obviously). That said, it isn't the end-all-be-all. I got in to two CCN's (off the waitlist) with a below 25th percentile LSAT because I had a strong college GPA, good work experience, wrote a good personal statement, and showed persistent interest (i.e. wrote letters updating admissions on what I was doing and visited the schools--check off all the boxes you can). It wasn't fun and I wish I had done better on the LSAT, but I didn't. If you don't have any work experience or any thing compelling to talk about, you probably aren't getting in, though.

As far as best law schools for public interest, I think you should start to consider that more once you have your LSAT back and know where you will be applying. A 165 isn't going to get you a scholarship at any T14. So you need to be really sure you want to do PI and wouldn't hate doing big law before taking that leap. NYU definitely does have a very strong rep for PI work though.

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