How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

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King
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How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby King » Wed Apr 14, 2010 9:52 pm

As a curious, curious, and all so curious 0L, I've been doing a lot of research on the net about my options after my legal education. I have not applied yet, but have a (3.4/173), and will be applying Early Decision to Michigan - my family's dream school.

Although I'm interested in joining a law firm immediately after graduation, I'm not sure if that's what I'd want to do for the rest of my life.

Anything's possible, (1) but are there people who once worked in a completely unrelated practice area at a law firm transitioning to a public defender position? There might be shortcomings here and there, of course, (i.e. since these people might lack the academic training in criminal law, but perhaps that can be overcome with an LLM),

(2) but is there a kind of stigma in the legal market towards those who have worked in private practice for a prolonged period of timing attempting to transition to a kind of public interest position? For instance, law professors/hiring committees like to produce inferior scholarship edited by potentially clueless students and look down at "law professor hopefuls" that have lots of valuable practice experience. Or biglaw tosses a resume if it contains "document review." This might sound ridiculous, but I just want to understand the nature of the job-hunting process.

(3) Aside from the public defender position, how difficult is it to lateral your way to a position for a high-profile government agency (i.e. IRS, SEC, etc.)? Is it more difficult than trying to lateral your way to a different law firm as an eighth year associate?

If some of the things I've said are wrong, or if I'm asking ignorant/uninformed questions, please point it out for me. I'd also be thankful if you could lead me to a specific article to fill in these gaps:D Thank you!

King
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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby King » Wed Apr 14, 2010 10:56 pm

bump*

I'm hoping that today's not a bad day to sell this thread :( I'm afraid the TLS market forces (i.e. the USNWR 2011 rankings) might have lowered the supply of members who are willing to post comments on miscellaneous subjects.

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vanwinkle
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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby vanwinkle » Wed Apr 14, 2010 11:17 pm

I'll take a shot at this. Keep in mind that I'm just a 1L and don't know too much about this, but from what I do know, I might be able to give some decently accurate answers.

1) Historically I think it's actually been common for people to move from BigLaw to public defender offices. There are two different rationales for this:

The first is that someone did BigLaw for a few years for the money to pay down their debts before going into public interest law, which was rather common. 3-4 years of experience would give you good legal training and the money to pay off your loans, and then you'd be free to pursue PI work.

The second rationale is that not everyone who goes into BigLaw is going to make it in BigLaw. Firms intentionally hire far more associates than they intend to make into partners, intending to weed out all but the best, and a lot of those people who start to realize they're going to get "weeded out" look for something else to do with themselves. Some of them ended up as public defenders.

The important thing to understand there is that this is all pre-ITE, when there was still a lot of BigLaw hiring going on. Right now there's a lot of confusion about whether firms are hiring, whether they're going to honor their hires or continue to defer/cut people they said they'd hire, and so on and so forth, and between how much harder it is to get a real BigLaw job and the recent rise of Income-Based Repayment (IBR) as a way to manage your debts with low-paying work, people are more free to shoot directly for relatively stable public defender jobs straight out of law school.

2) It depends on what you mean by "prolonged period". As I mentioned, many people historically would leave BigLaw after 3-4 years and go elsewhere, either because they'd gotten all they wanted out of the law firm or because they started seeing clearly from their employer that they weren't going to make partner if they tried to stick around. Many successful prosecutors, public defenders, law professors, and federal judges started out as BigLaw associates and transitioned elsewhere after 3-4 years.

3) Some high-profile government jobs require you do this. For instance, almost no US Attorney's offices hire Assistant US Attorneys straight out of law school at all. They typically hire people to be AUSAs that have at least 3-4 years of experience in either criminal prosecution/defense, or--wait for it--BigLaw associate work. Corporate work is actually valuable for AUSAs because they handle white-collar crimes.

There are other federal agencies that do hire people with a few years of BigLaw experience for similar reasons. BigLaw provides a lot of training to people, especially in the kind of transactional and corporate law that many government agencies either use or investigate/regulate on a regular basis.

Lastly, there's really no such thing as an "eighth year associate" as I understand it. Usually by 5-7 years in BigLaw, you're either about to become partner or you've already left/been driven out. Many people leave and go elsewhere, it's been common practice, and if BigLaw hiring resumes to its former levels I imagine it'll continue being common practice again in the future.

Anonymous Loser
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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby Anonymous Loser » Wed Apr 14, 2010 11:28 pm

OP, you are over-thinking. Consider this: try your hand at some clinical work while in law school, or perhaps spend your 1L summer in a public defender's office. Then, assuming you land a firm job, do pro bono work in criminal defense.* Later, rely upon the connections and experience you gain through your pro bono work to transition into this field full time.

*Examples:

--LinkRemoved--
http://www.chadbourne.com/experience/de ... rience=698
http://www.debevoise.com/pro_bono/
http://www.whitecase.com/about/probono/
http://www.gtlaw.com/AboutUs/ServeOurCo ... ageProBono
etc.

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underdawg
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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby underdawg » Wed Apr 14, 2010 11:34 pm

i've heard that it is indeed hard to get one of the more coveted PD positions (think NYC, DC, etc.) coming from biglaw. they can indeed be hostile to biglaw people. "why did you work at a law firm?" is probably going to be a tough question to answer. they have so many completely committed students applying all the time.

if that's the path you want to go, you better take every single related clinic, class, internship, and litigation simulation during your time at law school. or....work at a PD office or something other than biglaw/prosecution during your 2L summer/after graduation

i am a 2L. 1L over there is right in that prosecution often likes biglaw experience, especially AUSA because they're pretty into prestige. working at a top firm is pretty much a requirement as they almost never hire straight out of law school (at least not SDNY/EDNY). um, prosecution and PDs offices are quite different. if you don't believe me, try doing prosecution first and then working at a PD later. have fun!

note: keep in mind i only know about NYC, where PD and AUSAs are perhaps the hardest to break into. if you just want to work at A pd's office ANYWHERE, well then YMMV.

above poster is vastly underestimating how difficult it is to get a NYC/DC PD job. i am vastly overestimating it if you are looking a less selective PD's office. i really have no idea what is what except that NYC and DC = hard.

last note: yes you should do as much pro bono work at a firm if possible. if the economy remains the same, then good luck getting an offer

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underdawg
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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby underdawg » Wed Apr 14, 2010 11:40 pm

Anonymous Loser wrote:OP, you are over-thinking. Consider this: try your hand at some clinical work while in law school, or perhaps spend your 1L summer in a public defender's office. Then, assuming you land a firm job, do pro bono work in criminal defense.* Later, rely upon the connections and experience you gain through your pro bono work to transition into this field full time.

*Examples:

--LinkRemoved--
http://www.chadbourne.com/experience/de ... rience=698
http://www.debevoise.com/pro_bono/
http://www.whitecase.com/about/probono/
http://www.gtlaw.com/AboutUs/ServeOurCo ... ageProBono
etc.

right, they will choose someone who spent 5% of their time doing relevant work than someone who did 100% by working at a PD's office during 2L...

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vanwinkle
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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby vanwinkle » Wed Apr 14, 2010 11:53 pm

underdawg wrote:i've heard that it is indeed hard to get one of the more coveted PD positions (think NYC, DC, etc.) coming from biglaw. they can indeed be hostile to biglaw people. "why did you work at a law firm?" is probably going to be a tough question to answer. they have so many completely committed students applying all the time.

if that's the path you want to go, you better take every single related clinic, class, internship, and litigation simulation during your time at law school. or....work at a PD office or something other than biglaw/prosecution during your 2L summer/after graduation

i am a 2L. 1L over there is right in that prosecution often likes biglaw experience, especially AUSA because they're pretty into prestige. working at a top firm is pretty much a requirement as they almost never hire straight out of law school (at least not SDNY/EDNY). um, prosecution and PDs offices are quite different. if you don't believe me, try doing prosecution first and then working at a PD later. have fun!

note: keep in mind i only know about NYC, where PD and AUSAs are perhaps the hardest to break into. if you just want to work at A pd's office ANYWHERE, well then YMMV.

above poster is vastly underestimating how difficult it is to get a NYC/DC PD job. i am vastly overestimating it if you are looking a less selective PD's office. i really have no idea what is what except that NYC and DC = hard.

last note: yes you should do as much pro bono work at a firm if possible. if the economy remains the same, then good luck getting an offer

I'm going to defer to this guy regarding PDs. He's right, I am underestimating the difficulty in getting big city PD work, and also that the biggest markets (NYC/DC/etc.) are hardest to get into. They are particularly careful about finding people "dedicated to the cause"... but other than with PDs, the model I described reflects pretty well how things work.

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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby articulably suspect » Thu Apr 15, 2010 12:50 am

underdawg wrote:i've heard that it is indeed hard to get one of the more coveted PD positions (think NYC, DC, etc.) coming from biglaw. they can indeed be hostile to biglaw people. "why did you work at a law firm?" is probably going to be a tough question to answer. they have so many completely committed students applying all the time.

if that's the path you want to go, you better take every single related clinic, class, internship, and litigation simulation during your time at law school. or....work at a PD office or something other than biglaw/prosecution during your 2L summer/after graduation

i am a 2L. 1L over there is right in that prosecution often likes biglaw experience, especially AUSA because they're pretty into prestige. working at a top firm is pretty much a requirement as they almost never hire straight out of law school (at least not SDNY/EDNY). um, prosecution and PDs offices are quite different. if you don't believe me, try doing prosecution first and then working at a PD later. have fun!

note: keep in mind i only know about NYC, where PD and AUSAs are perhaps the hardest to break into. if you just want to work at A pd's office ANYWHERE, well then YMMV.

above poster is vastly underestimating how difficult it is to get a NYC/DC PD job. i am vastly overestimating it if you are looking a less selective PD's office. i really have no idea what is what except that NYC and DC = hard.

last note: yes you should do as much pro bono work at a firm if possible. if the economy remains the same, then good luck getting an offer


It’s not a death sentence if you spend any time with the prosecution, is it?

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vanwinkle
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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby vanwinkle » Thu Apr 15, 2010 12:52 am

ejjones wrote:It’s not a death sentence if you spend any time with the prosecution, is it?

It depends on the office. For some offices, no, though it's still at least something to be skeptical about. I have heard that in the DC Public Defender Service, it is. If they see anything related to prosecution work on your resume, they put your application in the round file, period.

articulably suspect
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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby articulably suspect » Thu Apr 15, 2010 1:04 am

vanwinkle wrote:
ejjones wrote:It’s not a death sentence if you spend any time with the prosecution, is it?

It depends on the office. For some offices, no, though it's still at least something to be skeptical about. I have heard that in the DC Public Defender Service, it is. If they see anything related to prosecution work on your resume, they put your application in the round file, period.


Wow, that blows. I wasn't aware that was the scarlett letter of PD hiring, in some offices at least. How about PD work experience for those appying for DA internships/positions, just as big of a deal in some cases?

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vanwinkle
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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby vanwinkle » Thu Apr 15, 2010 1:10 am

ejjones wrote:Wow, that blows. I wasn't aware that was the scarlett letter of PD hiring, in some offices at least. How about PD work experience for those appying for DA internships/positions, just as big of a deal in some cases?

I think DA offices are less skeptical, though it depends on where. It's a real fascinating divide, to be honest.

PDs are often Don Quixote types, seeing themselves as nobly taking on an unfair system (which, by the way, it is in many places), and they see the DA's office as part of that unfair system. As a result they often see people who worked for the DA as having knowingly worked to support an unfair system of justice, and that calls their dedication to "real" justice into question. I don't think DA's in as many places care quite so much, though they'd want to know your reason for switching, and will likely question it and test you to some degree.

Given that you're largely doing the same kind of work in the same courthouses and under the same law, you'd think the experiences would translate from one side to the other easily, but because of the fact that huge competing social principles are at stake (the defense of potentially innocent clients and leniency toward those targeted harshly by the system vs. the protection of the public by strictly upholding the law), they really really are not okay with each other in a lot of places.

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quickquestionthanks
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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby quickquestionthanks » Thu Apr 15, 2010 1:16 am

King wrote:bump*

I'm hoping that today's not a bad day to sell this thread :( I'm afraid the TLS market forces (i.e. the USNWR 2011 rankings) might have lowered the supply of members who are willing to post comments on miscellaneous subjects.



What makes you want to become a public defender? It's a pretty awful job. Like really really awful. Nearly all of your clients are guilty and you're just shuffling them through the system.

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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Apr 15, 2010 3:33 am

Based on what a speaker from HLS (that deals with kind of stuff) said here-

Pre-ITE, it was definitely possible. PI organizations (such as PD offices) gladly took attorneys leaving biglaw.

Now- you really need to be build your career more strategically. Hiring freezes have been common for most PI jobs and there are some really qualified people that want these jobs, and the organizations will take those people over ex-biglaw associates. It's pretty much an impossible transition right now because it is really difficult to leave a firm and go into a PD's office when the office needs so few people and they piles of resumes with people that really done a lot to show their interest in working for a PD office, have experience working for a PD, etc.

However, I am interested in this same type of transition and am really not interested in the idea of repaying my loans for 10 years and turning what already is a low salary into a really low salary (i.e. relying on IBR or LRAP), and my personal thoughts on this is that this economy is a temporary thing. 4 years from now (the earliest I would even consider this transition) I think things will pick back up and it will be less difficult to make this transition (like it was a couple years ago).

King
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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby King » Thu Apr 15, 2010 3:50 am

Thanks guys for offering some really awesome input on this question.

The Davis Polk link was pretty cool. I wonder, though, what it takes for people at law firms to be the directors of the pro bono services. Do partners manage these pro bono programs? Or is there a separate staff member/associate/of counsel member directly involved in the program on a full-time basis? I think being a director of pro bono programs would be an interesting stepping stone for getting into the PI field. It might also be a good way to get into clinical law teaching, I bet.

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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby underdawg » Thu Apr 15, 2010 9:11 am

King wrote:Thanks guys for offering some really awesome input on this question.

The Davis Polk link was pretty cool. I wonder, though, what it takes for people at law firms to be the directors of the pro bono services. Do partners manage these pro bono programs? Or is there a separate staff member/associate/of counsel member directly involved in the program on a full-time basis? I think being a director of pro bono programs would be an interesting stepping stone for getting into the PI field. It might also be a good way to get into clinical law teaching, I bet.

um no

everyone in the world would take that job if it were available. everyone has had this thought at some pt

just forget about it

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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby kn6542 » Thu Apr 15, 2010 9:17 am

vanwinkle wrote:
ejjones wrote:It’s not a death sentence if you spend any time with the prosecution, is it?

It depends on the office. For some offices, no, though it's still at least something to be skeptical about. I have heard that in the DC Public Defender Service, it is. If they see anything related to prosecution work on your resume, they put your application in the round file, period.

My understanding is that the DC PD doesn't even want to hear that you've *interviewed* with a prosecutor's office, let alone worked for one. I think if you want to do PD work, decide that early on so you are sure not to doing anything to preclude you from being an attractive candidate, like working at a Prosecutor's office, not taking clinics, failing to gain PI experience, etc. Also, don't think of it as a dumping ground for ppl who couldn't get biglaw, or who decided they didn't want to work in a firm anymore. PD offices will shoot you down in a heartbeat if they get a whiff of that shit.

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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby Anonymous Loser » Thu Apr 15, 2010 9:39 am

underdawg wrote:
Anonymous Loser wrote:OP, you are over-thinking. Consider this: try your hand at some clinical work while in law school, or perhaps spend your 1L summer in a public defender's office. Then, assuming you land a firm job, do pro bono work in criminal defense.* Later, rely upon the connections and experience you gain through your pro bono work to transition into this field full time.

*Examples:

--LinkRemoved--
http://www.chadbourne.com/experience/de ... rience=698
http://www.debevoise.com/pro_bono/
http://www.whitecase.com/about/probono/
http://www.gtlaw.com/AboutUs/ServeOurCo ... ageProBono
etc.

right, they will choose someone who spent 5% of their time doing relevant work than someone who did 100% by working at a PD's office during 2L...


Unfortunately, the flip side is that a the OP is extremely unlikely to end up at a firm if he works in a PD's office 2L summer, so he won't have that option. At some point along the OP's hypothetical career path, he's going to have to make a transition that is a big stretch based on his credentials. Don't you think relying on 3L OCI to land a firm job (with two full summers of PD work on his resume) is somewhat more of a stretch than lateralling into a PD position with 3-4 years of litigation experience and some contacts in the PD's office?

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underdawg
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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby underdawg » Thu Apr 15, 2010 9:43 am

Anonymous Loser wrote:
underdawg wrote:
Anonymous Loser wrote:OP, you are over-thinking. Consider this: try your hand at some clinical work while in law school, or perhaps spend your 1L summer in a public defender's office. Then, assuming you land a firm job, do pro bono work in criminal defense.* Later, rely upon the connections and experience you gain through your pro bono work to transition into this field full time.

*Examples:

--LinkRemoved--
http://www.chadbourne.com/experience/de ... rience=698
http://www.debevoise.com/pro_bono/
http://www.whitecase.com/about/probono/
http://www.gtlaw.com/AboutUs/ServeOurCo ... ageProBono
etc.

right, they will choose someone who spent 5% of their time doing relevant work than someone who did 100% by working at a PD's office during 2L...


Unfortunately, the flip side is that a the OP is extremely unlikely to end up at a firm if he works in a PD's office 2L summer, so he won't have that option. At some point along the OP's hypothetical career path, he's going to have to make a transition that is a big stretch based on his credentials. Don't you think relying on 3L OCI to land a firm job (with two full summers of PD work on his resume) is somewhat more of a stretch than lateralling into a PD position with 3-4 years of litigation experience and some contacts in the PD's office?

if we're talking NYC...OP needs to choose before he chooses a 2L job. there's really no other way around it...

getting into biglaw from being a PD a few years down the road is probably easier than vice versa

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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby kn6542 » Thu Apr 15, 2010 10:11 am

underdawg wrote:if we're talking NYC...OP needs to choose before he chooses a 2L job. there's really no other way around it...

getting into biglaw from being a PD a few years down the road is probably easier than vice versa

This is probably true for most markets outside NYC as well. The person who works at a firm during the summers and after law schools is going to look suspicious to any PD office.

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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby DerrickRose » Thu Apr 15, 2010 6:12 pm

vanwinkle wrote:
ejjones wrote:It’s not a death sentence if you spend any time with the prosecution, is it?

It depends on the office. For some offices, no, though it's still at least something to be skeptical about. I have heard that in the DC Public Defender Service, it is. If they see anything related to prosecution work on your resume, they put your application in the round file, period.


Does that work the other way around? Because I will be externing at a PD this summer, and I would hate for that to preclude me from prosecution work in the future.

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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby kn6542 » Thu Apr 15, 2010 6:27 pm

DerrickRose wrote:
vanwinkle wrote:
ejjones wrote:It’s not a death sentence if you spend any time with the prosecution, is it?

It depends on the office. For some offices, no, though it's still at least something to be skeptical about. I have heard that in the DC Public Defender Service, it is. If they see anything related to prosecution work on your resume, they put your application in the round file, period.


Does that work the other way around? Because I will be externing at a PD this summer, and I would hate for that to preclude me from prosecution work in the future.

Not really.

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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby King » Thu Apr 15, 2010 10:06 pm

underdawg wrote:
King wrote:Thanks guys for offering some really awesome input on this question.

The Davis Polk link was pretty cool. I wonder, though, what it takes for people at law firms to be the directors of the pro bono services. Do partners manage these pro bono programs? Or is there a separate staff member/associate/of counsel member directly involved in the program on a full-time basis? I think being a director of pro bono programs would be an interesting stepping stone for getting into the PI field. It might also be a good way to get into clinical law teaching, I bet.

um no

everyone in the world would take that job if it were available. everyone has had this thought at some pt

just forget about it


I'm sorry what are you saying "no" to?

Are you saying that nobody directs pro bono services at law firms? "um no" to partners managing these probono programs? "um no" to staff member/associate/of counsel member directing the program?

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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby vanwinkle » Thu Apr 15, 2010 10:47 pm

DerrickRose wrote:
vanwinkle wrote:
ejjones wrote:It’s not a death sentence if you spend any time with the prosecution, is it?

It depends on the office. For some offices, no, though it's still at least something to be skeptical about. I have heard that in the DC Public Defender Service, it is. If they see anything related to prosecution work on your resume, they put your application in the round file, period.

Does that work the other way around? Because I will be externing at a PD this summer, and I would hate for that to preclude me from prosecution work in the future.

Not nearly so much.

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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby kn6542 » Fri Apr 16, 2010 12:13 am

King wrote:
underdawg wrote:
King wrote:Thanks guys for offering some really awesome input on this question.

The Davis Polk link was pretty cool. I wonder, though, what it takes for people at law firms to be the directors of the pro bono services. Do partners manage these pro bono programs? Or is there a separate staff member/associate/of counsel member directly involved in the program on a full-time basis? I think being a director of pro bono programs would be an interesting stepping stone for getting into the PI field. It might also be a good way to get into clinical law teaching, I bet.

um no

everyone in the world would take that job if it were available. everyone has had this thought at some pt

just forget about it


I'm sorry what are you saying "no" to?

Are you saying that nobody directs pro bono services at law firms? "um no" to partners managing these probono programs? "um no" to staff member/associate/of counsel member directing the program?


I'm sure this varies by firm, but these programs are often run by a separate staff member. He's saying no to this being a feasible career goal. Hence the "just forget about it." I think it's the sort of thing that ppl happen into. They put in years at a firm and there happens to be an opening for someone to run the pro bono shit and they happen to be offered the spot. I wouldn't go to a firm with the intention of landing it, though.

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Re: How is Private Practice --> Public Defender possible?

Postby underdawg » Fri Apr 16, 2010 12:48 am

how many people would want to do pro bono type stuff for biglaw salaries (if that's what those directors actually make)?? if they make PI type salaries, well i can tell you're not interested.

rule of thumb: if the job is awesome, then everyone wants to do it. it's a pretty simple rule of thumb, really.




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