Public Interest Life

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SehMeSerrious
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Public Interest Life

Postby SehMeSerrious » Thu Dec 09, 2010 6:36 am

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Last edited by SehMeSerrious on Thu May 19, 2011 1:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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spanktheduck
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby spanktheduck » Thu Dec 09, 2010 8:33 am

Don't go to law school to work on "human rights and international law issues." Those jobs don't really exist and to the extent they do, they are held by T3 grads with Phds.

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kalvano
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby kalvano » Thu Dec 09, 2010 10:37 am

SehMeSerrious wrote:I'm a 0L who wants to work in human rights and international law issues as a lawyer.


Are you going to Harvard, Yale, or Stanford and have a long work history with say, the State Department? If not, those jobs don't really exist.

SehMeSerrious wrote:basically I have a huge store of righteous anger, a strong sense of justice, I constantly debate with people on these issues, and I am pretty good at persuasive writing.


I can almost guarantee you that, if by some minuscule chance you get a job in that vague netherworld of "international and human rights law", none of that will matter. If you want to write angsty teenage books, it might be helpful.

SehMeSerrious wrote:The only thing that doesn't match the job description is that I hate "assigned" reading, but I'm also the guy who ends up going over material hours more than necessary when the subject is interesting to me so I figure it will balance out with the fact that I am reading material to ultimately help someone in their struggle for justice vs. reading for the sake of a grade. I also do not mind sacrificing my ability to have a "normal" life if it comes down to it.


If you hate assigned reading, don't go to law school. Or become a lawyer. You will be assigned literally thousands of pages to read that you may not particularly care about at all.

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observationalist
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby observationalist » Thu Dec 09, 2010 10:50 am

I'm a 2010 law grad working in the field of international environmental law (yes, it does exist). My school (Vanderbilt) gave me a 7-month public interest stipend, which was enough to relocate to Chile and pay the bills down here while we get situated. Some of my professors who work in the field helped get me through to some contacts down here, which has helped tremendously. My plan is to work here in the field for a few years before returning to NY or DC, where I want to remain in the public sector working on similar issues (environmental justice/biological diversity/water rights). I also co-founded and now serve as Policy Director for a small US-based nonprofit working on legal education reform, so I'm basically splitting my time between working on enviro issues in Chile and policy work in the U.S.

The lifestyle down here is really comfortable... we can afford to live in a very nice building in a very safe neighborhood, with a pool on the roof and an amazing view of the Andes. I work probably a little more than 45 hours a week total, though with deadlines for assignments it can be a little more than that. In the first three months of being here I've gotten to attend really incredible meetings with legal clinic directors, a team of California senators, UN reps, indigenous community leaders, and the ecologists, biologists, etc who I'm working with. Attorneys in Chile are generally impressed with U.S. law degrees, since only a few of them have the funds to pursue LLMs in the U.S. after they graduate from one of the law schools here. Chilean law also looks to U.S. law in developing, so as presumed experts on U.S. law we've gotten a lot of chances to help work on reform. There are a number of international orgs with funding that comes from outside the country, which means they can afford to pay a decent salary that puts public interest lawyers well above what would be considered poor here.

As far as debt goes, I have a lot of it. I'm also enrolled in IBR, which caps monthly payments and depending on your AGI/debt ratio can really make things manageable. The kicker is that I can actually live comfortably down here (and fly back to the U.S. as needed, such as getting sworn-in a few months from now) while potentially qualifying for $0/month payments under IBR. I'm currently in Forebearance while I wait to hear about the actual payments. One I start working full-time I'll also qualify for my school's LRAP program, so in the case the government does decide I can pay a small amount each month my school should be picking up the tab.

What I've taken away from all of this (feel free to make your own conclusions) is the following:

1) Debt, even high debt, is manageable if you can get paid public interest work that on its own is enough to live wherever you will be working. This means if you can find an international organization willing to hire you without legal experience and send you to, say, a developing country, you should be able to make it work provided you enroll in IBR and don't have private loans (only non-private can be consolidated into the Direct Federal Loan program... check out http://www.ibr-info.org for more information). I have no idea how seldom someone ends up doing what I've done, but I do recognize that a number of things had to work out in my favor in order to make this happen. Generally speaking, law school will not provide you with the training you need to do actual legal work, even though it will put you into a lot of debt.

2) You should never assume a school that boasts a strong 'international law program' can actually help place you with public interest organizations. Just because they have professors who can teach you about it doesn't mean those professors have any interest in helping you find work, or the connections that could help you get set up with internships. That said, I received enormous assistance job-hunting from the professors at my school. One of them put in the phone call that got me my 1L internship, a second helped me get through to his colleagues who have worked down here in Chile, and a third is helping me out now with some of my work with a legal clinic here in Santiago. If you can find a school where students really do interact with the professors, and where the professors also give you job assistance, it can make an enormous difference. But only having course offerings isn't going to be enough unless you have your own connections in the field. Prestige really matters in international law, which is why most people say that it's T3 or bust. Most countries only have one or two law schools that are considered respectable, so they generally assume any schools below the top one or two in the U.S. aren't worth it. It might seem unfair to you, but it's a reality that even the US-based orgs must face when making their hiring decisions.

3) Schools that offer some sort of short-term assistance after graduation can make a real difference if you're trying to relocate abroad. I never would have been able to make the move down here without prior funding from Vanderbilt, given the amount of debt I took on to finance my J.D. If you really want to pursue international public interest law, you need to be prepared to accept that your best bet may be relocating abroad and making a very low salary. There are jobs in DC and NY but they are few and far between, and they typically go to graduates of only the very top law schools with prior experience in the field.

Given all of that, I also want to point out what everyone else on here will point out:

-International law doesn't exist (not really, at least not as you might think it does, and the jobs you're thinking about probably won't be open to you)
-Earning a J.D. with a concentration in international law probably won't help you get a job unless you or your program has the sort of connections that you'll need to get a foot in the door somewhere and work your way up
-There are a number of other, cheaper options you can pursue besides spending three years earning a J.D. that will allow you to satisfy your need to channel your huge store of righteous anger and strong sense of justice. Volunteer or work in the field for a few years and then decide if it's what you really want. Admissions officers are not impressed by application essays that talk about how a study abroad experience observing poverty/injustice made you realize you wanted to go to law school to correct the evils of the world. (Not saying that's your bent, just saying that they tend to read such essays as being wholly ignorant of the actual practice of law). Just about half of all applicants express a desire to pursue public interest work, but the reality is that the enormous debt burdens and geographical restraints are going to make those applicants change their minds once they're in school.

Finally (since I've spent a few years now trying to emphasize the importance of job prospects), I strongly encourage you to contact the schools you're considering and request to see the list of graduates from each class who have found jobs that match the sort of work you're looking for. The few anecdotes on a law school's website should not be taken as anything other than anomalies; what you need is the underlying data about where each graduate goes each year. Admissions offices understand how to present employment statistics in a way that appeals to prospective law students. As a consequence a lot of the data you'll find is not an accurate portrayal of the job stats. Even though you might not be too concerned with starting salaries given your career goals, you might want to check out what we did with the currently available data: --LinkRemoved--

G'luck, obs

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homestyle28
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby homestyle28 » Thu Dec 09, 2010 10:54 am

In short, you've come to the wrong place if you're looking for a lot of encouragement about PI work, there are a few TLS'ers who want to do that, but we're a very distinct minority.

human rights/international law is both too broad and too vague for it to be your career goal. What JOB do you want? You said you're a 0L, so assuming you're actually headed to law school, there will be some opportunities there for you to explore a variety of PI options. As a general piece of advice, go to a school in a bigger city, there are more options there regarding the kind of work to be done.

Take all the pessimism here w/ a grain of salt. The law school students who actually make PI their career are of the "true believer/idealist" sort and don't surface too often here.

spanktheduck wrote:If you hate assigned reading, don't go to law school. Or become a lawyer. You will be assigned literally thousands of pages to read that you may not particularly care about at all.
But this is credited.

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OperaSoprano
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby OperaSoprano » Thu Dec 09, 2010 11:21 am

observationalist wrote:I'm a 2010 law grad working in the field of international environmental law (yes, it does exist). My school (Vanderbilt) gave me a 7-month public interest stipend, which was enough to relocate to Chile and pay the bills down here while we get situated. Some of my professors who work in the field helped get me through to some contacts down here, which has helped tremendously. My plan is to work here in the field for a few years before returning to NY or DC, where I want to remain in the public sector working on similar issues (environmental justice/biological diversity/water rights). I also co-founded and now serve as Policy Director for a small US-based nonprofit working on legal education reform, so I'm basically splitting my time between working on enviro issues in Chile and policy work in the U.S.

The lifestyle down here is really comfortable... we can afford to live in a very nice building in a very safe neighborhood, with a pool on the roof and an amazing view of the Andes. I work probably a little more than 45 hours a week total, though with deadlines for assignments it can be a little more than that. In the first three months of being here I've gotten to attend really incredible meetings with legal clinic directors, a team of California senators, UN reps, indigenous community leaders, and the ecologists, biologists, etc who I'm working with. Attorneys in Chile are generally impressed with U.S. law degrees, since only a few of them have the funds to pursue LLMs in the U.S. after they graduate from one of the law schools here. Chilean law also looks to U.S. law in developing, so as presumed experts on U.S. law we've gotten a lot of chances to help work on reform. There are a number of international orgs with funding that comes from outside the country, which means they can afford to pay a decent salary that puts public interest lawyers well above what would be considered poor here.

As far as debt goes, I have a lot of it. I'm also enrolled in IBR, which caps monthly payments and depending on your AGI/debt ratio can really make things manageable. The kicker is that I can actually live comfortably down here (and fly back to the U.S. as needed, such as getting sworn-in a few months from now) while potentially qualifying for $0/month payments under IBR. I'm currently in Forebearance while I wait to hear about the actual payments. One I start working full-time I'll also qualify for my school's LRAP program, so in the case the government does decide I can pay a small amount each month my school should be picking up the tab.

What I've taken away from all of this (feel free to make your own conclusions) is the following:

1) Debt, even high debt, is manageable if you can get paid public interest work that on its own is enough to live wherever you will be working. This means if you can find an international organization willing to hire you without legal experience and send you to, say, a developing country, you should be able to make it work provided you enroll in IBR and don't have private loans (only non-private can be consolidated into the Direct Federal Loan program... check out http://www.ibr-info.org for more information). I have no idea how seldom someone ends up doing what I've done, but I do recognize that a number of things had to work out in my favor in order to make this happen. Generally speaking, law school will not provide you with the training you need to do actual legal work, even though it will put you into a lot of debt.

2) You should never assume a school that boasts a strong 'international law program' can actually help place you with public interest organizations. Just because they have professors who can teach you about it doesn't mean those professors have any interest in helping you find work, or the connections that could help you get set up with internships. That said, I received enormous assistance job-hunting from the professors at my school. One of them put in the phone call that got me my 1L internship, a second helped me get through to his colleagues who have worked down here in Chile, and a third is helping me out now with some of my work with a legal clinic here in Santiago. If you can find a school where students really do interact with the professors, and where the professors also give you job assistance, it can make an enormous difference. But only having course offerings isn't going to be enough unless you have your own connections in the field. Prestige really matters in international law, which is why most people say that it's T3 or bust. Most countries only have one or two law schools that are considered respectable, so they generally assume any schools below the top one or two in the U.S. aren't worth it. It might seem unfair to you, but it's a reality that even the US-based orgs must face when making their hiring decisions.

3) Schools that offer some sort of short-term assistance after graduation can make a real difference if you're trying to relocate abroad. I never would have been able to make the move down here without prior funding from Vanderbilt, given the amount of debt I took on to finance my J.D. If you really want to pursue international public interest law, you need to be prepared to accept that your best bet may be relocating abroad and making a very low salary. There are jobs in DC and NY but they are few and far between, and they typically go to graduates of only the very top law schools with prior experience in the field.

Given all of that, I also want to point out what everyone else on here will point out:

-International law doesn't exist (not really, at least not as you might think it does, and the jobs you're thinking about probably won't be open to you)
-Earning a J.D. with a concentration in international law probably won't help you get a job unless you or your program has the sort of connections that you'll need to get a foot in the door somewhere and work your way up
-There are a number of other, cheaper options you can pursue besides spending three years earning a J.D. that will allow you to satisfy your need to channel your huge store of righteous anger and strong sense of justice. Volunteer or work in the field for a few years and then decide if it's what you really want. Admissions officers are not impressed by application essays that talk about how a study abroad experience observing poverty/injustice made you realize you wanted to go to law school to correct the evils of the world. (Not saying that's your bent, just saying that they tend to read such essays as being wholly ignorant of the actual practice of law). Just about half of all applicants express a desire to pursue public interest work, but the reality is that the enormous debt burdens and geographical restraints are going to make those applicants change their minds once they're in school.

Finally (since I've spent a few years now trying to emphasize the importance of job prospects), I strongly encourage you to contact the schools you're considering and request to see the list of graduates from each class who have found jobs that match the sort of work you're looking for. The few anecdotes on a law school's website should not be taken as anything other than anomalies; what you need is the underlying data about where each graduate goes each year. Admissions offices understand how to present employment statistics in a way that appeals to prospective law students. As a consequence a lot of the data you'll find is not an accurate portrayal of the job stats. Even though you might not be too concerned with starting salaries given your career goals, you might want to check out what we did with the currently available data: --LinkRemoved--

G'luck, obs



You are amazing. I defer to you, sir! I meant to ask you, though-- did you have high level language skills before you did this? I am sure you'd need great Spanish and maybe just the ability to learn languages quickly, if you'd be meeting with/representing indigenous populations.

To the OP: there will always be smaller organizations in major US cities that need your help. The issues are lack of funding and decreased likelihood to hire new law grads without experience. If you can go do something like what Observationalist did, you can come back here with actual skills to offer. Of course, I have no idea how rare this is either, but I don't personally know anyone else who's done it. I am pretty much very jealous.

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SehMeSerrious
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby SehMeSerrious » Thu Dec 09, 2010 12:37 pm

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SehMeSerrious
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby SehMeSerrious » Thu Dec 09, 2010 12:43 pm

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SehMeSerrious
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby SehMeSerrious » Thu Dec 09, 2010 1:02 pm

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Last edited by SehMeSerrious on Thu May 19, 2011 1:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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observationalist
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby observationalist » Thu Dec 09, 2010 2:39 pm

OperaSoprano wrote: I meant to ask you, though-- did you have high level language skills before you did this? I am sure you'd need great Spanish and maybe just the ability to learn languages quickly, if you'd be meeting with/representing indigenous populations.

To the OP: there will always be smaller organizations in major US cities that need your help. The issues are lack of funding and decreased likelihood to hire new law grads without experience. If you can go do something like what Observationalist did, you can come back here with actual skills to offer. Of course, I have no idea how rare this is either, but I don't personally know anyone else who's done it. I am pretty much very jealous.


Hey OS, hope school's going well. About your question, I was far from fluent in spanish before I came here but have picked it up enough to get by and do the work I need to do. My understanding of the native language though (Mapudungun) is very limited, basically just to the names they use for different protected species of trees. I'm working on it but I doubt I'll get much of a handle on it before we head back to the states.

Good points about needing experience and funding problems limiting the work you can find with smaller orgs. The biggest challenge as a law student is convincing them you can actually do something without needing to be trained; this usually means working for them during school and showing them what you can do. It probably depends on what sort of legal work (eg litigation vs something else). The biggest problem I've seen for people trying to get into public interest litigation, for example, is that employers want someone with a few years under their belt. For legal advocacy I don't think you need as much experience in the field, so long as you've actually done something before/during law school. OS, where are you at in the job hunt? Private sector, public? Fashion?

SehMeSerrious wrote:observationalist, thank you so much for sharing your experience and advice with me. This gives me hope that I can definitely make this my career and at the same time it gives me insight into the challenges I will likely face.

I realize that connections and prestige are the two biggest factors in getting my first job in this field, and that this will be my biggest challenge. I am hoping to make some good connections here in Egypt by working with NGOs that provide legal assistance. I will only be here until June, but hopefully I can make my time count.

I was told by a legal director for one of the organizations that Yale offered her a good foundation for her current work, but of course this isn't really earth-shattering news. I am definitely shooting for HYS like everyone else is. Other than that, I'll begin researching which schools would have professors with connections in these fields. I am definitely looking for a schools that offer assistance for public interest.


You're welcome. From the additional information you provided it sounds like you might be on the right track with everything. Speaking multiple languages will obviously help in looking for international work, as will any contacts you can build with legal aid organizations. It also sounds like you don't fall into the garden-variety study abroad type of applicant, so that should help if you're targeting the very top schools. Don't be afraid to contact the faculty at the schools you're looking at to ask them for advice as well. The worst thing that happens is they're too busy to respond, but there's always the chance they'll give you some inside advice and remember you when you eventually start school. Our international program director is one of the types who is very interested in getting people jobs, and if he knows your qualifications he would likely spit out a few potential employers he could help you with if you ended up coming to the school. Here's an example of the type of work that's out there with the right connections: http://law.vanderbilt.edu/article-searc ... px?nid=300

Anyways, g'luck with everything over there.

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OperaSoprano
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby OperaSoprano » Thu Dec 09, 2010 3:13 pm

observationalist wrote:
OperaSoprano wrote: I meant to ask you, though-- did you have high level language skills before you did this? I am sure you'd need great Spanish and maybe just the ability to learn languages quickly, if you'd be meeting with/representing indigenous populations.

To the OP: there will always be smaller organizations in major US cities that need your help. The issues are lack of funding and decreased likelihood to hire new law grads without experience. If you can go do something like what Observationalist did, you can come back here with actual skills to offer. Of course, I have no idea how rare this is either, but I don't personally know anyone else who's done it. I am pretty much very jealous.


Hey OS, hope school's going well. About your question, I was far from fluent in spanish before I came here but have picked it up enough to get by and do the work I need to do. My understanding of the native language though (Mapudungun) is very limited, basically just to the names they use for different protected species of trees. I'm working on it but I doubt I'll get much of a handle on it before we head back to the states.

Good points about needing experience and funding problems limiting the work you can find with smaller orgs. The biggest challenge as a law student is convincing them you can actually do something without needing to be trained; this usually means working for them during school and showing them what you can do. It probably depends on what sort of legal work (eg litigation vs something else). The biggest problem I've seen for people trying to get into public interest litigation, for example, is that employers want someone with a few years under their belt. For legal advocacy I don't think you need as much experience in the field, so long as you've actually done something before/during law school. OS, where are you at in the job hunt? Private sector, public? Fashion?


Obs, I wish I knew! I didn't exactly want biglaw in the first place, so I'm not too broken up about not getting that (I was proud of my academic performance, and told it wasn't the reason, but the market is incredibly strange right now, so who really knows?) I am interviewing for PI and fashion law summer positions. I keep volunteering, and I have an ongoing internship at a fashion house. Who knows? I am hoping I'll be as lucky as you were and find something off the beaten path that is perfect for me. Would you say professors at your school helped most people? Is it an anomaly to get the kind of hands on placement assistance you received? I am nervous about asking.

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homestyle28
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby homestyle28 » Thu Dec 09, 2010 3:17 pm

OperaSoprano wrote:I am interviewing for PI and fashion law summer positions.


Please tell me that some of these are overlapping...best non profit ever!

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OperaSoprano
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby OperaSoprano » Thu Dec 09, 2010 4:45 pm

homestyle28 wrote:
OperaSoprano wrote:I am interviewing for PI and fashion law summer positions.


Please tell me that some of these are overlapping...best non profit ever!


Well, there is at least one... Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. 8) I'm never going to get that, though. The initials of my school don't start with H, Y, or S, or even C or N.

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observationalist
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby observationalist » Thu Dec 09, 2010 5:03 pm

OperaSoprano wrote:
homestyle28 wrote:
OperaSoprano wrote:I am interviewing for PI and fashion law summer positions.


Please tell me that some of these are overlapping...best non profit ever!


Well, there is at least one... Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. 8) I'm never going to get that, though. The initials of my school don't start with H, Y, or S, or even C or N.


You could most definitely intern for what used to be Nashville's Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, plus you'd get to spend a really fun summer in a really fun city, surrounded by musicians and songwriters, working with really incredible people. Keep your head up and keep applying, I'm sure someone with your background will land something interesting.

OperaSoprano wrote:Obs, I wish I knew! I didn't exactly want biglaw in the first place, so I'm not too broken up about not getting that (I was proud of my academic performance, and told it wasn't the reason, but the market is incredibly strange right now, so who really knows?) I am interviewing for PI and fashion law summer positions. I keep volunteering, and I have an ongoing internship at a fashion house. Who knows? I am hoping I'll be as lucky as you were and find something off the beaten path that is perfect for me. Would you say professors at your school helped most people? Is it an anomaly to get the kind of hands on placement assistance you received? I am nervous about asking.


I really do think that small schools like mine give you an advantage in terms of access to professors... 1L classes aside, I got to know a number of my professors really well and I don't think I was unique in that regard. Professor Newton single-handedly helped at least a dozen people in my class get applications out to places like the Int' Criminal Court or for things like State Dept and the PMF program, and he largely bases his decisions on a "do I trust this student enough to put my reputation out there?" basis. Others have contacted old colleagues of theirs to see if they're hiring and if so whether they'd take a look at a particular student.

I think a lot of times students are afraid to just go up and ask a professor for help... maybe it's easier to do in a school where you see the same people all the time and are more likely to interact with them, but I don't know. I can say that at least a dozen of my friends have gone out drinking with one professor or another, which can often help make people more comfortable to ask for help once the hangover goes away and you get back to business.

Point being is that if there are professors who have done some of the amazing things that you want to be doing, it is absolutely worth it to drop in on their office, go out to lunch, and ask for help. Not all of them spent one year in a clerkship and two years in a token biglaw gig before moving into academia. If anything, the ones who spent real time in the profession might be proud of their background and thus more likely to help you than the ones who (for lack of a better phrase) climbed up the ivory tower as soon as they could.

cheesenoodlekugel
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby cheesenoodlekugel » Fri Dec 10, 2010 12:10 pm

I haven't read through all of the replies to this thread, but as a 3L at HYS who will be pursuing public interest after my clerkship, I figured I'd add my two cents.

I noticed that you seem to have a very specific kind of public interest that you want to do. It's great (and very important) to have focus and to build experience, but with that said, I also think that it's critical to be flexible. I came in wanting to do civil rights work, ideally for the government. That's still my dream, but I'll also be applying for fellowships (e.g. Skadden, EJW), other government jobs, direct legal services jobs, and positions with small private firms that do public interest-oriented work. Public interest jobs are very competitive. Though many who want to work for biglaw think that it's easy to get a job doing something like public defense or direct legal services (let alone working for the government, working for impact litigation or human rights groups, etc.), these jobs are actually generally exceptionally competitive for new graduates. If you really can only see yourself doing one or two kinds of public interest work, you might be setting yourself up for some later disappointment. It might be wise to think about whether you could see yourself being happy doing something slightly different, though still in the public interest world.

Also, I was very lucky and fortunate to be able to get a clerkship without really planning on applying for clerkships initially. If you know you want to do public interest, you should come in planning to do a clerkship and working to build relationships with faculty early on. I didn't realize how important doing a clerkship is for many public interest jobs initially, but since so many public interest groups really don't have the resources to train you from scratch, many very highly value (or essentially require) a clerkship. If you come in knowing that you want public interest, I would plan on clerking from the beginning and do what you need to do to best position yourself for the application process (e.g. building relationships with professors who could write a good letter of recommendation, network with people clerking for judges you are interested in, etc.).

Ok, I'm done with my two cents. Hope that was at least semi-helpful. :)

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homestyle28
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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby homestyle28 » Fri Dec 10, 2010 12:15 pm

cheesenoodlekugel wrote:I haven't read through all of the replies to this thread, but as a 3L at HYS who will be pursuing public interest after my clerkship, I figured I'd add my two cents.

I noticed that you seem to have a very specific kind of public interest that you want to do. It's great (and very important) to have focus and to build experience, but with that said, I also think that it's critical to be flexible. I came in wanting to do civil rights work, ideally for the government. That's still my dream, but I'll also be applying for fellowships (e.g. Skadden, EJW), other government jobs, direct legal services jobs, and positions with small private firms that do public interest-oriented work. Public interest jobs are very competitive. Though many who want to work for biglaw think that it's easy to get a job doing something like public defense or direct legal services (let alone working for the government, working for impact litigation or human rights groups, etc.), these jobs are actually generally exceptionally competitive for new graduates. If you really can only see yourself doing one or two kinds of public interest work, you might be setting yourself up for some later disappointment. It might be wise to think about whether you could see yourself being happy doing something slightly different, though still in the public interest world.

Also, I was very lucky and fortunate to be able to get a clerkship without really planning on applying for clerkships initially. If you know you want to do public interest, you should come in planning to do a clerkship and working to build relationships with faculty early on. I didn't realize how important doing a clerkship is for many public interest jobs initially, but since so many public interest groups really don't have the resources to train you from scratch, many very highly value (or essentially require) a clerkship. If you come in knowing that you want public interest, I would plan on clerking from the beginning and do what you need to do to best position yourself for the application process (e.g. building relationships with professors who could write a good letter of recommendation, network with people clerking for judges you are interested in, etc.).

Ok, I'm done with my two cents. Hope that was at least semi-helpful. :)


Very helpful, thanks! Do you lump larger city ADA gigs into the hard to get PI category? My sense was that in some places (like Chicago) they aren't as competitive if your coming from t-14 or so. But I could be way off the mark.

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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby cheesenoodlekugel » Fri Dec 10, 2010 12:28 pm

ADA jobs are very competitive (though hopefully they won't be quite as competitive as the economy improves-- many ADA offices just don't have the money to make many, if any, new hires right now). ADA offices will also tend to focus on your experience much more than the school you are at. It's usually important to just apply very broadly and to consider geographic locations that won't get as many applications.

I'm not trying in any way to discourage you-- I'll be applying exclusively for public interest jobs myself, and most of my friends in law school are also public interest folks. I'm just encouraging you to know what the market is like and realize that you will very likely need to consider a lot of different types of public interest work.

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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby SehMeSerrious » Fri Dec 10, 2010 2:48 pm

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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby cheesenoodlekugel » Fri Dec 10, 2010 8:36 pm

I'm probably not the best person to answer questions about long-term career transitions. Those are good questions for an experienced attorney though.

Just as one last note though-- It might sound obvious, but I'd really encourage you to try out multiple kinds of public interest law during law school (through clinics, summers, etc.) and not base everything on what you think your passions are right now. A lot of people think they want a certain practice area, but part of your work satisfaction will be determined by your commitment to the people you are serving and an equally large part will be determined by your enjoyment of the day-to-day work. Working for the government or for an impact litigation group will typically involve a lot of legal research and writing. Working for a direct legal services organization or PD office will likely involve much less writing and much more court time/trial work. It's really hard to judge the kind of work that you will enjoy until you've tried it.

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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby worldtraveler » Fri Dec 10, 2010 10:42 pm

OP, I know which organizations you're talking about. One of them works with some law school clinics on cases. Yale, NYU, Stanford, and Berkeley have chapters of it. If you want to continue working with Arabic speaking refugees or want to build on the connections you have one of those schools may work well. I imagine there would be some law students externing there in the spring as well so you should talk to them.

To get into this field, you need a ton of experience. Don't think about law school until you have some work experience, done a Fulbright, or a lot of experience working abroad. Do a lot of internships, try and get funded language study, and then think about law school. I know you say you're comfortable living in a third world country, but doing human rights work is completely different. A lot of lawyers are followed by government security, arrested, have their belongings searched all the time, and it's really a lot less glamorous than what you might think. From your post, quite honestly you sound a bit naive, and I would suggest you try out the field before getting too passionate about it.

Also, in terms of debt, really research IBR and LRAP programs before you go. It's a little known fact that the public service IBR does NOT cover work with the UN or non-US based NGOs much of the time. You need to factor that into consideration as well.

Finally, drop the righteous anger. You're only going to annoy co-workers and head towards burnout.

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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby SehMeSerrious » Sat Dec 11, 2010 5:17 am

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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby SehMeSerrious » Sat Dec 11, 2010 5:54 am

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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby SehMeSerrious » Sat Dec 11, 2010 5:58 am

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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby observationalist » Sat Dec 11, 2010 9:13 pm

SehMeSerrious wrote:
observationalist wrote:As far as debt goes, I have a lot of it. I'm also enrolled in IBR, which caps monthly payments and depending on your AGI/debt ratio can really make things manageable. The kicker is that I can actually live comfortably down here (and fly back to the U.S. as needed, such as getting sworn-in a few months from now) while potentially qualifying for $0/month payments under IBR. I'm currently in Forebearance while I wait to hear about the actual payments. One I start working full-time I'll also qualify for my school's LRAP program, so in the case the government does decide I can pay a small amount each month my school should be picking up the tab.

What I've taken away from all of this (feel free to make your own conclusions) is the following:

1) Debt, even high debt, is manageable if you can get paid public interest work that on its own is enough to live wherever you will be working. This means if you can find an international organization willing to hire you without legal experience and send you to, say, a developing country, you should be able to make it work provided you enroll in IBR and don't have private loans (only non-private can be consolidated into the Direct Federal Loan program... check out http://www.ibr-info.org for more information). I have no idea how seldom someone ends up doing what I've done, but I do recognize that a number of things had to work out in my favor in order to make this happen. Generally speaking, law school will not provide you with the training you need to do actual legal work, even though it will put you into a lot of debt.


Since this was mentioned by another poster - is the organization/company you work for based in the US or abroad? And has that affected you eligibility for some of these assistance programs?


The one group I'm volunteering with right now is a Chilean-based ngo, but I'll hopefully be working for a US-based NGO at some point before we return to the states. None of that affects whether I qualify for IBR, but it could make a difference when it comes to qualifying for the 10-year public interest loan forgiveness. People in private practice qualify for IBR too, it just depends on your debt/income ratio.

But technically, since I work for a US-based NGO as well, and can list both employers, I'll still qualify for the loan forgiveness. It's definitely something worth looking into though before deciding to move abroad, and unfortunately there are still a lot of open questions about how IBR/loan forgiveness is actually going to pan out. I would never suggest someone plan on doing 10 years of public interest work solely for the purpose of getting their loans forgiven, but for someone who wants a career in public interest it's a decent incentive to make sure you can qualify.

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Re: Public Interest Life

Postby Saraswati » Sat Dec 11, 2010 10:16 pm

worldtraveler wrote:To get into this field, you need a ton of experience. Don't think about law school until you have some work experience, done a Fulbright, or a lot of experience working abroad. Do a lot of internships, try and get funded language study, and then think about law school. I know you say you're comfortable living in a third world country, but doing human rights work is completely different. A lot of lawyers are followed by government security, arrested, have their belongings searched all the time, and it's really a lot less glamorous than what you might think. From your post, quite honestly you sound a bit naive, and I would suggest you try out the field before getting too passionate about it.


Credited. I have now spent two summers doing "human rights law" in a developing nation (and two years before that doing more general "humanitarian" work in the same nation), and it is indeed much less glamorous than its name would suggest. Living in a developing nation while studying is one thing, but living there while working, and working in an often politically hostile and dangerous field no less, is VERY DIFFERENT. I cannot stress that enough. People obviously find ways to cope with these conditions, but it doesn't sound like you really know what you are getting into yet. I definitely suggest you get out in the field and actually work one of these jobs before you go to law school to do human rights work. Your language skills should help you find a placement, so that is a plus.

Also, it is worth noting that human rights law in many of these countries can be a very ineffective and slow-going endeavor. It can take years upon years to get a nation to sign on to an international treaty, to incorporate it into domestic law, and to actually enforce those laws. And public-interest type litigation can also move very very slowly if the judiciary is inefficient and/or corrupt. Not to mention the invariable problems organizations face with funding, government, political strife etc. etc. If you really want to help people, I'd suggest going into medicine or business. Both of those fields are likelier to have real, tangible benefits in developing nations and many more opportunities for foreigners to go abroad. (And I wish someone had told me that before I went to law school.)




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