From BigLaw to public interest?

(On Campus Interviews, Summer Associate positions, Firm Reviews, Tips, ...)
Forum rules
Anonymous Posting

Anonymous posting is only appropriate when you are revealing sensitive employment related information about a firm, job, etc. You may anonymously respond on topic to these threads. Unacceptable uses include: harassing another user, joking around, testing the feature, or other things that are more appropriate in the lounge.

Failure to follow these rules will get you outed, warned, or banned.
Anonymous User
Posts: 273136
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

From BigLaw to public interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 16, 2012 2:31 pm

I’ve asked variations on these questions in a few threads now, and have not really gotten responses, so I thought I’d make a thread. I imagine there might be other people out there in this situation. I am a 2L at a T14 with an SA coming up.

I’ve had the opportunity to do some PI work while in law school, and it’s been very fulfilling to me. PI has always been something that’s more in line with my values than BigLaw. I feel much more comfortable working with the people I have at a PI org than I felt interacting with firms at OCI (although I like the people at my firm). I have even developed good relationships with some people at the org, but I feel like it would be rude to just broach the question of whether they could offer me something long term. Note: In this thread, I am talking more about EJW-type jobs than about DA/PD/Gov't type jobs. It seems that there are more stories of people transitioning between the latter and BigLaw.

I deeply admire the people who have the courage to pursue PI from day one, but in my personal financial situation, the idea of waiting in limbo for a job and potentially striking out really scared me. These jobs seem more difficult to get than firm jobs, even for HYS, (and I am not at HYS).

So I’m wondering:

1) How possible is it to go from a career in BigLaw to doing public interest work? Is this possible after only a few years, many years, or not at all? Again, talking more along the lines of EJW-type jobs, not AUSA/clerking. I understand that a demonstrated longstanding commitment to public interest is important, and so obviously I see that this would at least put me at a disadvantage. I'm just asking whether it's possible.

2) Would doing transactional work rather than litigation at a firm put me out of the running for sure?

3) Ridiculous bonus question: Would it be possible even to try to switch over after my SA? Or is a 2L PI summer job a must for a post law school career? Can voluntarily leaving your firm help establish sincerity, or will PI orgs just assume you got no-offered or just hate the work?

I think the sensitivity of asking all this/combined w/info from past posts is enough for anon. Again, I want to say that I really admire the people who commit to PI from day one, but my personal circumstances didn’t really allow me to take the risk of being in limbo for a while. Help/suggestions on things I can do while in law school (clinics, pro bono) would also be appreciated.

anon168
Posts: 920
Joined: Mon Jul 02, 2012 10:36 pm

Re: From BigLaw to public interest?

Postby anon168 » Fri Nov 16, 2012 2:53 pm

Anonymous User wrote:So I’m wondering:

1) How possible is it to go from a career in BigLaw to doing public interest work? Is this possible after only a few years, many years, or not at all? Again, talking more along the lines of EJW-type jobs, not AUSA/clerking. I understand that a demonstrated longstanding commitment to public interest is important, and so obviously I see that this would at least put me at a disadvantage. I'm just asking whether it's possible.


Very possible. Many people do it, in fact. The way to really establish a path to this is, while you are working at Biglaw try and do lots of pro bono work with the types of organizations you ultimately want to work for, whether it's a place like the ACLU or Public Counsel, or NRDC. It not only shows that you have an interest and commitment to that area of public service, but you'll build key contacts in that area or organization so when the time comes to jump ship, it'll be easy to do.

Don't worry about the supposed "stain" of biglaw vis-a-vis public interest orgs. Many of the best attorneys that I've dealt with at places like NRDC or Sierra Club were former private firm lawyers.

Anonymous User wrote:2) Would doing transactional work rather than litigation at a firm put me out of the running for sure?


No. It might be a bit more limiting, but lots of public interest organizations need transactional type lawyers, whether it's putting together a charitable fund or trust, seeding and helping charter new organizations, or just basic simple tax advice.

It's certainly more limiting, but not out of the question.

Anonymous User wrote:3) Ridiculous bonus question: Would it be possible even to try to switch over after my SA? Or is a 2L PI summer job a must for a post law school career? Can voluntarily leaving your firm help establish sincerity, or will PI orgs just assume you got no-offered or just hate the work?


Like I said up above, you can do a stint in biglaw without hurting your chances at a public interest organization. In fact, the only type of place where I think a stint in biglaw will be a deal breaker are certain Public Defender offices, where all they want are die-hard "true believers".

Good luck.

Anonymous User
Posts: 273136
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: From BigLaw to public interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 16, 2012 3:04 pm

That's very helpful and very comforting. Thanks so much. Yeah, I had forgotten about potentially building connections while doing pro bono in BigLaw. Hopefully I will get time between billables to do that. Maybe the time will also come when it would be less rude/more appropriate to somehow inquire politely with the people with whom I already have a relationship. It just feels a bit more awkward now since I already have an SA.

- OP

Anonymous User
Posts: 273136
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: From BigLaw to public interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 16, 2012 3:10 pm

Also, if you can max out clinics and term-time internships that show public interest commitment while still in law school, it will be even easier for you to make a plausible case for wanting to pay off loans and learn basic skills in biglaw before moving to PI. There is a good chance you'll learn valuable skills during internships/clinics anyway, even if you decide to stay with Biglaw.

A lot of public interest hiring is either one-year fellowships or 3-4 years out, because they don't have the resources to train someone hired directly from 3L. I second the advice to focus on gaining connections through pro bono work, and then when you are thinking about a transition, consider applying to clerkships and one-year fellowships to make the transition easier.

Anonymous User
Posts: 273136
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: From BigLaw to public interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 16, 2012 3:29 pm

Thanks. I've done decently with internships so far -- have to keep getting more time in.

So a one-year fellowship essentially means they hire you on a temporary basis and decide whether they want to take you on full time at the end?

Also, aside from taking clinics, does course selection matter at all?

-OP

anon168
Posts: 920
Joined: Mon Jul 02, 2012 10:36 pm

Re: From BigLaw to public interest?

Postby anon168 » Fri Nov 16, 2012 3:47 pm

Anonymous User wrote:That's very helpful and very comforting. Thanks so much. Yeah, I had forgotten about potentially building connections while doing pro bono in BigLaw. Hopefully I will get time between billables to do that. Maybe the time will also come when it would be less rude/more appropriate to somehow inquire politely with the people with whom I already have a relationship. It just feels a bit more awkward now since I already have an SA.

- OP


Most biglaw firms are 1:1 with respect to billables when it comes to pro bono work. So you should be fine.

Anonymous User
Posts: 273136
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: From BigLaw to public interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Nov 17, 2012 1:07 am

anon168 wrote:Like I said up above, you can do a stint in biglaw without hurting your chances at a public interest organization. In fact, the only type of place where I think a stint in biglaw will be a deal breaker are certain Public Defender offices, where all they want are die-hard "true believers".


Union-side labor law is another one

Anonymous User
Posts: 273136
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: From BigLaw to public interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Nov 17, 2012 10:40 am

Anonymous User wrote:Thanks. I've done decently with internships so far -- have to keep getting more time in.

So a one-year fellowship essentially means they hire you on a temporary basis and decide whether they want to take you on full time at the end?

Also, aside from taking clinics, does course selection matter at all?

-OP

one year public interest fellowships often mean no chance of being hired at the end but a much, much better chance of being hired at other organizations because you've proven your commitment and learned how to be a public interest attorney.

and course selection probably doesn't matter unless it's 100% M&A or something and nothing related to the PI area you'd be interested in. But internships or clinics will matter so much more.

adonai
Posts: 1033
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2007 9:09 pm

Re: From BigLaw to public interest?

Postby adonai » Sun Nov 18, 2012 11:46 pm

Two of my former bosses went from Biglaw to PI. In the recent economic crash, one went from V50 transactional for 3 years>year long volunteer at PI org>2 yr EJW fellowship at same PI org>staff attorney. In the boom years, one went V20 lit for one year>staff attorney. Then again, this boss also had a art. 3 clerkship. Both had absolutely no prior PI experience. I'd think in today's times, it would be a mix of the two to make the transition.
Last edited by adonai on Sun Nov 18, 2012 11:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Anonymous User
Posts: 273136
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: From BigLaw to public interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Nov 18, 2012 11:50 pm

That's really interesting -- especially that first path. It seems to indicate that there's a way to demonstrate commitment even long after you've graduated. Great to hear that you can still get stuff through EJW even if you've been in BigLaw. If you know and don't mind sharing, did s/he fund that year as a volunteer with the money saved from BigLaw, or is s/he independently wealthy?

-OP

adonai
Posts: 1033
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2007 9:09 pm

Re: From BigLaw to public interest?

Postby adonai » Sun Nov 18, 2012 11:53 pm

Anonymous User wrote:That's really interesting -- especially that first path. It seems to indicate that there's a way to demonstrate commitment even long after you've graduated. If you know and don't mind sharing, did s/he fund that year as a volunteer with the money saved from BigLaw, or is s/he independently wealthy?

Money saved from Biglaw. Basically did biglaw because she wanted to pay off debt so she lived very frugally and saved up some money then jumped ship. She also moved across the state. So this shows that not having any ties to a region can also be overcome with some serious hard work.
Last edited by adonai on Sun Nov 18, 2012 11:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Anonymous User
Posts: 273136
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: From BigLaw to public interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Nov 18, 2012 11:54 pm

Very encouraging to hear that's possible. Thanks.

-OP




Return to “Legal Employment”

Who is online

The online users are hidden on this forum.