Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

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Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:26 am

Hey everyone, I love legal aid but am worried that there are just no permanent jobs in this sector right now and no hope of permanent jobs in the next few years, due to persistently low interest rates + cuts in state and federal funding. (Interest rates important b/c the interest on lawyers' escrow accounts fund much legal aid work.)

Any people out there who have searched for or secured a permanent legal aid job in the last year? I'd like to hear if it's as bad as the rumors say it is.

I'm asking because I'm trying to decide between a legal aid/legal services org and a small firm for my 2L summer. The legal aid org says they can't make me any guarantees about a job post-LS because their funding situation is so uncertain. (They say that the only way for me to be hired would be to do a fellowship with them post-LS and then they MIGHT be able to hire me if they had funding.) The firm says they're hoping to hire me long-term (assuming things go well this summer). My heart's in legal aid, but the firm seems like a good fit, and a job is a job...

Thanks for your $0.02.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Nov 20, 2012 2:41 pm

I'm still in school but I've kept track of the few people getting legal aid jobs out of my school (HYS). I also worked at one of the larger legal aid organizations 1L summer and got some sense of their hiring practices. All of the new hires I know had fellowships before their hire (Skadden, EJW, school-funded). I wouldn't say it is a universal requirement but it seems close to one at this point. There seems to be a little more flex if you are willing to move to underserved areas that don't attract a lot of law students. But those who have secured fellowships have been able to land with organizations. That said, things seem to be getting even tighter.

Does the small firm do work that is related to your preferred area of legal aid practice? Any chance you can split your summer?

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Nov 20, 2012 4:39 pm

OP here. Unfortunately can't split the summer. The small firm does work that is at least somewhat related to what I'd want to do in legal aid. They have a subspecialty in the general substantive area I'd want to practice in in the legal aid setting. But the sort of practice they do in this general substantive area could not really be more different from the impoverished client-based model of legal services.

Well, I'll keep asking and pondering. I'm definitely open to moving to smaller, less well-served areas, but I've noticed that at least one less well-served state which I'd otherwise target has suspended hiring for legal aid altogether -- hasn't even filled vacancies for a year or so.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Nov 29, 2012 6:58 pm

I did a split last summer and the time I spent with legal aid was amazing in terms of amount of experience gained. As a rising 3L, I was able to get certification to appear in court under attorney supervision, so I was doing cases from intake all the way to trial. With the firm I basically was a memo monkey. You mentioned that you can't split and that is unfortunate. The legal-aid office I was at said they were facing 15% cuts next year and would have to layoff, so no hiring outside of those coming in with a fellowship, and no money to hire post-fellowship employees. If you can do pro bono during the semester or an externship with legal aid for the semester, I would recommend taking the firm job for the summer and putting time into legal aid during the school year so you can show sincere interest in working with them in the future and to gain connections as well.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby anonmyuos » Sat Dec 01, 2012 3:33 am

Anonymous User wrote:OP here. Unfortunately can't split the summer. The small firm does work that is at least somewhat related to what I'd want to do in legal aid. They have a subspecialty in the general substantive area I'd want to practice in in the legal aid setting. But the sort of practice they do in this general substantive area could not really be more different from the impoverished client-based model of legal services.

Well, I'll keep asking and pondering. I'm definitely open to moving to smaller, less well-served areas, but I've noticed that at least one less well-served state which I'd otherwise target has suspended hiring for legal aid altogether -- hasn't even filled vacancies for a year or so.


It is as bad as you've been led to believe. As you've already found out, legal aid is having it's funding cut. Just look at the anon poster above; from HYS the people who are interested still need a fellowship. Take the firm job. You can switch to legal aid later if openings arise. It's far better to support yourself.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby the lantern » Sat Dec 01, 2012 8:16 am

I've pretty much written off anything related to legal aid, even though that is what I want to do more than anything. No one has any funding and the jobs are few and far between to begin with. If I were a 1L or 2L and had more time to prepare, I would have tried to develop a really cozy relationship with an organization so I could try and get a fellowship of some sort. So if you're a young'n looking to do this, that might be your best option.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby BlueLotus » Sat Jan 18, 2014 7:25 pm

Any people out there who have searched for or secured a permanent legal aid job in the last year? I'd like to hear if it's as bad as the rumors say it is.


Interested in knowing as well...

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Jan 20, 2014 2:02 pm

At a T10 and ditto not knowing anyone who secured one without first having a fellowship (and even then, having known people with fellowships, depending on the situation you might not be guaranteed a permanent job at the same organization even after that fellowship ends). I do know people who are interviewing/have interviewed for legal aid orgs without one, but haven't heard of any of them being successful yet.

My heart is also in this kind of work, but given my personal/financial situation, I couldn't afford to pass up any shot at firms while I wait for the uncertainty about PI jobs to resolve itself in 3L. Maybe things are somewhat different at YHS, but from my amateur 3L perspective it still seems like this market is much harder to break into than firms. I'm going to try to ride it out in BigLaw for a few years, and then see if any PI opportunities present themselves down the road.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby BlueLotus » Mon Jan 20, 2014 2:13 pm

Anonymous User wrote:At a T10 and ditto not knowing anyone who secured one without first having a fellowship (and even then, having known people with fellowships, depending on the situation you might not be guaranteed a permanent job at the same organization even after that fellowship ends). I do know people who are interviewing/have interviewed for legal aid orgs without one, but haven't heard of any of them being successful yet.

My heart is also in this kind of work, but given my personal/financial situation, I couldn't afford to pass up any shot at firms while I wait for the uncertainty about PI jobs to resolve itself in 3L. Maybe things are somewhat different at YHS, but from my amateur 3L perspective it still seems like this market is much harder to break into than firms. I'm going to try to ride it out in BigLaw for a few years, and then see if any PI opportunities present themselves down the road.


I was under the impression that if you jump into big firm work at first, it will be tough to switch over because you'll be competing against folks who've been doing legal aid work all along (and they'll judgmentally question your commitment to public service/whether you can handle the huuuuuge pay cut!)

GL, though, anon. I await a frighteningly uncertain 3L year. :shock:

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Jan 20, 2014 2:18 pm

I have made some (anon) threads about that issue and TLS has reassured me that it's "difficult, but not impossible." There were definitely a few former BigLawyers at the large legal aid org I worked for during law school, and I have heard anecdotes of people transitioning by, for instance, volunteering for a time first.

- 2:02

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby BlueLotus » Mon Jan 20, 2014 2:20 pm

anyone here know anything about switching from civil legal aid to PD?

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Jan 20, 2014 2:25 pm

BlueLotus wrote:I was under the impression that if you jump into big firm work at first, it will be tough to switch over because you'll be competing against folks who've been doing legal aid work all along (and they'll judgmentally question your commitment to public service/whether you can handle the huuuuuge pay cut!)

GL, though, anon. I await a frighteningly uncertain 3L year. :shock:


If you can explain why you make the switch, they won't care. Everyone knows ppl either burn out or get kicked out of big law after a few years. The majority of legal aid orgs. don't have the budget to hire in advance, so they usually hire as need, meaning you will have to wait until you are barred and apply. So, the safest way is still go to Big law if you can and apply after a few years.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby Nelson » Mon Jan 20, 2014 2:47 pm

People do go to civil legal aid from firms. The skills sets are similar enough. The proportion of firm people making a transition to public interest work is probably higher in government or nonprofit litigation firms than it is in LSC direct client service jobs though.

I know people who have gone from PD or DAs offices to civil legal aid and government, but I imagine going the other way will be much more difficult because a civil legal aid attorney just isn't going to have the trial experience of a PD.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby BlueLotus » Mon Feb 10, 2014 5:28 pm

Besides PSJD and your school's Symplcity, what are other good sources for scoping out the (rare) openings in Legal Aid jerbs?

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby BlueLotus » Thu Sep 18, 2014 6:04 am

BUMP. Anyone else applying to Legal Aid jerbs?

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby BVest » Thu Sep 18, 2014 6:26 am

The large legal aid organizations (with a general practice and multiple offices) often, at least in in Texas, have openings. They just usually are in the smaller towns not the big cities. That said (1) there is a lot of experience to be had in those offices and (2) the openings in the big cities, when they do arise, often go internally to the people who have put in their time in the small satellite offices.

Source: Spouse in legal aid for years.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby BlueLotus » Thu Sep 18, 2014 6:34 am

BVest wrote:The large legal aid organizations (with a general practice and multiple offices) often, at least in in Texas, have openings. They just usually are in the smaller towns not the big cities. That said (1) there is a lot of experience to be had in those offices and (2) the openings in the big cities, when they do arise, often go internally to the people who have put in their time in the small satellite offices.

Source: Spouse in legal aid for years.


Thanks! I am definitely willing to relocate to the boonies--will it be tough without ties?

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby BVest » Thu Sep 18, 2014 7:10 am

BlueLotus wrote:
BVest wrote:The large legal aid organizations (with a general practice and multiple offices) often, at least in in Texas, have openings. They just usually are in the smaller towns not the big cities. That said (1) there is a lot of experience to be had in those offices and (2) the openings in the big cities, when they do arise, often go internally to the people who have put in their time in the small satellite offices.

Source: Spouse in legal aid for years.


Thanks! I am definitely willing to relocate to the boonies--will it be tough without ties?


My impression for Texas legal aid remote outposts is that more important than any ties is Spanish and/or a willingness to commit to a town of <15,000 that's 2+ hours from the nearest commercial airport.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby BlueLotus » Thu Sep 18, 2014 7:33 am

BVest wrote:
BlueLotus wrote:
BVest wrote:The large legal aid organizations (with a general practice and multiple offices) often, at least in in Texas, have openings. They just usually are in the smaller towns not the big cities. That said (1) there is a lot of experience to be had in those offices and (2) the openings in the big cities, when they do arise, often go internally to the people who have put in their time in the small satellite offices.

Source: Spouse in legal aid for years.


Thanks! I am definitely willing to relocate to the boonies--will it be tough without ties?


My impression for Texas legal aid remote outposts is that more important than any ties is Spanish and/or a willingness to commit to a town of <15,000 that's 2+ hours from the nearest commercial airport.


Do you know anything about hiring practices at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid? They are at EJW!

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby BVest » Thu Sep 18, 2014 11:42 am

RE TRLA, not much information of general use, but if they say Spanish preferred or the like, in my (admittedly removed) experience, it's almost certain they'll hire a Spanish speaker because it's practically necessary. Most of their remote locations are border/valley counties.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 18, 2014 11:46 am

I second what others have said. I am a former TLSer who was very active on this site. I graduated in 2012 and was a fellow for two years at a smaller legal services org in a major northeastern city. After all that time, I was finally just hired as a permanent staff attorney.

Here is my two cents-- school does not matter for orgs like mine, except to the extent that higher ranked schools have much better and more livable school sponsored fellowships. EJW and Skadden are also likelier from these schools. To my knowledge, my org has not hired any new graduate who was not a fellow in years and years. It is virtually impossible, with one exception-- people fluent in Spanish, or another high need language like Haitian Creole. I speak a little Spanish but nothing like fluency. I think a Spanish - fluent 3L with with a lot of PI experience would have a shot, but the odds are still better after a fellowship.

There is some element of timing and luck here-- a few new graduates have gotten permanent civil legal services jobs post graduation at the larger orgs, if their timing was impeccable. I urge PI people not to play the odds-- apply for every possible fellowship as early as possible, and expect to be a fellow for a year or two. This is the biggest thing I wish I had known when when I was a 2L.

The other thing is that there is no shame in taking an available job and transitioning to PI. This is quite common, though it is easiest to do if you speak a high need language. I had a very low paying fellowship after graduation and at times was tempted to take something outside PI so I could pay my bills. I'm glad I didn't-- my persistence paid off and I was finally made a permanent staff attorney a little over two years after I started as a fellow. (Fellowships vary dramatically in what they pay, from $1,000 a month to over $55k a year). It worked out very well for me, but I sacrificed a lot to get my current staff attorney position. I would have aggressively applied for EJW and other well paying fellowships instead of hoping for a permanent position as a new graduate.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 18, 2014 12:29 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I second what others have said. I am a former TLSer who was very active on this site. I graduated in 2012 and was a fellow for two years at a smaller legal services org in a major northeastern city. After all that time, I was finally just hired as a permanent staff attorney.

Here is my two cents-- school does not matter for orgs like mine, except to the extent that higher ranked schools have much better and more livable school sponsored fellowships. EJW and Skadden are also likelier from these schools. To my knowledge, my org has not hired any new graduate who was not a fellow in years and years. It is virtually impossible, with one exception-- people fluent in Spanish, or another high need language like Haitian Creole. I speak a little Spanish but nothing like fluency. I think a Spanish - fluent 3L with with a lot of PI experience would have a shot, but the odds are still better after a fellowship.

There is some element of timing and luck here-- a few new graduates have gotten permanent civil legal services jobs post graduation at the larger orgs, if their timing was impeccable. I urge PI people not to play the odds-- apply for every possible fellowship as early as possible, and expect to be a fellow for a year or two. This is the biggest thing I wish I had known when when I was a 2L.

The other thing is that there is no shame in taking an available job and transitioning to PI. This is quite common, though it is easiest to do if you speak a high need language. I had a very low paying fellowship after graduation and at times was tempted to take something outside PI so I could pay my bills. I'm glad I didn't-- my persistence paid off and I was finally made a permanent staff attorney a little over two years after I started as a fellow. (Fellowships vary dramatically in what they pay, from $1,000 a month to over $55k a year). It worked out very well for me, but I sacrificed a lot to get my current staff attorney position. I would have aggressively applied for EJW and other well paying fellowships instead of hoping for a permanent position as a new graduate.

is a 3.006 (and rising) GPA bad for a Legal Aid position?

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 18, 2014 12:43 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I second what others have said. I am a former TLSer who was very active on this site. I graduated in 2012 and was a fellow for two years at a smaller legal services org in a major northeastern city. After all that time, I was finally just hired as a permanent staff attorney.

Here is my two cents-- school does not matter for orgs like mine, except to the extent that higher ranked schools have much better and more livable school sponsored fellowships. EJW and Skadden are also likelier from these schools. To my knowledge, my org has not hired any new graduate who was not a fellow in years and years. It is virtually impossible, with one exception-- people fluent in Spanish, or another high need language like Haitian Creole. I speak a little Spanish but nothing like fluency. I think a Spanish - fluent 3L with with a lot of PI experience would have a shot, but the odds are still better after a fellowship.

There is some element of timing and luck here-- a few new graduates have gotten permanent civil legal services jobs post graduation at the larger orgs, if their timing was impeccable. I urge PI people not to play the odds-- apply for every possible fellowship as early as possible, and expect to be a fellow for a year or two. This is the biggest thing I wish I had known when when I was a 2L.

The other thing is that there is no shame in taking an available job and transitioning to PI. This is quite common, though it is easiest to do if you speak a high need language. I had a very low paying fellowship after graduation and at times was tempted to take something outside PI so I could pay my bills. I'm glad I didn't-- my persistence paid off and I was finally made a permanent staff attorney a little over two years after I started as a fellow. (Fellowships vary dramatically in what they pay, from $1,000 a month to over $55k a year). It worked out very well for me, but I sacrificed a lot to get my current staff attorney position. I would have aggressively applied for EJW and other well paying fellowships instead of hoping for a permanent position as a new graduate.

is a 3.006 (and rising) GPA bad for a Legal Aid position?


They care much more about your Spanish/Creole/Mandarin/Cantonese fluency and your demonstrated commitment to PI. Are you trying to get civil as opposed to criminal or JRP? There were very very few openings in civil the past two years, but I hear things are improving slightly. They are also making a fairly real commitment toward diversity for new hires. Your GPA may matter slightly, as it relates to class rank, but other factors matter much more.

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby BlueLotus » Sun Sep 21, 2014 10:22 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I second what others have said. I am a former TLSer who was very active on this site. I graduated in 2012 and was a fellow for two years at a smaller legal services org in a major northeastern city. After all that time, I was finally just hired as a permanent staff attorney.

Here is my two cents-- school does not matter for orgs like mine, except to the extent that higher ranked schools have much better and more livable school sponsored fellowships. EJW and Skadden are also likelier from these schools. To my knowledge, my org has not hired any new graduate who was not a fellow in years and years. It is virtually impossible, with one exception-- people fluent in Spanish, or another high need language like Haitian Creole. I speak a little Spanish but nothing like fluency. I think a Spanish - fluent 3L with with a lot of PI experience would have a shot, but the odds are still better after a fellowship.

There is some element of timing and luck here-- a few new graduates have gotten permanent civil legal services jobs post graduation at the larger orgs, if their timing was impeccable. I urge PI people not to play the odds-- apply for every possible fellowship as early as possible, and expect to be a fellow for a year or two. This is the biggest thing I wish I had known when when I was a 2L.

The other thing is that there is no shame in taking an available job and transitioning to PI. This is quite common, though it is easiest to do if you speak a high need language. I had a very low paying fellowship after graduation and at times was tempted to take something outside PI so I could pay my bills. I'm glad I didn't-- my persistence paid off and I was finally made a permanent staff attorney a little over two years after I started as a fellow. (Fellowships vary dramatically in what they pay, from $1,000 a month to over $55k a year). It worked out very well for me, but I sacrificed a lot to get my current staff attorney position. I would have aggressively applied for EJW and other well paying fellowships instead of hoping for a permanent position as a new graduate.

is a 3.006 (and rising) GPA bad for a Legal Aid position?


They care much more about your Spanish/Creole/Mandarin/Cantonese fluency and your demonstrated commitment to PI. Are you trying to get civil as opposed to criminal or JRP? There were very very few openings in civil the past two years, but I hear things are improving slightly. They are also making a fairly real commitment toward diversity for new hires. Your GPA may matter slightly, as it relates to class rank, but other factors matter much more.


Lack of journal/moot court is not a problem for legal aid, right?

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Re: Experiences of those looking for legal aid jobs

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Sep 21, 2014 2:50 pm

BlueLotus wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I second what others have said. I am a former TLSer who was very active on this site. I graduated in 2012 and was a fellow for two years at a smaller legal services org in a major northeastern city. After all that time, I was finally just hired as a permanent staff attorney.

Here is my two cents-- school does not matter for orgs like mine, except to the extent that higher ranked schools have much better and more livable school sponsored fellowships. EJW and Skadden are also likelier from these schools. To my knowledge, my org has not hired any new graduate who was not a fellow in years and years. It is virtually impossible, with one exception-- people fluent in Spanish, or another high need language like Haitian Creole. I speak a little Spanish but nothing like fluency. I think a Spanish - fluent 3L with with a lot of PI experience would have a shot, but the odds are still better after a fellowship.

There is some element of timing and luck here-- a few new graduates have gotten permanent civil legal services jobs post graduation at the larger orgs, if their timing was impeccable. I urge PI people not to play the odds-- apply for every possible fellowship as early as possible, and expect to be a fellow for a year or two. This is the biggest thing I wish I had known when when I was a 2L.

The other thing is that there is no shame in taking an available job and transitioning to PI. This is quite common, though it is easiest to do if you speak a high need language. I had a very low paying fellowship after graduation and at times was tempted to take something outside PI so I could pay my bills. I'm glad I didn't-- my persistence paid off and I was finally made a permanent staff attorney a little over two years after I started as a fellow. (Fellowships vary dramatically in what they pay, from $1,000 a month to over $55k a year). It worked out very well for me, but I sacrificed a lot to get my current staff attorney position. I would have aggressively applied for EJW and other well paying fellowships instead of hoping for a permanent position as a new graduate.

is a 3.006 (and rising) GPA bad for a Legal Aid position?


They care much more about your Spanish/Creole/Mandarin/Cantonese fluency and your demonstrated commitment to PI. Are you trying to get civil as opposed to criminal or JRP? There were very very few openings in civil the past two years, but I hear things are improving slightly. They are also making a fairly real commitment toward diversity for new hires. Your GPA may matter slightly, as it relates to class rank, but other factors matter much more.


Lack of journal/moot court is not a problem for legal aid, right?


I did a journal (no MC) but no one ever asked. Clinical and volunteer experience are what orgs care about, along with language proficiency.




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