Path to a Public Interest Law Career

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manti5
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Path to a Public Interest Law Career

Postby manti5 » Mon Feb 04, 2013 4:49 pm

Looking for some insight/resources about what a career in Public Interest actually looks like. What sorts of positions do you look for right out of school? I've heard its best to work BigLaw for a few years and transition over. I've also heard its hard to break into a public interest litigation firm without clerkship experience. I've also heard that a fellowship is the best way to go. I will be entering school in the fall and this information will help choose where I will go.

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02889
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Re: Path to a Public Interest Law Career

Postby 02889 » Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:10 am

Here are some resources from Yale Law's website that are incredibly thorough:

Public Interest Careers
Public Interest Fellowships
Federal Legal Employment Opportunities Guide

Basically, there are plenty of paths. If you want to work with direct services (client representation in anything ranging from criminal defense to tenant rights, employment discrimination, public benefits appeals, foster kid representation, etc) then you can often snag these jobs right out of law school. State and local government jobs also hire out of school. Federal Gov't does as well, though significantly less so. Most governments are in some form of a hiring freeze, though, so this may or may not be a viable path when you graduate. If you want to do impact litigation or any other public interest firm work, it certainly helps to have done at least 1, if not more, out of the following three: clerkships, fellowships, BigLaw litigation.

Invariably, public interest employers want to see strong commitment. That means 1L PI internship, clinics during 2L or 3L, pro bono work at a firm, etc.

manti5
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Re: Path to a Public Interest Law Career

Postby manti5 » Tue Feb 05, 2013 1:25 pm

Wow, those Yale links are great. I appreciate the help.

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BlueLotus
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Re: Path to a Public Interest Law Career

Postby BlueLotus » Sun Feb 10, 2013 7:07 pm

Thanks for the Yale links, too!

A 3L mentor of mine says that I absolutely have to consider going the firm route at first, getting experience/paying down my loans, and then transitioning to a job I actually want to do as a career a couple of years later...is this credited? I can't imagine doing a job I hate for 4-5 years, lol. Is this credited? Wouldn't Gov/PI employers prefer someone who showed steadfast commitment to public service?

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bellbane12
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Re: Path to a Public Interest Law Career

Postby bellbane12 » Fri Feb 15, 2013 5:30 am

I'm a 0L, so take this with a grain of salt, but don't law schools have loan repayment assistance programs for people who want public interest jobs? So paying back your loans isn't really a problem if you're committed to a PI job. You won't be rich, but you won't be broke either.

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BlueLotus
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Re: Path to a Public Interest Law Career

Postby BlueLotus » Fri Feb 15, 2013 10:22 am

bellbane12 wrote:I'm a 0L, so take this with a grain of salt, but don't law schools have loan repayment assistance programs for people who want public interest jobs? So paying back your loans isn't really a problem if you're committed to a PI job. You won't be rich, but you won't be broke either.


Yeah, BC has a pretty solid LRAP, so I was surprised that the 3L made that remark.

Re: my situation, I have a merit scholly, an outside scholly, and folks are helping me with living expenses, so my debt would not be too bad to begin with, tho.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Path to a Public Interest Law Career

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Feb 15, 2013 11:54 am

PinkLotus wrote:Thanks for the Yale links, too!

A 3L mentor of mine says that I absolutely have to consider going the firm route at first, getting experience/paying down my loans, and then transitioning to a job I actually want to do as a career a couple of years later...is this credited? I can't imagine doing a job I hate for 4-5 years, lol. Is this credited? Wouldn't Gov/PI employers prefer someone who showed steadfast commitment to public service?

I don't think going to a firm first is the only route to govt/PI. It appears to be a route to govt/PI, based on a lot of threads I've seen around here. (Especially if, like me, you went to a school that doesn't really have a LRAP program...) But it also probably depends on what kind of govt/PI you're aiming for. The person heading Lewis & Clark's animal law program was biglaw for a number of years, did lots of pro bono work with animal stuff, then transitioned to PI/animal law full time (I realize that's not the best example for current students/recent grads because she graduated years and years ago, but still, a data point.) Similarly, I know of people who have done firm work then transitioned to the ACLU, because the ACLU doesn't really hire straight out of law school (not sure if the firms count as "biglaw," because they were civil rights/defense type firms, not big corporate, but still firm --> PI). Conversely, I don't see going to a firm first as being especially helpful for PD/DA jobs, since I don't think most firms that would pay you enough to make a dent in your loans in 3-4 years would give you the kind of experience that a PD/DA would value (not knocking biglaw, but it's not known for throwing people into the courtroom/criminal). Although I think I have seen people do something like personal injury firm --> DA, so it probably depends on the firm and what experience you get.

But I think the commitment to gov/PI is totally credited. Back in the fall, I was applying for a bunch of honors programs, and google/linkedin stalked everyone I could find who was an honors attorney in these programs. Basically all of them had killer PI credentials, not a firm to be seen.

Flipping back, though, I think one reason the firm route is credited is that so many government jobs (and probably other PI, though I know less about that) require experience. The entry level jobs that show up on USAJobs (leaving aside whether you can actually get a job through those postings) mostly seem to want at least 2-3 years of experience.

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BlueLotus
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Re: Path to a Public Interest Law Career

Postby BlueLotus » Fri Feb 15, 2013 2:40 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:
PinkLotus wrote:Thanks for the Yale links, too!

A 3L mentor of mine says that I absolutely have to consider going the firm route at first, getting experience/paying down my loans, and then transitioning to a job I actually want to do as a career a couple of years later...is this credited? I can't imagine doing a job I hate for 4-5 years, lol. Is this credited? Wouldn't Gov/PI employers prefer someone who showed steadfast commitment to public service?

I don't think going to a firm first is the only route to govt/PI. It appears to be a route to govt/PI, based on a lot of threads I've seen around here. (Especially if, like me, you went to a school that doesn't really have a LRAP program...) But it also probably depends on what kind of govt/PI you're aiming for. The person heading Lewis & Clark's animal law program was biglaw for a number of years, did lots of pro bono work with animal stuff, then transitioned to PI/animal law full time (I realize that's not the best example for current students/recent grads because she graduated years and years ago, but still, a data point.) Similarly, I know of people who have done firm work then transitioned to the ACLU, because the ACLU doesn't really hire straight out of law school (not sure if the firms count as "biglaw," because they were civil rights/defense type firms, not big corporate, but still firm --> PI). Conversely, I don't see going to a firm first as being especially helpful for PD/DA jobs, since I don't think most firms that would pay you enough to make a dent in your loans in 3-4 years would give you the kind of experience that a PD/DA would value (not knocking biglaw, but it's not known for throwing people into the courtroom/criminal). Although I think I have seen people do something like personal injury firm --> DA, so it probably depends on the firm and what experience you get.

But I think the commitment to gov/PI is totally credited. Back in the fall, I was applying for a bunch of honors programs, and google/linkedin stalked everyone I could find who was an honors attorney in these programs. Basically all of them had killer PI credentials, not a firm to be seen.

Flipping back, though, I think one reason the firm route is credited is that so many government jobs (and probably other PI, though I know less about that) require experience. The entry level jobs that show up on USAJobs (leaving aside whether you can actually get a job through those postings) mostly seem to want at least 2-3 years of experience.


Thanks! How about for Legal Aid? I'd imagine they would look suspiciously upon extensive firm experience.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Path to a Public Interest Law Career

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Feb 15, 2013 4:33 pm

I don't know from experience, but that's what I gather. (My only real experience with it is knowing a judge who used to work for that state's equivalent of Legal Aid, and he was well known for hiring only hard-core PI clerks - not that that says anything about Legal Aid hiring practices, but everyone saw him as the Legal Aid guy, so I always assumed it was a Legal Aid mindset.)

But I should add that this is all speculation - I'm going the government route and know people who've done PD/DA, but I certainly haven't been involved in hiring anyone. And I'm sure none of these things is an absolute rule, depending on where you're applying and what the candidate has to offer. So, grain of salt, etc.

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Scotusnerd
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Re: Path to a Public Interest Law Career

Postby Scotusnerd » Sun Feb 17, 2013 12:19 am

I'd like to chime in with a word of warning. Out here, for state jobs at least, going to a big firm first would effectively shut you out of public interest. They will assume (minus clear evidence to the contrary) that you got laid off and are desperately trying to grab any job you can. They will definitely not take you over the other 5 candidates they have for the position. I know a woman who has public interest written all over her resume (she chairs volunteer boards helping with veterans, charity work, soup kitchens etc.), but because she was a corporate lawyer, she hasn't been able to land a job in three years. The corporate people don't want her because she's old baggage and out of work, and the PI people don't want her because she's former corporate. She's in a bad place right now. :(

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BlueLotus
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Re: Path to a Public Interest Law Career

Postby BlueLotus » Sun Feb 17, 2013 8:47 am

Scotusnerd wrote:I'd like to chime in with a word of warning. Out here, for state jobs at least, going to a big firm first would effectively shut you out of public interest. They will assume (minus clear evidence to the contrary) that you got laid off and are desperately trying to grab any job you can. They will definitely not take you over the other 5 candidates they have for the position. I know a woman who has public interest written all over her resume (she chairs volunteer boards helping with veterans, charity work, soup kitchens etc.), but because she was a corporate lawyer, she hasn't been able to land a job in three years. The corporate people don't want her because she's old baggage and out of work, and the PI people don't want her because she's former corporate. She's in a bad place right now. :(


^Thanks, yikes, I'm sorry to hear that. :(

How about doing a split summer for 2L (1/2 at firm, 1/2 at a PI org)? Will that raise an eyebrow? I want PI as a long term career, not BigLaw.

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Scotusnerd
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Re: Path to a Public Interest Law Career

Postby Scotusnerd » Sun Feb 17, 2013 9:22 am

I don't know enough about your location to answer that, sorry. I'd talk to career services or other attorneys. If I had to hazard a guess, I don't think that'd be that big a deal. A summer job is not the same as a full-time job.




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