Hey Guys! Welcome back to the Alternative Career Series. Today I’ll be covering the final topic within this series, “How Do I Become a Public Interest Attorney?”
These are the attorneys who dedicate their career to serving the public by providing pro bono legal services to the indigent. These attorneys also work in law reform organizations, advocating zealously to change erroneous laws that negatively impact a large number of people. Public interest attorneys serve the public in a variety of settings such as within a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, a public interest law firm or even a private law firm dedicated to taking pro bono cases. These are the attorneys that have fought especially in recent times to positively impact millions of people. They have made strides within civil rights, and they have made the goals of many social movements an actual reality. These are the attorneys who, for very little compensation, may have pushed aside their individual comforts to change the world.
Still Interested? Keep Reading!
If it hasn’t already been made clear, this is an alternative career that I’m particularly passionate about. Primarily because this is a career in which you have the possibility to propel major social change and to seek justice for individuals who are unable to afford private legal services. Throughout my research for this article, I was honored to speak with two public interest attorneys who serve the public within two different settings. One of these attorneys has been running her own 501(c)(3) non-profit organization for a few years. This organization provides legal services to women and girls who have been discriminated against at work and within educational settings. Whereas the other attorney is a recent law school graduate who landed a position with a prominent legal aid organization right after law school. Both women provided a wealth of information regarding how they got into the public interest field and the current work they do on a daily basis. Similar to the previous posts within this series, I have broken down this information into two categories: what to do now to become a public interest attorney and what to expect in a public interest career.
I hope this is helpful!
What to do to Become a Public Interest Attorney
Use your Career Services Offices
Here we are again. Once again, career services have proven to be a helpful means towards an alternative career path. The recent graduate I spoke to cited that she developed a relationship with the public interest contacts within her career services office. She frequently went to these contacts for advice throughout her public interest career search. These advisors helped her to formulate a plan regarding which jobs to apply for and which local attorneys to network with. Don’t lose sight of the help that may be right under your nose. Let your career advisor know if you’re interested in a public interest career!
Strategically Use Your Network
Although public interest positions aren’t as popular as law firm positions amongst most law students, these positions are still extremely competitive. Therefore, it is still extremely important to network to gain access to your dream job. Yes, this means attending many legal events geared towards the public interest field. But this also means using your present network to your advantage. The recent graduate that I spoke with cited that she actually got her job by networking with two professors. One of these professors also worked for a prominent human rights organization and was able to connect her with other attorneys within the field. Whereas another professor connected her with a senior attorney within the public interest field. This is an excellent example of how everyone in your current network can be beneficial towards a career search. So go ahead spread the word of your interest in this field to people you frequently come into contact with.
Take the Relevant Courses
The recent graduate cited that the writing courses she completed during law school, have been extremely helpful towards her career. Writing samples are perhaps more persuasive than a GPA for a public interest position. Therefore, it’s important to use your time in law school to improve this skill. Try to take as many advanced writing courses as you can. Try to also complete a seminar or directed research course that focuses on the specific area of social justice that you’re interested in. The knowledge that you will gain from studying the legal implications surrounding an issue of social concern, will be invaluable for a public interest career.
Volunteer and Seek Funding if Necessary
Volunteer in a law clinic or complete a public interest externship. Both attorneys cited that completing a law clinic course provided them with the most realistic expectation of what to expect as a public interest attorney.
If you plan to do public interest work during the summer or to work as a first-year attorney in the public interest field, it’s important for you to seek funding as early as possible. Some schools may have public interest funding available through a campus organization. Therefore, you should check with your career advisor to determine the requirements for this funding opportunity. After law school, you may also be eligible to apply for a fellowship through the AmeriCorps program. Both attorneys that I spoke with were successful in benefiting from this program after law school.
What to Expect Once You Become a Public Interest Attorney
A Lot Of Hard Work And Hands On Experience From Early On
If you land a position as a public interest attorney, get ready for a lot of hard work to come your way. If you go the nonprofit route it will be important for you to stay up to date on every development related to your mission. This includes staying abreast of new legislation and continuous review of relevant news stories. You may also have to continually meet and collaborate with other organizations for strategic litigation and public policy initiatives.
If you land a position in a public interest law firm/organization expect a lot of client interaction from very early on in your career. You may have to frequently interface with many clients and communicate effectively with individuals who may be facing a very devastating time in their lives. Also expect to draft briefs, motions, discovery requests and to also attend mediation, hearings and bench trials from very early on. This is an invaluable experience that a first year associate at a corporate law firm may not have an opportunity to receive.
A Lower Salary But Many Tangible And Priceless Benefits
Yes, your salary may be lower than a law firm associate. However, there are many benefits you can receive from a public interest career. The recent graduate cited that her employer makes contributions to her monthly loan payment, doubles her contribution to her retirement savings and gives her 15 sick days and 15 vacation days that roll over each year. She also cited that she has an excellent work/life balance which certainly improves her productivity.
As for those priceless benefits, both attorneys stated that the opportunity they have to serve the public makes their career worthwhile. To cite the nonprofit attorney directly, “your clients will give you gifts of incalculable value: memories to treasure, boundless inspiration and the knowledge that, yes, you are doing the right thing.”
What more could you want!?
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