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Want To Be a Public Interest Lawyer? Read This.

You want to attend law school and become a public interest lawyer. Yet, you aren’t quite sure which law program is the right fit.

Ilana Kowarski, a reporter at US News, recently spoke to experts on how applicants interested in public interest law can find a strong public interest law program.

DIFFICULTY

It’s important to note that public interest law is different than other areas of the legal industry. For one, experts say, it’s more difficult to secure a permanent public interest job than it is to get a job in a large law firm job.

“This is because, other than large government employers, public interest organizations (and small firms) tend to have occasional openings (versus 50 new associates each year in a large private sector law firm) and have limited funds,” according to Yale Law School. “These two facts often mean they don’t hire recruitment people, they don’t join the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), they don’t visit law school hiring fairs, and they may not send law schools notices of their openings. It doesn’t mean they don’t want you, it just means you have to go to them.”

QUALITY VS. COST

When looking at public interest law programs, it’s important to look closely at quality and cost.

Students should focus on two things: 1) The schools that will give them the knowledge and skill base they need to come out of law school primed to practice law; and 2) The schools that will allow them to graduate with a sufficiently low debt load that they can actually take a job they love without being overconcerned about the salary it pays,” Renée McDonald Hutchins, dean and professor of law with the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law, tells US News.

This is primarily due to the fact that public interest lawyers tend to be paid lower than corporate lawyers.

According to data released by the National Association for Law Placement, the median pay in 2018 for a new legal-services lawyer ranged from $48,000 to $69,400 for a legal services lawyer with 11 to 15 years of experience.

OPPORTUNITIES

Another factor that indicates a strong public interest law program is if it offers paid summer fellowships.

“Schools dedicated to public interest law offer summer stipend fellowships to assist students who choose summer internships at public interest organizations or government agencies that lack resources to pay legal interns,” John McKee, the director for government and public interest with the Career Development Office at the University of Colorado Law School, tells US News. “Without opportunities for summer public interest funding, a law school’s public interest-minded students may be left with limited choices, such as working an unpaid volunteer summer internship or paying for externship credit instead of receiving a scholarship or fellowship stipend to support their public interest summer internship experience.”

Sources: US News, NALP, Yale Law School