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Northwest Public Service Career Fair

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    Vicki Nelson, assistant director of career services, and Bill Penn ’02, public interest law coordinator.
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Celebrating 20 Years of Helping Start Legal Careers in Public Service

Many large law firms have the resources to fly from city to city and law school to law school to recruit interns and associates. Nonprofit organizations and government agencies, on the other hand, can rarely afford the time and money to conduct such extensive searches. To provide these entities an opportunity to inform students about the work they do, Lewis & Clark began holding a public service career fair in 1990. Now known as the Northwest Public Service Career Fair, the event has grown by leaps and bounds in the two decades since.

Shortly after its inception, other schools joined to make the fair a cooperative effort. Currently, Arizona State University College of Law, Brigham Young University Law School, Gonzaga University School of Law, Seattle University School of Law, University of Arizona College of Law, University of Idaho School of Law, University of Oregon School of Law, University of Utah College of Law, University of Washington School of Law, and Willamette University College of Law—10 institutions in all—participate alongside Lewis & Clark.

In 2000 the career fair began alternating its location annually between Seattle and Portland. That arrangement continued until 2006, by which time participation rates had grown to such an extent that it was decided to hold the fair in both cities every year. Since 2006, the Northwest Public Service Career Fair has taken place on consecutive days in February: one day in Seattle and the next in Portland.

Lewis & Clark has continued to coordinate the Northwest Public Service Career Fair throughout this time of significant growth. Nearly all of the planning is still handled by Assistant Director of Career Services Vicki Nelson, who has been with the Law School for more than 17 years. Now assisted by Public Interest Law Coordinator Bill Penn ’02, Nelson recruits employers, processes job applications, creates interview schedules, and manages each year’s activities. Thanks in large part to these efforts, this year’s fair consisted 84 employers (a far cry from the 12 who attended the first career fair) and nearly 500 students, who generated almost 2,200 applications.

For students, the Northwest Public Service Career Fair plays a dual role. The first is educational: the fair provides a venue where students can learn about the many ways they can make a difference with a law degree. It also connects students with real public interest law opportunities.

Of course, students are not the only people who benefit. Through the Northwest Public Service Career Fair, Lewis & Clark also supports the organizations and government agencies that make up our community. Employers who participate in the fair gain inexpensive, efficient access to students from many law schools. Because the career fair operates with a centralized application process and allows organizations to conduct many interviews in a condensed timeframe, nonprofits and government agencies can recruit without overtaxing their support staff and attorneys. Best of all, the event helps public service employers find the most qualified candidates for their work, which ultimately benefits the people and the causes they serve.

“Last year, I interviewed at the career fair, and by Monday afternoon had been offered my dream job with a nonprofit environmental law center.”

—2010 career fair student participant

“Two years ago, I met a student at the fair and persuaded her to apply for the region’s school-year externship in Seattle. 

She was accepted for the extern position. Recently, the NLRB offered her a job.” 

Brian J. Sweeny, Deputy Regional 
Attorney, NLRB Region 19

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