Public Interest Careers
Whether looking for a summer clerkship or a post graduate position, there are some differences in how you approach a public interest job search. Differences stretch from what employers are looking for to the kinds of jobs available and beyond to where to look for work and the need to find funding for student summer positions.
Good grades and law review open doors everywhere, but public interest employers are often more interested in other qualities like connection to the community being served and commitment to the cause. Lewis & Clark students can build those qualities through our Public Interest Law Program from the Pro Bono Program to Clinics to summer opportunities through PILP Stipends and the NW Public Service Career Fairs and by following an academic path to the Public Interest Certificate. Students also have the Public Interest Law Coordinator who is a member of the Career Services Staff dedicated to helping those seeking public interest careers.
Our Alumni can apply to the LRAP for help with loan payments, and can continue to work with the Public Interest Law Coordinator as their careers evolve.
Fellowships are post graduate positions unique to Public Interest, but not all fellowships are exactly alike. Common to all fellowships is the fact that they are for a limited period, typically one or two years. Some fellowships are applied to like jobs, a cover letter and resume sent to an individual employer. These positions typically accept applications in the fall of a student’s third year, and can be the only way to get an entry-level position at large non-profits and NGOs. Other fellowships are project based. Students are required to develop their own work project, find an organization that will host them, and then apply to a third party for funding. It takes time and care to develop the project and sell it to a funder, but successful applicants get to create their own dream jobs. Applications are typically due in early fall of a student’s final year; although, planning should start well in advance. If you have a plan to help save the world, even just a small portion of it, project based fellowships may be for you.
Read more about these and other kinds of fellowships in our Post Graduate Public Interest Fellowship Manual. Search for jobs like fellowships, project sponsors, and hosts on PSJD.org (registration is free for Lewis & Clark students and alumni). Visit Equal Justice Works, one of the largest project funders.
Finding public interest work
Many public interest employers post jobs with us, but there are other places to look as well. For students looking for summer work, most employers do not even make postings and prefer that you contact them about opportunities. Here are some ideas for finding a public interest position:
- Pick up a copy of the “Green Book” from the Career & Professional Development Center, which contains listings and descriptions of public interest employers in Oregon and Washington.
- Check PSLawNet.org, a national database of public service employers and job postings
- Review the national employer and potential funding listings in Serving the Public: A Job Search Guide, Vol. 1 - USA (available in the CPDC Library).
- Talk with the CPDC counselors about your areas of interest.
- Volunteer through the Pro Bono Program. Volunteering for an organization can lead to an ongoing work.
- Consult the “Student Employment Evaluation” forms in the CPDC Resource Library for feedback from students about their experiences.
- Review state or local Bar Association websites for attorney pro bono opportunities. The Oregon State Bar lists pro bono opportunities for attorneys; organizations may also accept student volunteers or clerks.
- Talk to other students - ask around to find out where they have clerked.
- Get involved in PILP, which fundraises to award summer stipends for students to work at organizations that would not otherwise be able to afford a law clerk.
- Review the Externship page of the Career Services website. Employers who have taken unpaid externs may take a law clerk.
- Attend Career Services panels and programs with public interest attorneys. Introduce yourself and ask about opportunities.
Funding summer work
Many public interest employers welcome law student involvement, but most cannot afford to pay for a law clerk and will expect you to bring your own funding. There are several funding options to explore, including:
- Work Study Funding - federal Work Study provides partial “matching” funds for eligible government and non-profit legal employers, enabling them to employ paid law clerks. Student hourly wages typically average $11-14/hour. To receive Work Study funding, students must financially qualify. Read Chapter 8 in the CPDC Handbook, and take a look at the Work Study Handout for more information
- PILP Stipends - Each spring, PILP hosts an auction to raise funds for summer stipends. These stipends fund students to work at public interest organizations that would otherwise be unable to pay for a law clerk. The deadline to apply for a PILP stipend is usually in late February to mid March.
- Equal Justice Works Summer Corps - Equal Justice Works awards several $1,000 education awards for students working in the public interest, in a paid or unpaid position. Summer Corps awards can be in addition to other funding.
- PSLawNet - PSLawNet maintains a list of summer funding sources across the country.
- Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) - Provides summer funding for law students working in Chicago.
- Peggy Browning Fund - Provides summer funding for students interested in workers’ rights issues. (Lewis & Clark is a member school).
Many stipends and fellowships are not awarded until late spring, but some have fall or early spring deadlines. Check early (and often) to make sure you do not miss a good opportunity!