CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION TO PUBLIC LAW “Every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional work load, has a responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay, and personal involvement in the problems of the disadvantaged can be one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a lawyer.” 1 WHAT IS PUBLIC INTEREST LAW? “Public Interest Law is the use of law by nonprofit organizations, law firms, and government agencies to provide legal representation to people, groups, or interests that are historically underrepresented in the legal system.” 2 Practice Areas in Public Interest Law There are many different areas of public interest law. While public interest law includes any practice area that fits the definition above, some practice areas traditionally fall under the public interest law umbrella. A number of those areas are listed here as examples: Animal Welfare Children/Youth Advocacy Civil Rights/Liberties Constitutional Issues Consumer Rights Criminal Defense/Prosecution Death Penalty Disability Rights/Advocacy Domestic Violence Drug Policy Reform Elder Advocacy Environmental Issues Gay/Lesbian Rights Labor Law Legal Services to the Poor Government Health Care HIV/AIDS Housing Law Human Rights Immigrant/Minority Populations Immigration Law Reform International Human Rights Marriage/Family Prisoners’ Rights Public Benefits 1
MODEL RULES OF PROF’L CONDUCT R. 6.1 cmt. 1 (2003). The Path to Public Interest: Practical Advice for 1Ls, EQUALJUSTICE WORKS, at www.equaljusticeworks.org
Rape/Sexual Assault Reproductive Rights Social Justice Street/Poverty/Homeless Law Women’s Rights Workers’ Rights Practice Types in Public Interest Law Within each area of public interest law, lawyers are involved in various types of practices. These practice types include: • Direct client service • Policy oriented class action and impact litigation • Policymaking legal reform • Lobbying activities for legal reform organizations • Community organizing and educating activities • Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) Practice Settings in Public Interest Law There are also many different practice settings for lawyers interested in public interest law. These include civil rights groups, civil liberties groups, social action organizations, and public interest law firms. Civil Rights Groups
These organizations seek to remedy historical disparities based on things such as race, ethnicity, and gender. They also seek to ensure that minority groups have access to employment, housing, education, and other important resources. Another main function of these organizations is to ensure minority groups’ participation in the formulation of public policy. In order to reach these goals, these organizations specialize in class action and impact litigation. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) are examples of these types of organizations. Civil Liberties Groups
The main goal of these organizations is to protect the civil liberties protected by the First Amendment. These groups utilize class action and impact litigation to bring about change. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Center for Law in the Public Interest, Equal Rights Advocates, and the National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense Fund (NOW) are examples of these types of organizations. Social Action Organizations
These organizations generally focus on one or two areas of the law. Although they may do some litigation, these organizations focus their efforts on policy research and advocacy, appellate court brief writing, lobbying, political reform, and social change. Examples of these organizations include environmental law centers, consumer law centers, public interest research groups (PIRGs), public interest lobbying organizations, international organizations, and general public policy organizations. Public Interest Law Firms
These are usually small private firms working for under-represented groups or specializing in issue oriented work such as civil rights, plaintiffs’ tort cases, union sided labor law, family law, criminal law, immigration, tenants’ rights, worker’s compensation, and environmental issues. One familiar type of public interest law firm is local legal aid offices such as Utah Legal Services. There are also nontraditional opportunities for public interest lawyers including economic development groups, alternative dispute resolution and mediation programs, think tanks, and management of nonprofit organizations, foundations, and bar associations. Government Work
There are many opportunities in municipal and state governments and the federal government. Government work covers a broad spectrum of potential practice areas and range widely in size from small municipal offices to massive federal agencies. There are opportunities for litigation in addition to transactional work.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PUBLIC SERVICE, PUBLIC INTEREST & PRO BONO? The terms “public interest law” and “public service law” are often used interchangeably. For purposes of this handbook, “public interest law” will be used to refer to the use of law to provide legal representation to historically underrepresented people, groups, or interests. “Public service law” will be used to refer to all legal careers with government agencies. Even defined this way, there is some overlap between the two terms, as there are opportunities with some government agencies for legal work that provides public interest representation. The focus of this guidebook is on public interest law, but some sections will provide information and resources about public service law. The public interest focus of this handbook will include public interest opportunities with government agencies. “Pro bono” is the short form of the Latin phrase pro bono publico, which means “for the public good.” Pro bono legal service is legal work done by an attorney without charging a fee or at a significantly reduced charge. Even if a client does not have to pay for the legal services provided, the legal work is generally not considered to be done pro bono if an organization, agency, or firm pays the attorney a salary or other compensation for the work. Thus, public interest lawyers sometimes offer pro bono services, but “public interest” is not synonymous with “pro bono.” The American Bar Association states that “a lawyer should aspire to render at least fifty (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.” 3 Surprisingly, only 46% of lawyers surveyed by the American Bar Association met this goal. Additionally, the American Bar Association found that younger attorneys are less likely to provide pro bono services. 4 Law students should begin to get engaged in this work as soon as possible in their legal careers. Law students have the opportunity to serve people of the community, especially with their newly acquired legal skills. In addition to being a professional duty, pro bono work is an important component of a public interest resume and provides excellent real-world experience. WHY PRACTICE PUBLIC INTEREST LAW? Public interest work is important because law is a profession. Although the meaning of the word “profession” has broadened in recent years, it originally connoted, among other things, a commitment to serve the public good. Law, along with medicine, the military, and the clergy, is one of the four classic professions. Some attribute the current less-than-excellent reputation of the profession of law to, in part, a reduction in the focus on serving the public good among lawyers. Public interest lawyers have the opportunity to serve the public good almost every day, thereby practicing law as a true profession. Public interest work is also a personal obligation for many students because of a general desire to serve and help others. Many students come to law school wanting to help others, promote fairness and justice, and make the world a better place. Along the way, the competitive nature of law school, the use of money as a measuring stick of personal value, and the persuasive recruiting practices of employers are all factors that tend to make many students forget their reasons for wanting to be lawyers in the first place. Practicing public interest law allows many attorneys to maintain or return to their original reasons for becoming attorneys: advocating for those who most need advocates, being a voice for those who have none, and working to make the world a better place. Ancient scripture sheds some light on an important origin of this personal desire to help others: “[W]hen ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” 5 “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these . . . ye have done it unto me.” 6 In addition to these reasons to practice public interest law as a career, and many other reasons not listed here, there are also some pragmatic reasons to get involved in public interest work during and after law school.
Model Rules of Professional Conduct R. 6.1 (2003).
American Bar Aassociation, Supporting Justice: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of Work of America’s Lawyers (2005).
Matthew 25:40 [King James Translation]
Job Satisfaction The great majority of public interest attorneys love the work they do. While work dissatisfaction is very high among most attorneys leading to documented high rates of symptoms such as depression and alcoholism, public interest attorneys enjoy their work. They are the attorneys most likely to report that they are happy to go to work in the morning because they spend their days doing meaningful work, making a difference, helping people that need help, and encouraging positive societal change. In addition, public interest clients are sometimes more appreciative of the legal work done for them than are corporations or other private clients. While there are exceptions, most public interest attorneys also work far fewer hours than those in other types of law. See the Alumni Narratives on page 16 for more about job satisfaction. Résumé and Experience Some public interest experience, such as a summer externship, looks good on any legal resume. Even most employers at large private law firms like to see some public interest experience on a resume because it shows real-world experience. Most public interest organizations and agencies are understaffed and underfunded, so law student volunteers are often able to do work similar to that done by the actual attorneys. Those students also often have more client contact and are more likely to experience the full range of the work done by the organization. Public Interest Service Award Students who dedicate part of their legal education to public interest or pro bono causes are eligible to receive the J. Reuben Clark Public Interest Service Award. Recipients are honored at the Law School Awards Banquet every March. More important than the recognition received, students who fulfill the requirements for this award learn firsthand how to use their legal education to serve and benefit the community. All law students who perform 100 hours of unpaid legal work in a public interest cause during their three years of law school and submit the necessary paperwork will receive this award. For more information regarding this award, students can contact the Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) Board. Students can also learn more about PILF by visiting the organization’s website at: www.law2.byu.edu (click on: Current Students > Student Organizations > Clubs > Extra-curricular > Public Interest Law Foundation). Grades The mathematical reality is that half of the law students in each class will not be in the top half of their class. Far fewer students will be in the top 20%, which is heavily recruited by large law firms. While good grades are helpful when seeking a public interest job, public interest employers are even more focused on the passion a potential hire has for the work. Only excellent students are accepted to BYU’s law school and other equivalent schools, and public interest employers know that a student’s class ranking is not the best indicator of how well he or she will perform at the work. For students that are genuinely interested in a cause, public interest law provides access to meaningful careers for those at all points on the grade spectrum. HOW CAN I PRACTICE PUBLIC INTEREST LAW? As an Attorney Lawyers can engage in public interest law in several different ways. There is considerable room for creative lawyers to carve out their own areas of expertise in this field. Lawyers can engage in public interest law full time as a career, full time for shorter periods of time, part time, or on a pro bono basis. There are also non-legal opportunities to serve in positions in local or city government, or on boards of directors of charitable and public interest organizations. As a Student There are several ways for law students to engage in public interest law. These opportunities include completing public interest externships, working on pro bono cases through the Utah Bar/BYU Law School Pro Bono Partnership, and taking Law Help courses that have a service learning component. Public interest opportunities for law students will be discussed more in Chapter 2 of this guidebook–Opportunities During Law School.
PERSONAL NARRATIVES FROM ALUMNI Many BYU Law School alumni have found satisfaction working in public interest law. Several of these individuals have written personal narratives describing their experiences. Dani Eyer
Class of 1984 Executive Director, ACLU of Utah I turned fourteen in 1970 and so I witnessed, but did not participate in, the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s. I had often hoped for an opportunity to become involved in a similar cause until I realized that we are constantly surrounded by inequality and injustice and there is always something to be done. I feel like my current work with the American Civil Liberties Union is predicated on the concept that the public good is served by a fair balance between the power granted the government by the U.S. Constitution and the limitations imposed by the Bill of Rights protecting individual liberties. Majority will is a healthy notion, as long as the will of the majority is not to inflict injustices upon the minority or render some people not worthy of full participation in public life. My involvement with the ACLU, known as the first public interest law firm, founded in 1920, is based upon a fundamental sense of fairness. I have always been sensitive to injustice and inequality, unable to fathom discrimination against people of color, different national origin or ethnicity, against women, or against people who are gay, for example. The most discouraging part of our work is that we cannot take on every case that comes to us, but are constrained by limited resources to take representative cases and work on systemic issues. Currently the ACLU is focusing on human rights abuses that have occurred in the post 9/11 era, especially the detention of people without charges against them and without a meaningful hearing. My version of patriotism includes pride in a country that treats everyone as we want to be treated: fairly, with due process and equal application of the laws. Starting with two and a half minute talks in Sunday School and on through law school at BYU, I learned to be a reasonably good public speaker. It has been my privilege to use those skills to give meaning to the Constitution, law, and society to people from grade school through law school, from civic groups on up through the state and federal judiciary. I have found work in the nonprofit sector to be much more gratifying than the years I spent in general practice. Every single day of work is fascinating, even if frustrating. The promise of equality and justice for all in this country will never be perfectly achieved, but I am honored by an opportunity to work on my version of those concepts, locally. Kelly Frye Glasser (Ms. Glasser passed away in 2010 following a tragic accident)
Class of 1992 Guardian ad Litem I am a Guardian ad Litem for the State of Utah. I work for the State Office of the Guardian ad Litem, which was created by statute. The attorneys who work for the Office of Guardian ad Litem have very specific statutory duties. We are the court-appointed attorneys for minor children in child welfare cases before the state juvenile courts. We also represent minor children in a variety of matters before the district courts where abuse and neglect of the children has been alleged in custody, probate, and even on occasion, criminal matters. We can only be appointed by a judge and we can only be released from our appointment by a judge. Our role is to represent the child and advocate for the child’s best interest. Advocating for the child often means assuming a variety of roles outside normal attorney duties. We are often charged with investigating a child’s situation and negotiating on the child’s behalf as well as being a caring adult supportive of the child. Our agency is comprised of very dedicated individuals who are committed to giving minor children a voice in the proceedings that affect every aspect of their lives, in spite of low pay, long hours and daily exposure to simply heartbreaking situations the children we represent find themselves in. While I at times struggle with a love-hate relationship with my job chiefly due to lots of stress and a lack of funding and staff necessary to do the job I want to do, I am proud of the role the Guardians ad Litem play in child protection and in assisting the Courts in making the most informed decisions possible regarding the children we represent. Guardians ad Litem serve and protect some of the most vulnerable members of our communities–the children.
Class of 1994 Southeast Mississippi Legal Services I have been working for legal services for going on seven years. In law school I would never have dreamed that my area of expertise would become the “non fee generating case.” That is some of the language used to describe the type of cases that legal services programs are permitted to accept. Also, I would never have dreamed how much I would enjoy doing this type of work. Clients appreciate so much what we do and without us often would have no avenue for relief. In a typical year, I am able to do my part to defend tenants from wrongful eviction from their homes, help parents rehabilitate themselves and gain back custody of their children from the state, assist battered spouses in obtaining divorces, and help people get relief from consumer fraud. While working for a legal services program may not be for everyone, it is a good fit for those who want to help people who cannot otherwise get the help they need through private law firms. Additionally, working for legal services can be a good fit for those that cannot put in the long hours often required in private practice. Since the budgets of legal services programs are limited and attorney salaries are relatively low, programs typically compensate their employees with more time off from work and fewer hours at work. This has been a good fit for me and my family over the past few years as our family has been growing as well as our church community, both of which have demanded a great deal of our time and energy. Suchada Bazzelle
Class of 1994 Guardian ad Litem (Has since been appointed as a Fourth District Juvenile Court Judge) I began my legal career in general litigation with a focus on domestic and employment law. It did not take me long to realize that spending my days, and many of my nights, engaged in battles with other attorneys over dollars and possessions was not as personally fulfilling as I had imagined legal work would be. While I understood that the conflict and its outcome were very important to my clients, right down to the last teaspoon and shower curtain, that work left me empty. I focused on being competent and professional, no matter how I valued the subject of the dispute. But at the end of the day, I never really felt like I had accomplished something meaningful, something lasting. In short, I was missing a cause. Upon discovering the Office of the Guardian ad Litem, I was immediately impressed by its duties and mission. I signed up as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem (GAL) attorney and worked pro bono cases for two years, and then became a full time GAL. For those unfamiliar with the Office of Guardian ad Litem, it is an organization of attorneys and volunteers who advocate for the best interests of children involved in our court system. Our District Court GAL attorneys work with children who are the subject of custody battles or protective orders, and children who are victims of crimes. I work as a Juvenile Court GAL, where I represent children who have suffered abuse or neglect, or who lack proper parental care, and with children involved in the juvenile justice system. Our Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) branch recruits and trains volunteers from the community to serve as advocates, mentors, and friends to children represented by our office. As a Juvenile Court GAL for the past five years, I have had the privilege of speaking on behalf of children in court and of advocating for the well being and safety of these vulnerable members of our society. I have seen abused children who come into our system bruised and battered, both physically and emotionally, flourish when placed in a new home with loving, protective parents. I have seen children who have been neglected because of parental drug addiction be able to leave foster care and return home to sober, competent, and caring parents. I have seen mentally or physically ill children get the help they need, but which their parents cannot provide, through our court’s intervention. It is true that my work can be frustrating. Not every case ends perfectly and in some cases we can make only the slightest difference. But even the slightest difference is still a difference. At the end of each day, I take solace in the knowledge that I helped–sometimes in a big, obvious way, and sometimes in a small way I may never know–to give a child a shot at something better. Joining the Office of the Guardian ad Litem is the best career decision I have made. My love of law brought me to law school, but my work as a GAL gave me passion for the law and an appreciation for how it can be used as a sword to protect the innocent and as a plow to strengthen families. Each of my cases has the potential to change, hopefully for the better, the life of a child, and that brings me immense motivation, satisfaction, and hope. I found my cause. Benji McMurray
Class of 2003
Previously at the Utah Federal Defender Office Last year I worked as a Research and Writing Specialist at the Utah Federal Defender Office. The Federal Defender Office is headed by Steve Killpack, a BYU law graduate, who was appointed by the Tenth Circuit. The litigators in the office are known as Assistant Federal Defenders. Most of the Assistant Federal Defenders in the office are trial attorneys, but Scott Wilson, another BYU law graduate, handles most of the appeals. The office has a small contingency of research attorneys, like myself, who focus on researching and writing motions, sentencing memoranda, etc. In addition to attorneys, the office also hires a number of clerks. Clerks who have completed two years of law school are allowed to represent clients in federal court under the third-year practice rule. As a research attorney, I got to do a lot of writing. One benefit of federal court is that the pace allows for thorough, in-depth research and analysis. While oral advocacy is more glamorous, I appreciated the chance at the Federal Defender Office to dig into tough legal issues in a systematic, logical way. That said, I definitely got more than my fair share of court time. In my first year as a practicing attorney, I appeared before almost every federal district and magistrate judge in the District of Utah. I argued motions, tried cases, appeared at sentencing (which in the federal system is often where the real work goes on), and argued appeals. In addition to the experience, another great aspect of the federal defender office was the nature of the cases and issues. In the criminal arena, we were not just debating issues that can be neatly turned into a damage award. We were talking about people’s liberty. The criminal arena offers legal and ethical challenges that require thoughtful, creative analysis and make every day interesting and exciting. For me, the best thing about being at the federal defender office was my clients. I found it very satisfying to represent people who had no other advocate. For me, it was not about “getting people off” but about making sure that their story was told, that the proceedings were fair, and that the law was applied correctly. There is a great need for top quality defense attorneys, and I felt privileged to give my best for my clients. If I can answer any questions about the Federal Defender Office, public defense, public interest work, or anything else, feel free to contact me at [email protected]
Class of 2003 Utah Legal Services Utah Legal Services practices in the areas of landlord/tenant law (representing tenants), public benefits, and domestic law for victims of domestic violence. My main area of practice is domestic law. I have always been interested in helping victims of domestic violence. In fact, a close family member was a victim of domestic violence and she was the deciding factor in my going to law school. I took every course I could to find out more about domestic violence and wrote my substantial writing paper about domestic violence. I interned for Utah Legal Services the winter before I graduated and accepted a position as a staff attorney in August 2003, which was the year I took the bar. In March 2005 I accepted the position of managing attorney for our Provo office, which consists of 3 full time attorneys, 3 paralegals, and a receptionist/secretary. Utah Legal Services also has offices in Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Cedar City. In the Provo office we have a great deal of camaraderie and enjoy working with one another. Every week we have a staff meeting in which we decide which new clients to accept and whom will represent them. We also use this meeting to discuss cases we are working on, frustrations we have, habits of the different judges, etc. We see our office as a team and help one another to succeed. That support is crucial because this is a difficult job. Because we are a public interest law firm, we don’t make a lot of money— probably even less than government attorneys. Sometimes we have difficult clients. We always have difficult cases—a lot of spouse and child abuse. If we couldn’t help one another and have a sense of humor, we would go crazy. All of us have had to overcome periods of burn out. I especially love my job. I would estimate that about half of my clients are difficult—demanding, inconsiderate, uncooperative, dishonest. However, the other half make the difficult times worth the effort. I have had several “favorite” clients that I have been able to help; if Utah Legal Services didn’t exist, these clients would probably have remained in their desperate situations or would have been taken advantage of by the attorneys of the opposing party. I have been able to get stalking injunctions, protective orders, custody orders, and divorces for clients in life threatening situations. At times I have even been fearful of what the opposing party could do because I have been able to use the courts to give control to the victim.
Another great thing about my job is the instant and almost overwhelming experience for a brand new attorney. I had to argue my first trial by myself two weeks after being sworn into the Bar. I appear regularly in court—probably 3 or 4 times a week—and have done so since being sworn into the Bar. I have a heavy caseload which brings with it valuable procedural and substantive experience. I had to learn how to get over my nerves very quickly. I have made mistakes but have learned from them. I love the relationships I have been able to develop with the judges, clerks, and other attorneys. Another advantage/disadvantage of my job is the fact that our services are free. It’s an advantage because we don’t have to worry about collecting from our clients. However, it’s a disadvantage in that some clients refuse to settle because they aren’t paying attorney fees and they feel they have nothing to lose. Sometimes we get clients with unreasonable demands who want us to spend our valuable time and resources to get them what they want, even if they have no legal argument. Some clients don’t even see us as “real” attorneys. We often need to remind these clients that we are not obligated to give them services and that if they want a “real” attorney, they can always pay for one. In summary, I love being a public interest attorney. I love the challenges and the even the difficulties. But most of all, I love being able to serve those who really need help. WHO CAN HELP ME LEARN MORE ABOUT PUBLIC INTEREST LAW? In addition to the resources in this handbook, there are a number of people in the law school who can help students learn more about public interest law. MariLee Allred in the Career Services Office (CSO) is an excellent source of information and advice about public interest law. Karen Andrews oversees externships, including many public interest opportunities. Beth Hansen and Mary Hoagland can also provide helpful advice and resources. TIP: See question 10 in “Myths (and Facts)” below for more information about how the CSO can help with a public interest job search. Board members of the Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) can also be a great help, for opportunities during law school, general information and resources, and suggestions for pursuing specific areas of public interest law. Professors are another good source of information. Professors James Backman, Susan Griffith, and Steve Averett have substantial experience with and involvement in public interest work. For students interested in a specific area of public interest law, professors that specialize in that or a related area (e.g., environmental law, constitutional law) can also be good sources of information and direction. MYTHS (AND FACTS) ABOUT THE PUBLIC INTEREST CAREER SEARCH 7 1. Is it more difficult to get a public interest job? Other than large government employers, public interest organizations tend to have occasional openings and they do not have a lot of extra money. These two facts often mean they do not hire recruitment people, they do not join The Association for Legal Career Professionals (NALP), they often do not visit law school job fairs, and they may not send law schools notices of their openings. It does not mean they do not want you, it just means you have to find them and go to them. In comparison to the large firm fall feeding frenzy this seems like a lot of work. However, it is just what a normal job search looks like when you are no longer a law student. It really depends on what type of public interest or private sector job you are pursuing. 2. Are the On-campus Interviews (OCIs) and the Externship Match private sector events? No. Every year the CSO invites public interest employers to participate in OCIs and the Match program, but few participate. This is due to the reasons listed in the answer to question one above, as well as the fact that most public interest organizations do not know their hiring needs, or funding, a full year in advance. But the poor turnout is also due to the fact that when many of these employers do come, they suffer from lack of student interest. It is a significant investment for an organization to use attorney time and travel funds to come to BYU for OCIs. If they have only one or two interviews scheduled, it is usually not worth their resources. They will instead ask those two students to see them at their offices and will not register for OCIs the next year. If there is truly a lack of student interest, this outcome is necessary. However, if few students sign up because public interest students do not realize that the
Adapted with permission from Fact vs. Fiction: Public Interest Careers, published by the Yale Law School Career Development Office
OCIs include public interest work; this is simply a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. Several times in the past, public interest employers that have come on campus for OCIs or other events have been disappointed when few or no students have chosen to meet with them. There are several reasons why the CSO does not run a special public interest job fair here at BYU. First, we prefer to incorporate public interest employers into OCIs so that they can benefit from the same technology, timing, and accommodations as other employers. Second, the same reasons (discussed above) that prevent many public interest employers from coming to OCIs will prevent them from coming to a separate BYU Public Interest Job Fair. For many public interest employers their needs can be better met through joint interview programs, such as the Northwest and Rocky Mountain public interest career fairs, which BYU cosponsors, and the national Equal Justice Works public interest career fair. 3. Is it true you cannot get a public interest job right out of law school? No. This rumor gets its start in the fact that U.S. Attorneys’ Offices do not hire right out of law school. They require at least two years of experience. Obviously there are many other public interest jobs and most will consider newly-minted attorneys. Having said this, there are some highly sought after public interest jobs, typically with high profile national nonprofits, where the competition is so stiff that getting on as a new graduate may be a nearly impossible task. This is when the fellowship route comes in handy. Fellowships are a great way to do the work you dream of, or to find a position in an organization that has no funding to hire you. See section 3 of the CSO Public Interest Handbook for more on the fellowship avenue to public interest employment. 4. Why do so many students who planned on going into public interest end up taking private sector jobs? Lots of reasons. Some students are lured by the tremendous amount of money in the private sector and figure they will earn a large salary for a few years, then come back to public interest (but see question 6 below for more on that). Some spend the summer working for a firm that seems nice and begin to wonder if maybe firm work really would not be so bad. Some strike a deal with a firm to do a large amount of pro bono work. And finally, many students cannot stand the uncertainty that a public interest job search typically entails. The popularity of fellowships is aided by their earlier acceptances. The lateness of public interest offers, compounded with the rumor that positions are not available, cause those who are risk averse to jump ship to the very attractive private sector option. 5. Can I get a job with a public interest organization when I have no experience in public interest law or its area of concern? Summer job, yes. Permanent job, more unlikely. If you are a 1L looking for summer work, do not worry about this. Try to demonstrate that you have a concern for the underprivileged and have given your time in the past to help folks (animals, environment, etc.). Join the Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF), participate in the Pro Bono Alliance, plan to take LawHelp classes as a 2L, and get involved in service projects offered at the school to gain experience and demonstrate your interest in public interest law generally and your specific area of concern if possible. If you are graduating and have not acquired any public interest experience, you are in a much more difficult position. Unlike a summer job where you can often ride on the facts that you can come for free and you are attending an excellent law school, employers for permanent positions expect a demonstrated commitment. You have had three years of law school and two summers to show this commitment and if you have not, it adds a burden to your job search. Topic area expertise, however, is often not necessary if you have transferable skills and a public interest background. 6. If I work at law firms after I graduate, can I make a switch later to public interest work? It is possible, but several facts conspire against you. First, you grow accustomed to the money. Just as you cannot imagine making $100,000 a year now, after you have made it for a few years you will not be able to imagine making $45,000. You will have expenses that seem necessary. Family and friends might question your judgment. Second, you might have an uphill battle in actually getting a public interest job. Your résumé does not demonstrate commitment to public interest; your experience as a transaction attorney for large corporations does not demonstrate the needed skills or knowledge. Quite frankly everyone is a little suspicious about whether you are serious about the cause and if you will stay. These can all be overcome by making sure you do lots of pro bono work during private practice, maintain and cultivate contacts in the public interest community, reduce debt, and continue to live a simple life.
7. But if I work only for public interest employers, can I get a private sector job if I later decide I need to, or want to leave? Yes, though the ease of the transition depends on what type of public interest job you have held and how long you have held it. It is obviously easier to get a job in private practice when you can show that your public interest job gave you skills or knowledge that are useful to the firm. Litigators in the public interest arena often make smooth transitions to private practice. Similarly, attorneys who have developed knowledge of government regulation in an area of interest to a firm often make lucrative career changes. To the extent that your experience is unrelated to your next desired job, and you have been in that position for a significant period of time, you must work harder to change jobs. The issue is not really private versus public, but moving to fields where the skills, knowledge and contacts gained in your work experience are irrelevant. This problem also holds true for changes within the private sector. 8. But don’t big firms provide better training? Not necessarily. Big firms typically have an organized training program. Some public interest firms, like Utah Legal Services, are connected to national clearinghouses that do research and provide support on the issues you will handle. Depending on the office they may have budget money to send you to significant trainings. However, many public interest employers have no organized training program, and public interest employers vary enormously in the quality of their training and formal mentoring. Even then, there are almost always knowledgeable attorneys willing to help. Public interest attorneys tend to be willing to work collaboratively because they are not focused on accumulating billable hours. Most attorneys engaged in public interest work want to mentor and teach. Also, big private firms typically do not allow a young associate, or summer intern, to handle the type of work or breadth of work that public interest employers do. In a big private firm, it is quite possible that you would spend several years researching and writing memos. A small public interest organization where you find an excellent mentor and are given significant responsibility may well provide training far superior to anything a law firm can offer. You should inquire about training at the interview and affirmatively seek mentors during your employment. Look closely at the skills and knowledge you are likely to acquire at a large law firm and see if these are transferable to the public interest work you desire. If litigation is your desired skill, learn what litigation skills you will develop at the firm and when. If you develop extensive knowledge of mergers and acquisitions at the firm, make sure this is valuable in some way to your desired service work, and if it is not, consider a more appropriate training opportunity. 9. Can I survive on a public interest salary? Only you know that. Can people survive on a public interest salary and lead happy lives? Sure. They do it all the time. This question is enormously dependent on what you consider the essentials of life. Also, depending on your family situation, it may require extra planning. It also depends on the type of public interest work you pursue. Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) employ an amazing group of committed attorneys and provide extremely low salaries; however people working for the government in public interest fields will probably start in the forties and can work up to over $100,000. There are even legal services organizations where the supervisors and directing attorneys make a very good salary. Having said this, the comparison to large firm salaries will always be dismal. If you choose this way of life, it is best to stop comparing. There are loan forgiveness programs and tax incentives specifically for those employed in public service: Income Based Repayment Q&As (Federal Program) – www.studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/IBRPlan.jsp Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program Q&As (Federal Program) – www.studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/PSF.jsp Student Debt Relief Resources – www.equaljusticeworks.org/resources/student-debt-relief or www.equaljusticeworks.org/ed-debt 10. What does the CSO do to assist public interest students? The entire CSO team works hard to assist students in their public interest employment searches. Staff / Counseling
All of our CSO professional staff members are familiar with public interest employment and are happy to answer general questions in this area. For more specific questions and resources, however, please contact MariLee Allred, the Public Interest Advisor ([email protected]
You can also schedule an appointment with MariLee through the online scheduler, found at: www.law2.byu.edu (click on: Current Students > Careers > Counseling > Schedule Counseling). Employment Opportunities
The CSO: Solicits public interest employers (to the same extent that it solicits other types of employers) for events such as OCIs, job fairs, and mock interviews Posts public interest opportunities on the CSO externship and jobs webpages Co-sponsors and helps to fund the annual Northwest Public Service Career Fair and the annual Rocky Mountain Government and Public Interest Career Fair Maintains the law school’s membership in PSLawNet to allow students to search the public interest jobs database free of charge Maintains the law school’s membership in Equal Justice Works to allow students to attend the annual Equal Justice Works Public Interest Career Fair and Conference and to access the members only content about public interest work free of charge Public Interest Education
The CSO: Sponsors the Winter Lecture Series which engages a number of public interest employers. Publishes the Public Interest Guidebook to inform students about public interest opportunities and resources Includes pages devoted to public interest career information on its website Provides topic specific resource lists, including one that provides public interest resources Why do we have this strong commitment to public interest?
The J. Reuben Clark Law School believes in the importance of this work. Many students work in a public interest area during at least one of their summers. The CSO is committed to helping students find careers in the field of their choice (from public service to private practice and beyond). Students who choose to pursue public interest employment often need more assistance because public interest employers are usually not able to do as much recruiting as other employers. While attorneys working in public interest jobs nearly always earn less than those working in the private sector, public interest attorneys are much more likely to be satisfied with their work. With some careful planning, attorneys can live well on a public interest salary.