Employment Opportunities in Public Interest Law:
Post-graduate fellowships are an excellent opportunity to find a public interest law position. There are many different types of fellowship programs. Some fellowships are sponsored by specific organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, and provide funding to work at the sponsoring agency. Other fellowships allow the recipients to design their own positions at a wide range of organizations. Fellowships are highly competitive and an invaluable opportunity to gain experience in a particular area of public interest law.
A good place to start is the guidebooks listing many legal fellowships, including:
- Harvard Law School Public Interest Job Search (obtained from the Office of Public
- National Fellowship Opportunities: Graduate and Undergraduate
(published by Boston College).
A number of the major fellowships will fund you to do a specific project at an existing legal organization. Others will even allow you to start your own organization. Don't go overboard - funders want focused projects that have achievable goals - they don't want to fund an amorphous project to "save the world".
Before you start, you may wish to review summaries of projects that have been funded or proposed in the past. Then, think about the subject areas that you are interested in. Spend some time researching what the cutting edge issues are in the field. Remember, research can include library research but should also include speaking with faculty members and practicing lawyers in the field. You should also research each funding organization as each fellowship has its own funding preferences.
You must then identify some organizations that may be interested in having you work with them if you obtain a fellowship. A good place to start is with an organization that you have previous contacts with, perhaps through an internship or summer job. Another approach is to use alumni or faculty contacts. The sponsoring agency does not have to be a big name; however, make sure that it is respected, because the funders will be considering whether the agency is an effective one in considering whether to fund your fellowship there. It is crucial that you have a strong relationship with the sponsoring agency and that the sponsoring agency need this project to continue its critical work.
Remember to work with the sponsoring organization in developing your fellowship proposal.
Most program applications require: personal statements and essays by the applicant, recommendations from professors and/or former employers and transcripts. Some require a statement from a sponsoring organizations; others require a legal writing sample.
Make sure that you leave yourself plenty of time to prepare your application. Most fellowships require you to write one or more essays describing your project and your background. Have others review these essays before you submit them. Commitment to the public interest and sincere enthusiasm are both qualities that help an application.
Convey the goals of the project clearly, provide concrete and specific strategies on how you plan to accomplish these goals, and explain your particular skills and experience that will make the project succeed.
You can only receive one of these fellowships in your lifetime. Just this year, all of these fellowship programs made the decision that they will not fund an applicant who has had a previous postgraduate legal fellowship. The purpose of these programs is to launch your public interest career . . . so pick carefully, otherwise you will be launched into a career that you do not really want.
Equal Justice Works
Equal Justice Works (formerly NAPIL) helps fund two-year fellowships for projects that provide legal advocacy on behalf of individuals, groups, or issues that are not adequately represented by some aspect of the legal system. Past projects have focused on domestic violence, homelessness, health care, welfare, childrenâs issues, consumer rights, employment discrimination, and more. The fellowâs salary and fringe benefits are set by the host organization. Equal Justice Works will provide up to $37,500 a year for salary, in addition to loan repayment assistance. Host organizations must be 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations capable of providing training, support, and supervision to the fellow.
Applicants include third-year law students and law school graduates. Fellows must show a commitment to public service generally and to the community in which the project is based. Preference is given to applicants who have a personal history or identification with the community in which the project is based. No one who has worked as a full-time, permanent employee with the host organization within one year of the application date may receive a fellowship with that organization. This does not include law student summer positions.
There are two avenues and timetables for applying to the Equal Justice Works fellowship program. Fellowships begin in September of each year. For applications through Route A, Equal Justice Works solicits law firms and corporations to provide matching funds to support the project proposal. The applicant should choose a host organization prior to the deadline and work with the organization to develop the project proposal. The application deadline is usually mid-September of the year before the project would begin. The applicant must interview with Equal Justice Works and with the firm or corporation that is considering funding the project. The fellowships will generally be awarded by December.For applications through Route B, the host organization is responsible for finding the matching funds to support the fellowship. The host organization submits the project to Equal Justice Works and must be approved before they can begin to seek matching funds. Once a host organization has secured the matching funds, they can begin their search for a fellowship candidate. Fellowships available through Route B will be distributed to law schools and posted on Equal Justice Workâs website once they are available, generally in December or January before the project would begin. Once the organization has chosen a candidate, Equal Justice Works will interview the candidate and make a final decision. This process usually lasts into March and April.
The Equal Justice Works Career Fair is a unique opportunity for public interest-minded law students and graduates to learn about and interview with nonprofit organizations across the country.
These fellowships are provided through the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, a program of the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom. Twenty-five fellowships are awarded each year to graduating law students and out-going judicial clerks. Projects should focus on providing legal services to the poor, elderly, homeless, disabled, and those deprived of their civil or human rights. Skadden provides each fellow a $37,500 salary, fringe benefits, and law school debt service. The fellowships are awarded for one year, with the expectation that they will be renewed for a second year.
The application process is much like Equal Justice Workâs Route A process. An applicant secures a position with a host organization and works together with the organization to create a project proposal. The application deadline is usually late September or early October. Based upon the applicantsâ academic performance, commitment to public interest, and the quality of the project, 75 applicants are chosen for interviews. 50 of those applicants will be forwarded to the Skadden Foundationâs trustees for final approval. The final 25 fellowships are generally awarded in December.
These fellowships are funded through the Criminal Justice Initiative, a program of the Open Society Institute. CJI has a strong commitment to reducing the excessive reliance on punishment and incarceration in the US, and to promoting fair and equal treatment in all aspects of the US criminal system. Fellowships are awarded to individuals in their final year of graduate school and to individuals that have graduated from a program in law, public health, education, or any other field related to criminal justice. Fellowships are awarded to projects that develop innovative criminal justice programs in collaboration with existing organizations in the US or overseas.
Applicants should secure sponsorship from a nonprofit or governmental organization whose mission is related to the field of criminal justice. Fellows will receive a stipend of up to $32,500. Medical coverage and other benefits, as well as support for graduate school debt, may be available. The fellowships last for up to 12 months and may be renewed. Applications are generally due in early October.
Echoing Green Graduate
Public Service Fellowship
Echoing Green is a private foundation that awards fellowships to individuals who create new public service organizations or innovative independent projects to effect positive social change. Projects may address any public service area including, but not limited to, the environment, arts, education, health, youth service and development, civil and human rights, and community and economic development. The purpose is to invest early in organizations just trying to get a start. Projects must originate from the applicant and must not be an extension or expansion of another person or organizationâs mission or idea. No one who has received an Echoing Green fellowship in the past may apply. Research projects and lobbying activities are not eligible.
These two-year fellowships provide a $30,000 a year salary and health care benefits, in addition to support and technical assistance. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and should be able to demonstrate experience working with their proposed constituency and providing the proposed service, as well as a connection to the community in which the service is to be provided. Applicants must submit an initial application, which is generally available in November and due in January. The applicant will be notified of the projectâs eligibility if he or she is invited to complete a full application. The full application deadline is generally in March. Fellowships are only awarded after a personal interview.