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A career in public interest law can vary from representing minority groups through civil rights organizations; first amendment cases through civil liberties groups; the poor through legal services groups or legal aid societies; indigent people through public defender offices; children or the disabled through specialized law centers; and the incarcerated through prisoners' rights organizations, among many other opportunities.
The overarching concern is representing the interests of individuals or groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the legal system.
Career Services is committed to helping students interested in careers in public interest law, and the office sponsors a number of programs and special events throughout the school year for students interested in learning about the various career opportunities. For more information, please refer to our Public Interest Handbooks for 1Ls, 2Ls and 3Ls.
Public interest legal positions can typically be divided into two main categories: (1) Direct client services, and (2) Policy work.
Direct Client Services
Direct client service involves working directly with individuals in need of legal representation, such as working in a legal services organization (e.g., Legal Services Corporation or specialized client services/issues (such as; immigration, homelessness, or HIV).
Policy work involves working on legal issues at a more global scale. Public interest attorneys engaging in policy work may work on large class action cases or impact litigation (litigation that has an impact on a broad portion of society), for example organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union or EarthJustice.
Policy work also includes working for social action organizations (e.g., Amnesty International and US PIRG) which address a wide array of policy issues, such as community education, lobbying, and policy analysis.
Public interest law is an excellent career option for those who are committed to a cause or group and who want to make a difference for their clients. Many attorneys in public interest law report high job satisfaction despite lower entry-level salaries. The rewards include the early assignment of responsibility, the camaraderie of like-minded coworkers, and the satisfaction of results that impact individual lives or society as a whole.
Not only do public interest attorneys typically experience early responsibility within their positions, but they often advance quickly and develop a broad base of legal skills early on.
Public interest organizations provide excellent career opportunities, but do not necessarily provide high levels of remuneration. Many summer positions are underpaid or on a volunteer basis.
Despite the lack of funding, some of these positions are highly competitive, so students are wise not to view public interest positions as a "back-up plan" to another job search. Landing a public interest position requires the same tenacity and skill as landing other positions, and sometimes more.
The OSU Public Interest Law Foundation Summer Funded Fellowship Program offers funding for summer clerkships to students who work in positions serving underrepresented populations. Other alternative funding sources can be found through Equal Justice Works and PSJD.
Further, post-graduate fellowships (addressed in the fellowship section) oftentimes provide loan repayment assistance in addition to an annual stipend or salary.
Finally, some direct legal services providers offer loan repayment programs as a benefit of employment, so students and graduates are encouraged to inquire about such options with potential employers.