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Columbia Law Students Free to Pursue Public Interest Through Comprehensive Programs

published August 08, 2005

( 22 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
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We will take a look at both of these programs, as well as the Center's plans for the future, in this two-part series on Columbia Law's efforts to create a comprehensive system allowing law students to pursue public interest work.

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The Public Service Fellowship (PSF) "invests in the student, rather than the job," says Harlene Katzman, Dean of the Center for Public Interest Law. Unlike some law school public interest funding, the PSF does not require a student to have the job before applying for summer funding.

Both first- and second-year law students must simply express "a commitment and a desire" to do public interest work, says Katzman, noting that a law student may be more likely to get a competitive public interest summer job if the employer knows from the start that the student is funded. With added funding to the program in recent years, the 40-student summer roster has increased to about 60 students participating this year, says Katzman.

Because he is going into his second year at Columbia Law this fall, some fellow 1Ls from other schools are "amazed that I'm being paid at all," says Phil Selden, recipient of a PSF doing a summer clerkship with the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office (Maryland).

The high level of support for public interest work was "one of the reasons I chose Columbia," says Selden.

The Human Rights Internship Program (HRIP), which we will look at in more detail in part two of this article, requires additional first-year training in human rights issues, both domestically and abroad, and funds a law student's work for the summer, including travel expenses if the student goes overseas.

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Columbia's Center for Public Interest Law administers several programs during the academic year at the law school, not the least of which is Columbia Law's pro bono service requirement, which mandates each student complete at least 40 hours of pro bono work in order to graduate. The center also runs public interest career programming and individual career counseling for law students who are looking for advice on public interest careers.

The law school's commitment to students who wish to pursue public interest work will continue to grow in summer 2006, with new programs added to the roster and the start of a groundbreaking promise.

Beginning next summer, Columbia Law School will guarantee that any second-year student who wants to do unpaid public interest work over the summer will automatically receive $6,000 in law school funding, says Katzman. For students who are pursuing public interest legal careers instead of going the law firm route, this assistance is invaluable. "We don't even want it to be a question" of whether or not a second-year will be able to have a public interest summer position, says Katzman.

A Columbia Law student in his/her second summer is highly likely to get a summer associate position at a law firm should he/she decide to pursue one. In New York City, these summer jobs can pay $25,000 to students who could be facing a very high student loan payment burden on graduation.

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In the face of this financial reality, the choice between a summer job at a law firm and a public interest job can be a struggle, says Katzman. Career counselors at the Center for Public Interest talk about this issue with law students "all the time," she says. A law firm can be a great experience, says Katzman, but it is not for everyone. "It really depends on the student," she says. For those who know that the public interest path is the one for them, Columbia Law's public interest funding—both during and after law school—is "a huge relief for them," says Katzman.
( 22 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.