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Doing the 'Right' Thing: How to Get into Public Interest Law

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A comprehensive guide for those who aspire to do some good.
 
Doing the 'Right' Thing: How to Get into Public Interest Law

You could argue that public interest law is inextricably tied to the rights laid out in the famous Bill. Matter of fact, that's what we're arguing. Think about it: Public interest lawyers represent people who otherwise wouldn't be represented (no counsel!) and whose fundamental rights presumably have been violated in some way. When a lawyer decides to enter the public sector, that lawyer is choosing to uphold the Bill of Rights every day.¦ She's also choosing to forego a lifetime of Ferragamo shoes, of course. Going public is difficult, and not only because the pay traditionally is low. There's no clear path to employment the way there is in the world of private practice. Jobs pop up sporadically. The interviews can be nontraditional. There are fellowships to track down, application deadlines to meet. In an attempt to lead you through what can be a scattershot system, we've collected some basic information. Consider it your first round of ammunition in the good fight.

How to interview for a public interest job
It ain't no big-firm meet-and-greet.

There is no Interview Week. No sign-up sheets, no autumn days choked with 30-minute inquisitions from efficient recruiters, no Poland Spring on the hospitality table. There's not even a hospitality table.

When it comes to the hiring system for jobs in public interest law, there isn't really a system. Most organizations in the public sector fill jobs whenever they happen to open up. Even in well-known organizations like the ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the prospect of more than a couple of staff attorney openings in a given year is always shaky. There may be five one year, none the next. And just as the recruiting process differs from the one used by private firms, so should your job-search technique. White-shoe firms scan your resume for the words "law review." Public interest groups look deep in your eyes for signs of passion.

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Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives


Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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