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The Pursuit of Public Interest Law

published December 01, 2010

Rebecca Neely
( 6 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
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Government agencies represent the country and its citizens in a wide range of practice areas. For example, lawyers handle consumer protection cases as Assistant Attorney Generals, work on employment and labor law issues at the U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of General Counsel, and write public health regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Non-profits organizations assist individuals and groups seeking justice and advocate for social change. Attorneys engage in direct service with clients seeking asylum, housing rights, or custody of their children, among other issues. At legal reform organizations and ''think tanks'', such as the ACLU and the American Enterprise Institute, attorneys may use a variety of methods, including litigation and legislative advocacy, to affect change nationwide on particular issues, such as juvenile justice, racial discrimination, or gun control.

International organizations based in the US and abroad, focus on trade, treaties, economic development, or human rights. Employers include government agencies like the State Department and Department of Commerce and intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank.

Prosecutor and public defender offices handle criminal law cases. To prosecute individuals for criminal offenses, one must work for the government, either at the federal level for a US Attorney's Office or at the local level for a State Attorney's office. Lawyers in public defender offices represent indigent clients accused of crimes; people with resources to pay for representation must hire attorneys from private law firms.

Public interest law can be business oriented, as evidenced by the current economic crisis and the many government agencies involved, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of the Treasury, and the Federal Reserve Board. Additionally, public interest law can take on the slant of either ''conservative'' or ''liberal,'' depending on the organization, or individual for whom one works.

According to the Public Interest Law Institute (PILI), an international NGO that advances human rights around the world by stimulating public interest advocacy and developing the institutions necessary to sustain it, public interest law encompasses activities such as campaigning, strategic litigation, legal aid, clinical legal education, legal literacy and other public education programs.

PILI's approach is to develop and support the diverse array of organizations, programs and individuals involved in these activities and united by a common sense of mission: strengthening the use of law as an instrument for achieving social justice. In doing so, public interest law activities apply principles of human rights, democracy, open society and the rule of law.

PILI pursues its mission through five core programs, including Legal Aid Reform, Legal Education Reform, Promoting Pro Bono, NGO (Non governmental organization) advocacy, and public interest law fellowships.

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