What kind of legal career do you want to have? What kind of change do you want to effect, and for whom? We all have strengths and weaknesses that make us more likely to have a rewarding legal career in one arena or a range of areas. Actively and continually assessing your interests and strengths (using CPD’s Self Assessment Tool) will ensure that you are working in an environment in which you feel fulfilled. There are three basic organizational paradigms for a career in public interest legal service:
- Legal Aid Societies: Community- and neighborhood-based organizations that serve low-income persons
- Client-Oriented Organizations: Represent clients in an area of specialization, such as disability rights, prisoner issues, or immigration
- Impact and Class-Action Litigation: “Impact litigation” is a term used to describe lawsuits that have a broader effect than simply resolving a dispute between the parties to any one case. Impact litigation is a tool that advocates use consciously to bring cases that will have far-reaching influence. “Class action” is one strategy within impact litigation and is defined as cases that pose a legal question affecting a large number of people and may result in systemic reform. May include legislative and administrative advocacy.
- Public Interest Groups / Social Action Organizations: Advocate public policy and law reform through various means, including legislative outreach, public education, grassroots organizing, and/or litigation.
- Support Centers: Provide assistance, research, analysis and dissemination of information to other programs.
- Foundations: Foundations are generally philanthropic institutions that are established to address a specific societal injustice or to support the work of non-profit organizations working in various issue areas to promote the public good. For more information about this avenue, the Harvard Law School Office of Public Interest Advising has written a specialty guide on Careers in Foundations for Lawyers.
- Prosecuting Attorneys: State Attorneys General, Department of Justice - US Attorney’s Offices, other governmental offices such as county and municipal authorities
- Public Defenders: state and federal
- Policy Development and Implementation: elected office, staff for legislative or executive branch
To learn more about career in a government office, agency, or organization, see the Vault’s library of articles on different practice environments and experiences. For more information on career positions in the federal government, see the Federal Honors Handbook (contact CPD for password information), the Partnership for Public Service, and USA Jobs.
International public interest organizations may fall into any of the above categories. Non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations (such as the UN), and governmental bodies all are involved in policy development and implementation, advocacy, activism, and administration, and rely heavily on attorneys in these arenas.
For an in-depth look at each of these public interest settings, see Yale Law School’s Public Interest Career Services page.
Don’t forget, even if your primary practice isn’t in the public interest arena, you can also affect significant good through pro bono activities. If you’d like to do pro bono work but don’t know where to begin, check out Advocate Resource Center (or Probono.net for opportunities outside Washington State) for a list of organizations that need attorneys for pro bono projects. You might also consider incorporating your passion for public service into your workplace environment. Firms and corporations are finding that it makes increasing business sense to have a robust pro bono practice, both via encouraging pro bono work by individual attorneys, and through corporate social responsibility programs.