The term "Public Interest Law" is difficult to define precisely. Kimm Alayne Walton in her book America's Greatest Places to Work With A Law Degree (Harcourt Brace, 1999) provides that: "As a general matter you could call public interest the area that provides legal representation to people, groups, or interests that are historically underrepresented in our legal system." This broad definition necessarily includes not only nonprofit organizations and public interest law firms, but also government positions (the government is typically included in the area of public interest because of its public service mission).
Students interested in public interest careers need to explore and begin to define their specific areas of public interest early on in their law school careers. Participating in externships, Law School clinics and practicums and working with public interest organizations will allow you to explore your interests and demonstrate a commitment to public interest work. It may be difficult, but not insurmountable, to handle law school debt while working in a public interest position. Depending upon the employer and area(s) of interest students may have opportunities for loan forgiveness/assistance programs, fellowships, scholarships and other programs to deal with their debts. It is essential to begin your search early because there is often high competition for these positions. The Professional Development Office is here to help you in your search.
Students also have the opportunity to spend a semester in D.C. working for a non-profit or government agency for law school credit. If you would like to work in D.C. or in any public policy-related position after graduation, this program offers the opportunity to make contacts and gain intensive, hands-on experience in your field of interest. To learn more please see the Semester in D.C. Externship Program.
Equal Justice Works has posted a new College Cost Reduction and Access Act resource on its website: The Loan Forgiveness for Public Service Employment Checklist can help graduates evaluate their student loans and determine if they can benefit from the new federal student loan forgiveness program.
The following sites provide additional information on careers in public interest law. Many of these sites provide links to other opportunities with public interest organizations.
- The Alliance for Justice (http://www.afj.org/)
The Alliance for Justice is a national association of environmental, civil rights, mental health, women's, children's and consumer advocacy organizations. The site posts employment and internship opportunities.
- Amnesty International (https://www.amnesty.org/en/)
- This site provides links to worldwide human rights websites arranged by practice area.
- Capital Defense Internship/Job Resource ( http://www.law.berkeley.edu/capitaldefense.htm) List internships and job opportunities in capital defense offices.
- Chronicle of Philanthropy (http://philanthropy.com/jobs/)
Lists job opportunities in the nonprofit world, plus information that will help you with your career.
- Domestic, Elder and Family Violence (http://www.vaonline.org/dv.html) A non-profit information, research and networking resource for victim assistance specialists, professionals in related disciplines and all interested in the field of victimology. Includes international, national and state resources.
- Environmental Career Opportunities (http://www.ecojobs.com/login_subs.php). This is a password protected job site and the login and password information are located on the CSO section of the Extranet.
- Equal Justice Works (http://www.equaljusticeworks.org)
Equal Justice Works organizes, trains and supports public service-minded law students and is the national leader in creating summer and postgraduate public interest jobs. This site provides a great deal of information on public interest careers, upcoming events (including the annual Conference and Career Fair in October), jobs and opportunities, grants, and Equal Justice Works' Fellowships Program. The site also has valuable links to other public interest sites.
- Good Works (http://www.goodworksfirst.org)
GOOD WORKS is a national directory of social change organizations which lists the aims and projects of over 1000 organizations and provides background information on contacts, starting salaries and benefits, types of staff openings, available internships, annual budget and funding sources, and the application process. It also profiles individuals who are building public interest careers.
- National Center for Law and Economic Justice (http://www.nclej.org/)
The Center advances the cause of economic justice for low-income families, individuals, and communities across the country. Includes information, links and job opportunities.
- National Center for Youth Law (http://www.youthlaw.org/)
This private, non-profit law office site provides information on laws and activities impacting children and includes employment, fellowship and internship opportunities.
- National Consumer Law Center (http://www.consumerlaw.org/)
The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) helps consumers, their advocates, and public policy makers use powerful and complex consumer laws on behalf of low-income and elderly Americans seeking economic justice. The site contains employment and internship information.
- National Fair Housing Advocate (http://www.fairhousing.com/)
This site contains nationwide listings for fair housing job opportunities.
- National Health Law Program (http://www.healthlaw.org)
The National Health Law Program is a national public interest law firm that seeks to improve health care for America's working and unemployed poor, minorities, the elderly and people with disabilities. The site posts employment opportunities and links to other resources.
- National Legal Aid and Defender Association (http://www.nlada.org)
The National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) champions effective legal assistance for the poor and serves as a collective voice for both civil legal services and indigent defense services throughout the nation. The site allows students to search for public defender and legal services offices opportunities by state.
- National Senior Citizens Law Center (http://www.nsclc.org/)
National Senior Citizens Law Center staff works with legal services offices and senior organizations throughout the U.S. to provide quality advice and service. The site provides information and links to many national organizations that assist the elderly.
- The Nonprofit Career Center (http://www.idealist.org/career.html)
Provides information on obtaining positions with non-profit organizations and allows students to search for jobs.
- Philadelphia Directory of Public Interest Legal Organizations (http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/DirectoryOfPublicInterestAgencies?appNum=2&wosid=k8TVSWRM5m3fPKtPbyrct0)
A list of the more than 30 public interest law agencies that serve Philadelphia's neediest citizens.
- Public Service JobNet (http://cgi2.www.law.umich.edu/_JobNet/)
This site is provided courtesy of The University of Michigan Law School and allows lawyers and law students to search listings of permanent public interest positions, fellowships, summer employment and government legal jobs.
- The Public Service Law Network (www.pslawnet.org)
PSLawNet is a global network of member law schools and nearly 10,000 law-related world-wide public service organizations. Pitt Law is a member school. Students can register to search for opportunities ranging from volunteer positions during school to full-time summer internships, to post-graduate jobs and fellowships. This site also includes government positions and information about alternate funding sources. Students can also search to get a list of national and international public interest organizations by location and field of interest.
- Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (http://www.publicjustice.net/)
This is the homepage for Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ), a national public interest law firm. The site contains information and links to public interest organizations.
- United Nations (http://www.unsystem.org)
This site provides an alphabetical index of links to the United Nations System of Organizations and links to other sites including vacancies at the UN.
- U.S. Department of State (http://www.state.gov/)
This is the homepage for the U.S. Department of State. The site includes information on employment with the civil service, foreign service, international organizations and more.
- The U.S. Government Job Openings (http://www.usajobs.gov)
The U.S. Government's official site for jobs and employment information provided by the United States Office of Personnel Management.
- Women's Groups (http://www.distel.ca/womlist/womlist.html)
This site contains a world directory of women's organizations divided by country and states.
- Women's Rights (http://www.sigi.org)
This is the homepage for the Sisterhood is Global Institute (SIGI). It contains a comprehensive list of international and national human rights organizations working for women's rights.
- The White House Website (www.whitehouse.gov)
The White House site provides links to all federal agencies and commissions along with the offices and agencies that make up the Executive Office of the President.
For students interested in public service opportunities with government agencies and departments also see the "Government Positions" site.