Tips for Pursuing Public Interest Law (Without Going Broke)

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on February 25, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The public has few benefactors and it needs dedicated humanitarian-types like you to represent the interests of individuals. It's important for quality lawyers to fight for the cause of civil rights.

Although nobody goes into public interest law to get rich, there are ways to pursue your passion without completely going broke.

Selecting Your School

We hate to say it, but you probably have such laudable and callow dreams because you haven't gotten into law school yet, and haven't yet faced the debt.

Public interest is not a high salary area of the law, so if you plan on having lots of debts, you should select the school with the lowest tuition. Since public interest groups are always in need of lawyers, you'll be in demand in this field almost anywhere you go. But hey, you seem like a happy bunch.

You Need to Live

Once you're in school, you will need to research all the possible stipends and fellowship programs that many schools offer if you pursue a summer internship with a non-profit. The schools, particularly the public ones, will have a state interest in seeing you stay in public interest so many will go your way.

However, you should keep in mind that the money you receive will basically be barely enough to cover your expenses to attend this summer internship, so don't expect to be eating at Michelin Star restaurants.

Real Examples

If you applied to Northwestern's School of Law (now Pritzker School of Law), you'll be treated to the country's most generous stipend for students who pursue public interest: $8,000. That's $8,000 for you during your summer so you don't have to worry about living in the streets while you help others get access to legal help. Readers will recall the money's being earmarked for public interest clinics was part of the package deal to renaming the school "Pritzker." The school's program also features help with public interest interviews; and helping you secure a job.

So, there is help out there for you lawyers who hear the call of the angels. Just don't let it be said that we didn't warn you: Your cause is just, but hard. More and more it is becoming apparent that law school debt is negatively affecting public interest law.

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