Public interest legal work traditionally involves advocating for persons or causes that are not typically served by the private legal sector. There are a wide variety of public interest employers, including, but not limited to: legal service providers; public defender offices; advocacy organizations; and private law firms devoted to serving the underrepresented. Over the last several years, approximately four percent of UT Law graduates have pursued legal careers in public interest. Our hope is that that number continues to grow.
There are numerous benefits to working in the public interest. Often, lawyers in the public interest get a great amount of responsibility and experience soon after beginning their first job. In addition, for those persons who are passionate about helping the public or promoting a cause, there is a great amount of satisfaction that comes from choosing a life’s work that is in line with one’s values and beliefs. Finally, depending on the type of practice, public interest attorneys may have a better chance of achieving a work-life balance than private sector attorneys.
Students should keep in mind, though, that the public interest job search often requires more time and creativity than the private law firm search for several reasons (see Public Interest Career Development Handbook). First, many public interest employers lack resources for formal recruiting programs. That said, the CSO tries to provide law students with multiple opportunities to meet and interview with public interest organizations through Public Service Table Talk and Public Service Career Fair. Second, employers tend to recruit in spring rather than the fall, after many private firms have already done their recruiting and some public interest organizations do not recruit until positions actually become available. Finally, financing a public interest career can be a challenge. Salaries for public interest lawyers are generally lower than those for attorneys in private practice and often summer internships are unpaid. However, there are many fellowships available for summer, term time, and postgraduate employment. Students should also inquire about the Loan Repayment Assistance Program at UT Law.
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