Three Ways For J.D.'s to Break into Public Interest

If your dream of working in public interest is alive, here are three ways to break into the field:

(1) Websites:

PSJD is devoted to attorneys working in public interest.  You can search two ways under the advanced search.  First, you can view listed job postings, and narrow the search by location and area of interest, for example environment or children.  They have a strong international section as well so if you dream of living in Indonesia or Pulau, this is the website for you. The second way you can search is by "Employer Profiles" to identify public interest organizations that employ lawyers (narrowed by location and cause).  Although in the second approach there is no position listed, this is still very valuable.  Finding out which organizations employ lawyers and the number of attorneys they employ will help you decide who to target and contact directly.  

Idealist is devoted to all public interest jobs.  You can narrow the search by "Professional Positions" that require a J.D., such as Staff Attorney.  Other typical positions that are J.D. advantage include Grant Writer, Policy Advocate and many Director/Executive level positions.

(2) Dip Your Toe In: 

The best way to see if public interest work is the move you should make is to volunteer.  Not only will it assist you in your decision making, but studies show that most public interest organizations prefer hiring from their pool of known volunteers.  The reasons are obvious.  You acquire the skills necessary to make the transition.  You gain in-depth knowledge of a specific cause.  They get to know you on a personal level.  And you demonstrate a pre-existing commitment to the organization and their work.   You can use the second PSJD search to identify organizations to contact.

(3) Make it Work Financially: 

If you plan to work in public interest for the next 10 years, you can qualify for reduced payments on your debt through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.  After 10 years, the remainder of your law school debt is forgiven.

If you are still in law school, consider making your own fellowship plan and presenting it to your dean.  In order to increase employment numbers, I know of more than one student who was able to obtain $40K/year funding by presenting a well thought out plan for a fellowship. 

Contact me for more information on how you can use your interests and background to break into the field.