What You Should Do in Law School to Set Yourself Up for a Public Interest Career

I have talked about how you should prepare for law school and the factors you should consider when deciding where to go to law school. In this post, I am going to discuss how you should spend your time in law school if you want to set yourself up for a public interest career. In short, you should spend your time in law school getting experience, proving your passion, and making connections.

Getting Experience

The most important thing you can do as an aspiring public interest lawyer is getting real legal experience. It used to be possible to graduate from law school without ever having done any real legal work. That is less true now―the American Bar Association now requires six experiential credits to graduate from ABA-accredited schools―but you should still should work to get as much experience as possible. The reason is simple: public interest organizations cannot afford to hire attorneys that are not “practice ready.” They may only hire one or two attorneys a year depending on the size of the organization, and most work on lean budgets that don’t leave room for dead weight. When hiring, they are looking for attorneys who have the experience to start contributing immediately. That puts new lawyers at a disadvantage, but you can mitigate this disadvantage this by getting as much experience as possible in law school.

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You Should Believe in What You Do

In Code of Capital, Katerina Pistor writes about how one of the fundamental objectives of law is to create and protect wealth, and that lawyers are the skilled craftspeople who engineer this process. “Lawyers,” she writes, “are commonly described as legal service providers. This description, however, greatly understates the contribution that lawyers make in the coding of capital, and through it, to the creation and distribution of wealth in society.”

Not all law firm work meets this description, but a lot of it does. It makes sense when you think about it. Why would anyone pay a 25-year-old right out of law school $180K a year if they weren’t making someone richer? Most people I know didn’t go to law school to make rich people and corporations more money. And yet, that is largely what they ended up doing.

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