How to Apply for a Skadden Fellowship

By Kathleen Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, kathleen.rubenstein@skadden.com 

The Skadden Fellowship provides two years of funding for recent law school graduates to work in the public interest, addressing the civil legal needs of people living in poverty in the US. We have recently updated our FAQS and posted the 2022 application on our website’s application process page. For Fellowships beginning in the fall of 2022, the application will be due on Friday September 10, 2021.

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Public Interest Fellowships

One thing that always surprises people who aren’t lawyers is how far in advance you have to apply for legal jobs, particularly at the beginning of your career. I applied for my current job in March, which was considered “late” in the hiring cycle. I started the job in January, 10 months later, which is not out of the ordinary for academic jobs. Clerkship are also like this. Students are applying right now for clerkships that will start in September 2022. And sometimes judges hire several years in advance.

Public interest fellowships are no different. In fact, if you are hoping to begin a fellowship in September 2022, you should start thinking about it now, 16 months before your start date. If you wait until the middle of the summer, you are already behind.

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Judicial Clerkships and Public Interest Careers

It’s clerkship application season, so it seemed like a good time to do a post about the role judicial clerkships play in public interest careers.

For those who don’t know, judicial law clerks work for a judge for a year or two after graduating from law school. They write memos for the judge, draft opinions and orders, and provide logistical support for the judge’s courtroom. Most judges―state, federal, magistrate, and administrative―have law clerks, though not all of them have clerks they hire for a year at a time. Some hire career law clerks who hold their positions indefinitely. In this post, I am mainly talking about short-term clerkships because this is what people are talking about when they talk about clerkships in law school.

Judicial clerkships are coveted positions that signal prestige, accomplishment, and potential. Lawyers who clerk will earn hefty bonuses if they go on to work at a big law firm. Clerkships are also important for those wanting to become law professors (over half of law professors hired in 2020 had done at least one clerkship). If you want to be an appellate lawyer or have an active Supreme Court practice, having a clerkship on your resume is crucial.

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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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How Should I Prepare for Law School?

Unlike in many countries, law is not typically taught as an undergraduate degree in the United States. Most lawyers in the U.S. spent four years studying something other than law before they go to law school. They might also spend a few years after college working before returning to law school. If you aspire to become a lawyer, you may wonder what you should do with that time.

Here is my advice. Do. Something. Different.

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