One Recent Grad’s Reflections on the Public Interest Job Market

By Jacob Hamburger

Jacob graduated from the University of Chicago Law School earlier this month and was able to successfully procure a public interest staff attorney position that will begin after he takes the bar exam. This post details his experience and reflections on his past year on the public interest job market.

I graduated law school earlier this month, and am fortunate enough to have a staff attorney job lined up at a large legal aid office, and in my area of interest. As I sit down to write this post, I’m in between sessions of studying for the bar—which can be annoying, but is ultimately manageable, and leaves me time to enjoy the sunshine. The covid-19 pandemic is receding in my area, and it’s looking like something resembling a normal professional and social life is around the corner.

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The Fellowship Project Proposal

The centerpiece of an application for a project-based fellowship is the project proposal. Not all fellowships are project-based, but it’s important to understand what makes a good proposal for those that are.

Every fellowship has different requirements for what needs to go into a project proposal, but at a minimum every proposal must identify: (1) the client population to be served; (2) the area of law; and (3) the types of legal services provided.

Here are a few Skadden projects that were funded last year to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

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How to Apply for a Skadden Fellowship

By Kathleen Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, 

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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