Every Lawyer Should Be a Public Interest Lawyer

This blog is mostly for people who are already committed to public interest law, or at least for those who are on the fence about what they want to do. But I recognize that there are many lawyers who don’t see themselves as working in the public interest except in the narrow sense that they represent their clients diligently, work to hone their craft, and contribute to the well-functioning of the legal system. And there are plenty of law students who are striving to get good grades and a good job after law school, without much thought about how they will contribute to the public good.

That is not to say that they won’t find ways to give back to their communities, by, for example, volunteering through civic organizations or their church or by donating money to charity. There is nothing wrong with this kind of contribution, and we should applaud people who devote themselves to the greater good no matter what form it takes. But I would argue that as lawyers we have a special obligation to contribute to the public interest in our role as lawyers, either by devoting ourselves to public interest careers or, at the very least, by spending a significant amount of time doing pro bono legal work.

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What Is Public Interest Lawyering?

Because this blog is about public interest lawyering, it is important to define what exactly I mean by the term. We could define it as all legal work not done for a remunerative purpose, but rather to achieve some other goal. This definition is convenient if we want to ignore the fact that people disagree about what is in the public interest.

Take abortion rights as an example. Pro-choice lawyers spend their careers fighting to protect and expand abortion rights. Pro-life advocates spend their careers trying to cut back and eliminate abortion rights. Under this first definition of public interest lawyering, both sides could be engaging in public interest lawyering, even though they seek to achieve diametrically opposed goals. In both cases, it is not money that motivates the lawyers, but principles of equality and justice. They simply happen to disagree about how to interpret what those principles mean.

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