Law School Extra-Curriculars: Moot Court, Affinity Groups, and Volunteer Work

In my last post, I discussed whether public interest students should do law review (my answer was a qualified no). Today, I’ll discuss some of the other extra-curriculars you will have the opportunity to participate in: moot court, affinity groups, student government, and volunteer opportunities being the major ones. In order to evaluate these opportunities, recall the three goals every public interest law student should have: getting real legal experience, proving your passion for public interest work, and making connections that will help you get a job.

            Let’s take moot court first. You may think that moot court is essentially like getting real legal experience because you are learning how to write an appellate brief and do an oral argument. Except that moot court isn’t real, and doesn’t really approximate actual legal work. Real lawyering is messy. It is not wrapped up for you in a tidy package. The record below is often voluminous and complicated. There sometimes is not applicable case law to draw from. If there is case law, it may be convoluted and contradictory. And then there is the little matter of actually having a client.

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A Taxonomy of Non-Profit Public Interest Work

When people think of “public interest lawyers,” they typically are thinking of lawyers practicing law at non-profit organizations. But not all non-profit law jobs are the same. If you are considering this career path, you’ll want to figure out what kind of organization you want to work for and what kind of lawyering you want to do. To help you figure this out, read through the following statements and try to decide which statement or statements best express your view of the legal system:

  1. The law is basically just.
  2. The law is basically just, and we have to work within the system to correct injustice when it happens.
  3. The law is basically unjust, and we have to work within the system to change it.
  4. The law is basically unjust, and we have to work outside the system to change it.
  5. The law is basically unjust, and we have to work to overthrow and replace the current system.
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Finding Your Calling

I assume that if you’re reading this blog, you are at least considering a career in public interest law, but you may be wondering how to make the decision about what kind of public interest law you want to practice. Many law students focus on figuring out what area of law they are interested in or what problem in the world they want to try to solve. That’s important, because you want to be passionate about your work. But it’s not the only question you should be asking. You also want to find a job that you enjoy doing day-to-day, that plays to your strengths, and that minimizes work that drains or bores you. Many jobs sound better in theory than in practice. A job you never seriously considered may end up being perfect for you. That’s why you’ll want to spend your law school years trying out different jobs to see what works for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself when evaluating the different kinds of public interest jobs:

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Find a Mentor. Better Yet, Find Two.

One of the most important things you can do as an aspiring public interest lawyer is to find mentors to help you along the way. But finding a mentor is easier said than done. How do you find a mentor? And perhaps equally as important, how do you find a good mentor?

There are different kinds of mentors and you should try to find at least one of each. There are mentors who are at an advanced stage in their career and who can help you make the connections you need to succeed. These are rainmaker mentors. There are also mentors who are just a few years ahead of you in their careers who can provide a more personal kind of mentorship. These are confidant mentors. Each of these mentors fulfills a different role in your professional development.

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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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