What Is Public Interest Law?

According to an article published by Yale Law School, “Public Interest Law is the use of law by nonprofit organizations, law firms, and government agencies to provide legal representation to people, groups, or interests that are historically underrepresented in the legal system.”

If you went to law school because you wanted to “help people” when you graduated, there’s a good chance that public interest law is the right career choice for you. Public Interest lawyers advocate for those who most need advocates, act as a voice for those who have none, and work hard to make the world a better place.

Public interest work can feel like a personal obligation for many people because of a general desire to serve and help others.  Many students come to law school with the sole purpose of wanting to help those in need and promote fairness and justice. Because of the passion and meaningfulness behind pursuing this type of career, most public interest attorneys really love the work they do.

Public interest attorneys also assume much more responsibility at the beginning of their careers. Large law firm associates may have to wait until they are mid-level or senior associates before they have much direct client contact, courtroom or pretrial experience – in public interest, you often gain these experiences immediately.

The benefits to pursuing a career in public interest are numerous and fulfilling.  Not only will you gain tremendous hands on experience that can lead to professional success, but also make a visible and lasting difference in the communities you serve, which is the ultimate reward.

Some examples in Public Interest Law include but are not limited to:

  • Animal Welfare
  • Children/Youth Advocacy
  • Civil Rights/Liberties
  • Criminal Defense/Prosecution
  • Death Penalty
  • Disability Rights/Advocacy
  • Domestic Violence
  • Elder Advocacy
  • Environmental Issues
  • Gay/Lesbian Rights
  • Labor Law
  • Government
  • Health Care
  • Housing Law
  • Immigrant/Minority Populations
  • International Human Rights
  • Marriage/Family
  • Prisoners’ Rights
  • Public Benefits
  • Rape/Sexual Assault
  • Reproductive Rights
  • Social Justice
  • Street/Poverty/Homeless Law
  • Women’s Rights

Click here for a more extensive list of public interest areas.

Tips for Lawyers: Becoming a Great Networker

David Schwinger law

Becoming a great networker is essential for any career path, including those pursuing law. Even senior-level lawyers use their networking skills as often as possible so they can maintain and continue to develop long-term relationships with clients and other lawyers. If you’re just starting a career in law, networking is vital for you to succeed. Here are a few steps you can take towards becoming a great networker:

First, recognize the overall, larger benefits associated with networking – building relationships. Networking is not just about finding somebody that can give you a job or that can represent your business. Business happens through establishing strong relationships over time, and these relationships are the most important part of networking.

Next, stop checking your phone every five seconds. You’ll never know who you can meet on any given day; and if you’re on your phone, chances are that you will not talk to anyone behind you on line to get a coffee (and they’ll probably think you’re too busy to approach). According to an article published on Findlaw.com, staying away from your “crackberry” is essential when it comes to networking:

“Your next big client engagement in not going to come in the form of an email while you are waiting for your coffee. The barista’s mother could be the President of a bank. Talk to her and others around you. Networking is about an attitude of engagement not going to a networking event. You network everyday, not once a week,” (Networking Tips for Lawyers).

David Schwinger lawThough the digital age we are living in can have many positive effects on our careers and the way we conduct business, many people are losing the ability to communicate face-to-face with others. Do not be one of them.

Speaking of the digital age, utilize the tools that are readily available to enhance and grow your network. Take LinkedIn for example, one of the most prominent social media platforms for professionals. LinkedIn will help improve your SEO and the way you present yourself online – so make sure your profile is completed in detail and that you have an appropriate photo of yourself so that others can recognize you. We should use technology to our advantage when it comes to networking, not so that it destroys our abilities to interact with others.

Lastly, understand that networking takes time and dedication. If you sign up for a networking event, make sure you do your homework and research companies and leaders who will be there that can help make a difference in your career. Don’t expect to just show up and suddenly be connected with fifteen new people in your field. Get to the event early, look the role, and be friendly to everyone you talk to so that you can grow your network. Remember, networking is not about socializing, so don’t show up to a networking event with your friends. Be bold. And always bring your business cards.