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.