Pursuing a Public Interest Career: Key Insights from NALP/PSLawNet Public Service Mini-Conference and EJW Conference and Career
Today’s guest post is shared by Leeor Neta, the Assistant Director for Public Interest Programs at Golden Gate University School of Law. After attending the 2010 NALP/PSLawNet Public Service Mini-Conference and EJW Conference and Career Fair he is sharing key insights from programming he attended at both conferences on GGU’s Law Career Services Blog.
Best Advice I Know on Pursuing a Public Interest Career
On the last day of the NALP / PSLawNet Public Service Mini-Conference, I attended a panel discussion that indirectly shared some important advice on how to pursue a public interest career. I say that the advice was “indirectly shared” because the purpose of the panel was to discuss pathways to public policy and think tank careers. Two of the four panelists (Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, and Alejandro T. Reyes, associate counsel for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law) are involved in some of the most prestigious impact litigation and legal policy work in the nation.
Both of the panelists agreed that lawyers who work on policy need to understand the nexus between law and enforcement. In concluding that the “best policy percolates up from the street,” Ms. Austin-Hillery explained that a policy lawyer can’t craft effective policy unless she understands her clients and understands how to get them to tell their stories. A policy lawyer needs to make brief and effective arguments under pressure. A policy lawyer also needs to know how to work with opposing forces and different interests to negotiate on her clients’ behalf. Because effective communication and negotiation skills are the key to policy work, the entire panel agreed that a lawyer wanting to work on policy needs a solid foundation in litigation.
The panel also suggested that law students interested in policy work try to work for state legislatures, researching and helping to draft proposed legislation. International work experience, moot courts, and writing opportunities are also considered important. Everyone agreed that working for the Administrative Office of the Courts and State Bar Associations were ideal — and less competitive — ways to acquire policy work experience.
The panel’s best advice pertained to all aspiring public interest lawyers. First, they advised — as I have already done for many of you — that law students identify five to ten offices that they would like to work for and try to join their advisory boards. Many of those offices might need independent legal advice and the work that one does as a board member is a great way to leverage an employment offer once a position opens up. Students should consider a two-week immersion program, some of which are extremely affordable (one of the panelists described a program in Mexico that costs less than $800!).
Finally, the entire panel agreed that the best candidates for entry-level positions demonstrate through their resumes and cover letters that they were born to pursue the job for which they’re applying. Their resumes demonstrate a seamless progression of attention and commitment to a specific area. Therefore, “the sooner you can decide what it is you want to do with your legal career, the better prepared you will be when you apply for your first job.”