The capitol building, as seen from the portico of Supreme Court

Public Interest and Public Service at Columbia

Develop your knowledge and gain hands-on lawyering skills through the Law School’s extensive opportunities tailored to work on behalf of individuals, groups, and governments to ensure justice and advance the general welfare. The Law School offers a wide range of public interest and public service opportunities—inside the classroom and beyond—to support you on your individual pathway.

Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw teaching in a conference room.

Faculty and Courses

Columbia’s world-class faculty exemplify the Law School’s mission to nurture bright, inquisitive, well-rounded attorneys who will not just carry on the “good fight,” but also do so from positions of leadership. Take courses and seminars on timely issues taught by world-renowned scholars who put their ideas into practice as well as skill-building classes and courses on innovative approaches to advocating for social justice and legal change. 

The Health Justice Advocacy Clinic students stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building..

Experiential Learning

Discover all the different ways to combine your studies with concrete, impactful work in the field, while building relationships with lawyers in the trenches. Columbia Law School’s wide range of experiential learning opportunities include clinicsexternships, semester-long externship in Washington, D.C.and practicums linking research and practice. Many graduates cite externships and clinics as highlights of their Law School experience. 

Experiential Learning
A student speaks in Moot Court

Extracurricular Activities

Find countless opportunities to participate in public interest and public service activities. 

Focus on public interest issues through centers, led by faculty or practitioners. 

Get involved in public service work  through student-led journals and a diverse array of student organizations.  Meet other like-minded students via projects, events, and mentorship programs.

Hone skills while engaging in issues pertaining to racial, economic, and social justice in specialized moot courts.

Take advantage of New York City and discover countless internship and volunteer opportunities related to public interest and public service work. Students go on field trips to witness the work of social-change lawyers and have even created their own field-based learning opportunities at New York City-based organizations like the ACLU, the United Nations, Center for Reproductive Rights, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Legal Aid Society, The Door, and the Innocence Project.

Students smile while work on laptops at the California Women's Law Center.

Pro Bono Requirement

Each year, nearly 75 percent of the graduating class exceeds their 40-hour pro bono graduation requirement. Students have worked on a range of projects including helping transgender clients petition to have their names legally changed to match their gender identity, facilitating benefits applications for veterans, and assisting refugees all over the U.S. and the world.

The Law School offers 20 Spring Break Caravans each year, enabling students to travel to destinations around the U.S. and overseas (such as New Orleans, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sicily, and Puerto Rico, amongst many others) to provide vital assistance to underserved communities.

LL.M. Human Rights Fellows

Financial Support for Public Interest

Columbia has one of the most generous public interest financial support programs of any law school in the U.S. Examples include:

Guaranteed Summer Funding and Human Rights Internship programs for summer financial support.

Prestigious fellowships for postgraduate work in public interest and government sectors.

Columbia’s generous Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), Enhanced LRAP Fellowships, and Public Service Bridge Loan

Financing your public interest and public service career. 

Photos of the SJI Staff in a group smiling

Office of Social Justice Initiatives

Columbia Law School’s Office of Social Justice Initiatives (SJI) is one of the largest offices at any law school devoted to nurturing students who are interested in exploring public interest or government work—while on campus, or as part of a future career.  SJI provides professional development, career services and other support for students and graduates, and oversees key programs including the Public Interest/Public Service (PI/PS) Fellows Program, Guaranteed Summer Funding Program, Human Rights Internship Program and Pro Bono Program.

Meet the SJI Team

Public Interest: Pro Bono Stats and Facts

69%

of the Class of 2019 exceeded Columbia's pro bono requirement.

Learn more.
23

spring break pro bono caravans in 16 U.S. cities and 4 other countries in 2019.

29,758

hours of pro bono service performed by Class of 2019 students.

Related Experiential Learning

Public Interest/Public Service Council: This group of senior Law School alumni are past or present leaders in the public interest and government sectors and provide professional advice and support to current students or recent alumni.

Related Centers and Programs

Center for Constitutional Governance

The Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG) is a nonpartisan legal and policy organization devoted to the study of constitutional structure and authority. CCG invites academics, students, government officials, practitioners, and community members to engage with major constitutional and governance issues of the day, from health care to civil rights, immigration, financial regulation, and national security. 

 

Center for Gender and Sexuality Law

Columbia Law School established the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law as an incubator for bold new approaches to complex issues facing gender and sexual justice movements. The center is home to research projects and initiatives focused on gender, sexuality, reproductive rights, bodily autonomy, and gender identity and expression across law, policy, and professional practice. Students can supplement coursework with lectures, panel discussions, conferences, and guest speaker series on contemporary issues.

 

Center for Institutional and Social Change

The Center for Institutional and Social Change facilitates collaboration between scholars, practitioners, and students striving to address structural inequality through institutional transformation. Participants use brainstorming, strategic analysis, and empirical and field research to develop new frameworks, strategies, and roles for effective institutional and social change.

 

Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies

The Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies examines how social structures and related identity categories, such as gender, race, and class, interact to create social inequality. Its interdisciplinary and innovative research projects and initiatives unite a diverse group of academics and advocates interested in developing effective solutions to institutional inequality.

 

Center for Public Research and Leadership

The Center for Public Research and Leadership (CPRL) aims to revitalize public education while filling substantial gaps in professional education. CPRL’s rigorous coursework, skills training, and research and consulting projects prepare graduate students in law, business, and public policy for careers in the education sector. With an eye toward improving outcomes for all children, CPRL utilizes the latest techniques in education, such as organizational design, democratic accountability, team-based problem-solving skills, and socio-emotional learning. Students can also participate in a semster-long intensive around transformational change in public education by enrolling in the Public Education Policy Lab-Seminar and Skills courses. 

 

Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity

The Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) improves the capacity of public offices and practitioners to deter, identify, and combat corruption at the municipal level of government. CAPI supports a vibrant community of leaders in the public integrity field, develops tools and resources to help governments and practitioners fight corruption, and promotes research and scholarship on important public integrity issues.

 

Center for the Study of Law and Culture

The Center for the Study of Law and Culture at Columbia University (CSLC) is an intellectual home for the study, research, and scholarship on the intersection of law and culture. In addition to hosting fellowships, events, and workshops, CSLC supports projects that explore dual interpretations of the law—as both a strict institutional doctrine and as a regime for ordering social life, constructing cultural meaning, and shaping group and individual identities. 

 

Related Student Groups and Journals

Student Journals