Roadmapping Your Public Interest Path at Columbia Law

Explore paths to a career in public interest and public service lawyering and make an impact in communities around the corner and around the globe.

Columbia Law School has a long history of providing opportunities, mentoring, and counseling for students interested in public interest or government service careers and pro bono work. Start here for an introduction to public interest law and how to explore whether it is the right fit for you.

Remember: As you explore public interest and government work, you will cultivate connections with fellow students, graduates, professors, and other practitioners. These relationships are crucial for carving out a successful path in the public interest world, especially when applying for fellowships and jobs. Other important factors include your passion for a particular public interest area, the field experience you have acquired (such as externships, practicums, or clinics), the pro bono projects you have taken on, and the breadth and depth of your studies.

Public Interest offerings at Columbia Law School:

  • Substantive Area Guide: This guide provides a quick overview of public interest offerings at Columbia Law School by subject area.
  • Curricular Guidelines: If you are interested in pursuing public interest and public service careers, our Public Interest/Public Service Curricular Guidelines provide thorough advice that will help you plan a course of study for 2L and 3L years. It explains how to choose classes and co-curricular activities that will help you gain substantive knowledge and skills needed for different paths to public interest work.

Roadmaps and timelines for your years at Columbia Law School:

Public Interest and Public Service Sample Pathway

Explore a typical pathway outlining opportunities you can pursue as a 1L, 2L, and 3L.

Attend Programming
• Attend public interest and government programs presented by Social Justice Initiatives (SJI), Columbia Law School centers, or student organizations
• Meet practitioners, learn about areas of practice, and begin to plan your own path.
• Attend sessions on Columbia’s generous loan repayment assistance program (LRAP).

Participate in Student Activities
• Build your community and your skills. 
• Participate in student organizations or activities like moot courts
• In the spring, consider applying for a position on a journal.

Explore Summer Jobs 
1L summer is important to your public interest or government career path. 
• Apply for Columbia Summer Funding or the Human Rights Internship Program.
• Attend the Public Interest Legal Career (PILC) Fair (held in February at NYU) to meet employers and even interview on-site.

Research Experiential Learning Opportunities
Experiential learning is key to developing as a public interest or government lawyer.
• In the spring, attend information sessions on 2L clinics and externships—applications are due in late spring. 

1L Summary Flyer

Attend Programming
Continue to take advantage of the wide array of programming available at the Law School. Remember to engage with the presenters afterward. 

Explore Experiential Learning, Classes, and Pro Bono
• Pursue a clinic and/or externship, or do a term-time internship as an alternative.
• Take classes to build your knowledge and skills on an array of topics. 
• Develop relationships with professors and practitioners along the way. 

Get Involved in Student Activities and Pro Bono Work
• Help lead a student organization
• Work on a journal.
• Publish an article or note on a public interest topic. 
Find interesting pro bono work and/or do a Spring Break Caravan. 

Find a Summer Position
2L summer is crucial to obtaining a postgraduate job. 
• Intern with a public interest or government employer in a field of interest. To find a job, attend fairs (like the Equal Justice Works Fair held in October in Washington, D.C., and the PILC Fair) and apply for the On-Campus Interview Program.
• If you decide to work at a private firm, network with public interest practitioners over the summer, do pro bono in a field of interest, and/or consider splitting your summer between the private and public sectors. 

Prepare for Postgraduate Employment 
Over the 2L summer, start planning for postgraduate employment. 
• Network.
• Explore fellowships and government honors programs. 
• Let SJI know if you plan to apply for fellowships or honors programs (some applications are due at the end of 2L summer). 

Consider a Clerkship
Think about whether you want to clerk after graduation.
• Meet with the Clerkship Office.  

2L Summary Flyer

Research Postgraduate Fellowships and Search for Jobs 
• Start applying for fellowships (project- and/or organization-based) or government honors programs in late summer. 
• In the fall, explore other opportunities on CLS Fellowships webpage, Symplicity, and PSJD.org
• Keep in touch with SJI advisers, professors, clinic and externship directors, and Columbia graduates and practitioners.

Plan Your Finances
• Attend financial programming hosted by SJI, the Financial Aid Office, and SPIN
• Meet with Financial Aid to learn more about LRAP and review the resources we offer
• Apply for the Public Service Bridge Loan if you need to.

Complete Pro Bono Requirement
• Complete your hours in a timely fashion and submit them to SJI.

3L Summary Flyer