Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program

Launched in 2019, the program brings together and supports a community of students who are passionate about effecting positive change in society. This initiative, offered through Social Justice Initiatives (SJI), provides specialized resources and opportunities to students who plan to pursue careers in the public interest, human rights, nonprofit, and government sectors immediately upon graduation. PI/PS Fellows benefit from a diverse cohort of peers and receive in-depth support, guidance, and experience as they explore the many facets of public interest and public service work in the United States and abroad.

The three-year program:

  • Builds a supportive community of peers committed to public interest and public service 
  • Connects fellows with mentors who are deeply rooted in public interest scholarship and practice
  • Fosters learning from faculty and practitioners, both inside and outside the classroom
  • Provides end-to-end career and curricular counseling to ensure that fellows are ideally positioned to secure highly sought-after positions in public interest, human rights, government, and other nonprofit sectors

The PI/PS Fellows Program embraces a broad definition of public interest and public service law. We use the term “public interest” to mean work pursued on the basis of individual or group concepts of justice, fairness, and advancement of the public good. The term “public interest” includes the field of human rights. “Public service” refers specifically to work conducted while in a government position but is often included under the public interest umbrella. Both terms encompass a wide range of legal work carried out in varied settings.

“The Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program is an exciting new initiative to enable students who are committed to public interest and public service to explore these areas on a deeper level while at Columbia. Fellows have the opportunity to explore the many facets of public interest lawyering and substantive practice in the domestic and international realms while thinking about notions of justice, fairness and 21st century lawyering practice—and positioning themselves to be highly competitive for the most sought after public interest and public service jobs.”
— Erica Smock, Dean for Social Justice Initiatives and Public Service Lawyering

PI/PS Fellows gain enhanced experience, insight, and support while exploring the many facets of public interest and government work. PI/PS Fellows explore today’s key legal issues and ideas at the forefront of 21st century lawyering—such as the role of lawyers in society and the optimal use of law as a tool for social change—with numerous opportunities to broaden their thinking and knowledge. PI/PS Fellows think critically beyond the letter of the law and consider notions of justice, equity, and dignity.

Graduating fellows are prepared to navigate the nuanced and dynamic fields of public interest and public service, and are well-versed in critical thinking, substantive law, lawyering skills, and other key elements of public interest and public service work.

1L Year Goal: Build an inclusive community of peers dedicated to public interest and public service while gaining exposure to different areas of law and approaches to lawyering.

2L Year Goal: Develop and refine skills needed for practice in the public sector while gaining valuable mentorship from faculty, practitioners, and upper-class students.

3L Year Goal: Grow personally and professionally through peer-to-peer support mechanisms, mentorships, and workshops focused on the transition from law student to attorney.

“One of our core values as an institution is the belief that serving the public interest should be part of the professional life of every one of our students and graduates. The Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program provides more meaningful experiences for our students and demonstrates our ongoing commitment to preparing graduates for the evolving opportunities of public service lawyering in the 21st century.” — Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law

The program is built on four intersecting pillars: community, mentoring, professional development and reflective learning, and career and curricular counseling.

Community
The PI/PS Fellows Program provides a supportive community of peers while cultivating engagement and a sense of belonging. It fosters and deepens relationships within the public interest community through shared activities such as: 

  • PI/PS Fellows orientation.
  • Informal meals to discuss current events, social justice topics, and lawyering for change.
  • Book clubs.
  • Social events.
  • Annual PI/PS Fellows dinner.

Within their community, fellows are exposed to diverse ideas and perspectives and asked to think critically about the gap between law and justice. Fellows go on to use the ideologies, skills, and networks developed during their time together to champion the public interest and public service issues they care about most.

Mentoring
PI/PS Fellows benefit from an extensive network of faculty, alumni, and upper-class students committed to supporting them as they progress through law school and transition to the practice of public interest and public service law.

Through events and small cohort mentor meetings, Fellows can:

  • Connect with upper-class students who guide them as they navigate their time and decisions at Columbia Law School—as well as explore their shared substantive interests, career aspirations, and values. 
  • Engage with faculty and alumni who provide guidance and support in many capacities, including on curricular, extracurricular, and professional opportunities. Fellows can meet with alumni and faculty members during faculty teas, informal luncheons, and evening events in faculty members’ homes.

3L PI/PS Fellows will also participate in peer-to-peer support groups, where they form mutually beneficial relationships and receive guidance and support from their peers on topics like job applications, fellowship opportunities, the transition to practice, and more. 

Professional Development and Reflective Learning
Professional development and networking opportunities include: 

  • Leadership development training.
  • Skills workshops.
  • Opportunities to interact with distinguished practitioners in the field.
  • Site visits with public interest and public service employers, which provide insight into career fields and pathways. 

Upper-class fellows have the opportunity to organize and host programming, giving them occasion to reflect on broad areas of public concern and engage with pressing social justice issues. 

Career and Curricular Counseling
The program provides in-depth and curated guidance to fellows as they navigate their three years at Columbia Law School and shape individual pathways to meaningful and rewarding careers. Working closely with the Assistant Director of the PI/PS Program and SJI advisers, fellows receive specialized curricular guidance, customized career counseling, and assistance navigating financial options specific to their career goals.