Exploring Public Interest/ Public Service Law at Columbia Law School
Welcome to Columbia Law School (CLS)! We are dedicated to providing myriad opportunities, mentoring, and counseling for those students who are interested in exploring careers in public interest or government service, and for those who might engage in pro bono work wherever they practice.
Public interest and government careers are exciting and satisfying, enabling you to use your lawyering skills to make an impact on issues you are passionate about and that are vital to the community. This page will serve as a snapshot -please read the entire guide for full information.
1Ls: Jump right in!
- Programming: Attend public interest and government programs presented by Social Justice Initiatives (SJI), CLS 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).
- Student activities: Build your community and your skills. Participate in student organizations or in activities like moot courts. In the spring, consider applying for a position on a journal.
- Summer job exploration: 1L summer is important to your public interest or government career path. Apply for Guaranteed Summer Funding (GSF) or the Human Rights Internship Program (HRIP). SJI’s related mandatory programming will help you find a job. Attend the Public Interest Legal Career (PILC) Fair (February at NYU) to meet employers and even interview onsite.
- Experiential learning: In the spring, attend information sessions on 2L clinics and externships – applications are due in late spring. Experiential learning is key to developing as a public interest or government lawyer!
2Ls: Continue to do everything you did 1L year and more!
- Programming: Continue to take advantage of the wide array of programming available at CLS. Talk to the presenters afterwards.
- Experiential learning, classes, and pro bono: Take 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.
- Student activities & pro bono: Get involved! 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.
- Obtaining a summer position: 2L summer is very important 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, or EJW, Fair, October in Washington, DC and the PILC Fair) and apply for the On-Campus Interview (OCI) 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.
- Preparing for postgraduate employment: Over 2L summer, start planning for postgraduate employment. Network. Explore fellowships and government honors programs. Let SJI know if you will be applying for fellowships or honors programs; we will work with you. Note: some applications are due at the end of 2L summer.
- Clerkships: Think about whether you want to clerk after graduation. Meet with the Clerkship Office to find out more. Note: under the new hiring plan, you should not apply for clerkships until after you have four semesters of grades unless you are in the Class of 2019.
3Ls: Over the summer, fall, and winter of your 3L year, you should continue to do the above, as well as:
- Postgraduate fellowships & job search: Start applying for fellowships (project- and/or organization-based) or government honors programs in late summer. In the fall, explore other opportunities on Symplicity, psjd.org, and other sites. Conversations with SJI advisors, professors, clinic and externship directors, and CLS graduates and practitioners will be important throughout.
- Financial planning: Attend financial programming hosted by SJI, the Financial Aid Office, and SPIN. Meet with Financial Aid to learn more about LRAP. Apply for the Public Service Bridge Loan if helpful.
- Pro bono: Complete your hours in a timely fashion and submit them to SJI!
Specific information on practice areas