Public Interest/Public Service at Columbia
As an institution, Columbia Law School (CLS) is committed to training and nurturing lawyers who will use their law degrees to enact positive social change. CLS offers a wide range of public interest and public service opportunities—both inside the classroom and beyond—to support all students on their individual paths.
Press Release: Columbia Law School Unveils Series of New Initiatives to Enable Pursuit of Legal Careers in Public Interest
Columbia’s world-class faculty exemplify the Law School’s determination to nurture bright, inquisitive, well-rounded attorneys who will not just carry on the “good fight,” but do so from positions of leadership. Our classroom offerings include courses and seminars on a range of cutting-edge issues taught by world renowned scholars, many of whom also do work that puts their ideas into practice. We also offer skill-building classes, and courses on innovative approaches to advocating for social justice and legal change. Columbia Law School also has a broad program of experiential learning which includes clinics, externships, and practicums linking research and practice. At CLS, students have many different ways to combine studies with concrete, impactful work in the field, while building relationships with "real lawyers" in the trenches. Many of our graduating students cite the valuable work that they did in their externships and clinics as highlights of their Law School experience.
Outside of the classroom, you will find myriad opportunities to participate in public interest and public service activities. CLS houses numerous centers, led by faculty or practitioners, focusing on a range of public interest issues which provide opportunities for students to engage with public service issues. CLS has 14 student-led law journals, many of which focus on public interest topics. Our robust and diverse roster of student organizations focus on a wide range of issues and provide countless opportunities to get involved in public service work, or to meet other like-minded students, via projects, events, and mentorship programs. Our specialized moot court program enables students to hone legal skills while engaging in legal issues pertaining to racial, economic, and social justice.
Each year approximately three-quarters of the graduating class exceeds CLS’s 40-hour pro bono graduation requirement. They work 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. We also offer approximately 20 Spring Break Caravans each year, allowing our students to travel to numerous 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.
Office of Social Justice Initiatives (SJI)
CLS has 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 for a future career. Bearing primary responsibility for professional development and career services for students and graduates interested in pursuing public interest and government work, SJI brings leading public interest advocates to campus and provides assistance to students and graduates regarding careers and summer opportunities—including many funded by the Law School’s Guaranteed Summer Funding (GSF) program or Human Rights Internship Program (HRIP). SJI’s advising staff counsels students on how to forge a comprehensive social justice education that includes courses, clinics, externships, pro bono, term-time internships, journals, and more. SJI hosts over 100 student events a year—some substantive, some related to professional development, and some social—many in conjunction with student groups and Centers. SJI also runs Columbia’s Pro Bono Program. As a result of its varied activities, SJI has an extensive network of social justice organizations and practitioners in the United States and abroad that are a resource to Columbia law students and graduates.
When students leave Columbia after three years of law school, they are equipped with substantive knowledge about social justice work, lawyering skills and leadership training, and have received strong guidance and support in navigating the public interest and government job markets. Many of our students receive prestigious public service and government postgraduate fellowships, in addition to entry level jobs at some of the top public service organizations in the country. Columbia’s generous Loan Repayment Assistance Program (one of the best at the top law schools) and new Public Service Bridge Loan help students afford to work in the public sector and make “doing good” a reality.
In addition, in fall 2019, SJI will launch the new Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program. Stay tuned for details!
Vibrant Campus and City
Our position as part of the larger Columbia University community is also of great benefit to CLS students. Columbia University is a preeminent research university, and there are opportunities to take classes, join projects or attend events at other schools at Columbia on topics including criminal justice reform, ecology, social work, public health, and international and public affairs. And, of course, New York City, which plays host to most major nonprofits and government agencies at the local, state, and federal level, provides countless internship and volunteer opportunities. Many students with specific areas of interest create their own field-based learning opportunities or internships at a broad range of organizations in New York City, 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; or go on “field trips” (organized by the Law School) to see first-hand the work of social change lawyers.