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Things to Know Before Working in Public Interest Law

Working in BigLaw as an in-house attorney is not for everyone. There are a number of law students who want to do something different with their law degrees that is outside the scope of typical legal jobs. Working in public interest law is a great alternative for those who tend to stray away from standard legal careers. Advocating for a cause, ideology or issue can be a rewarding career that a number of attorneys love doing. In addition, you can see the results of your work through individuals and society. Before going into public interest law, here are some topics to consider:

Working in Public Interest Law

What area interests you?

Public interest law designates an area of legal practice that ranges over a variety of issues and causes. In addition, many public interest attorneys work with and are sponsored by a nonprofit organization. If you are planning to work for a nonprofit, you should figure out what you are passionate about. There are plenty of issues to choose from: domestic violence, tenant representation, animal and wildlife protection, migrant workers, mental illness, and much more. Decide what you find the most interesting and fulfills your passion, and make a career out of advocating for it.

Finances are not lavish

Before working in public interest law, it should be known that financial rewards are not as generous and bountiful compared to private sector law and BigLaw. Sometimes, public interest lawyers earn $15,000 less than lawyers in private practice.  On the other hand, the personal satisfaction you get from the work is a great enough award. There are times when you will give legal advice for free or at a discounted cost, or clients will not be as reliable as you may want. Overall, the work you do and the outcomes are rewarding in themselves.   

Spreading across the practice areas

Public interest lawyers come across an array of legal issues. When dealing with clients, you must be comfortable being able to cover and have knowledge of a variety of legal practice areas. This can include intellectual property, labor & employment, healthcare, real estate, etc. There are times when you will work alongside another attorney, but it helps in your favor to understand all of the legalities that may arise with a client.

Lots of autonomy

If you are an individual who likes to make their own choices and generally guide yourself, then public interest law might be for you. As an attorney who works for the public, you can change what field you are working in easier than if you were working for BigLaw or private sector. If you get bored with the field you are working in, you can change to advocate for a different cause since the public will always need legal representation and advice. Public interest law also gives you a chance to be more creative in your line of work. If you see yourself as a more creative, independent attorney, this may be a good career path for you.
There are many reasons why a person would want to work in public interest law. Despite the hardships and lack of monetary rewards, there are numerous tradeoffs in the field, such as gaining more personal benefits. In addition, job stability is more prevalent in public interest law. When deciding where in law you should work, weigh out the pros and cons of all, and choose what will fit in your career (and life) goals in the long run.

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