|Career Development Office||Faculty|
Lawyers who practice public interest law follow the path of dedicated members of the bar who answered the call to serve society and to assist those most in need. Public interest attorneys typically work for the government or non-profit organizations that advocate on behalf of those who are marginalized within society for economic or social reasons.
Public interest attorneys work in a variety of practice areas, including family law, domestic violence, civil rights, government benefits, housing, criminal law, women’s rights, children’s rights, consumer rights, immigration law, disability law, environmental protection, and employment law.
As a practitioner, public interest lawyers may litigate in federal or state courts or appear before federal, state, or local agencies. Public interest attorneys may also engage in policymaking and public advocacy. Because the duties of public interest attorneys vary greatly–even within each practice area, there are many opportunities to exercise different skill sets.
Students interested in this practice area are encouraged to take Administrative Law, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, and Trial Advocacy. Students should also pursue course work in areas of interest that intersect with public interest law, such as criminal law, family law, poverty law, immigration law, housing law, real estate law, and employment & labor law.
Students will gain substantive and practical real-world experience in public interest law through one of the many clinical opportunities available at St. John’s Law, including the Child Advocacy Clinic, Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic, Criminal Defense Clinic, the Domestic Violence Litigation Clinic, Economic Justice Clinic, Bankruptcy Advocacy Clinic, or the Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic. Through clinic work, students will obtain real-world experience under the supervision of experienced attorneys by providing representation to indigent and low-income individuals in court and administrative proceedings.
Students interested in public interest law are also encouraged to pursue an externship in a public interest organization. As an extern, the student will work directly with an assigned mentor attorney on real legal matters. Externship placements provide students with substantial lawyering experience and will prepare students for the practice of public interest law. Students augment the hands-on experience they gain from their externship placement by registering for a concurrent externship seminar.
All are strongly recommended and should be taken early in the upper-level years.
Advanced coursework that will build your substantive knowledge in this pathway.
Coursework to hone your writing skills and develop a portfolio of practicing writing in your field.
Courses that will develop your oral advocacy, ADR, and other skills necessary for practice.
Students who participate in a clinic are exposed to a practice area through the representation of actual clients under faculty supervision. The following clinics are relevant to this pathway:
Externships place students in a wide variety of not-for-profit, government, public interest, and private organizations and firms, where they work directly under the supervision of a practicing attorney. The external placements are bolstered by an in-school seminar in which students analyze their practical experiences and gain skills necessary for the profession. Sample placements in this pathway include:
Public Interest Programs and Pro Bono Opportunities
Whether you want to work in the public interest, seek practical experience helping clients or give back to your community, the Public Interest Center link works at St. John’s Law can offer you guidance, resources, training and support. There are several programs and pro bono opportunities offered through the Public Interest Center, including
- Orientation Service Day
- Pro Bono Trainings and Programs
- The Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office Program (CLARO)
- Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP)
- Volunteer Lawyer for the Day Consumer Debt Program
- The Uncontested Divorce Program
- NYC Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, Taxi and Limousine Commission Program
- Public Interest Auction
- Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program
- Pro Bono Service Project
Students should seek out connections with practitioners and other students, both internally and externally. Adjunct professors can be an excellent resource both for guidance and for employment opportunities. The professional bar associations also welcome student participation and offer reduced membership rates for students. Some bar sections and committees look for students to provide research or other assistance on projects. St. John’s faculty are also an essential resource. Students should make an effort to get to know faculty who teach and have experience in their chosen areas. Finally, students should connect with other students who share similar interest through student organizations and attendance at Law School events.
- American Bar Association, Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service
- National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA)
- National Association of Consumer Advocates
- New York State Bar Association
- New York City Bar Association
- Coalition for Social Justice
- National Association of Consumer Advocates Student Organization
- Public Interest Law Student Association
Part-time students should spread out the suggested path below to account for their expected date of graduation.