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Public Interest Law

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Advising Contacts

Career Development Office Faculty


Discover

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.


Learn

Foundation Courses
All are strongly recommended and should be taken early in the upper-level years.
Advanced Courses
Advanced coursework that will build your substantive knowledge in this pathway.
Writing Courses
Coursework to hone your writing skills and develop a portfolio of practicing writing in your field.
Skills Courses
Courses that will develop your oral advocacy, ADR, and other skills necessary for practice.
  • Administrative Law
  • Criminal Procedure: Investigation
  • Evidence
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
    Appellate Advocacy
  • Appellate Advocacy Moot Court
  • Bioethics
  • Children and the Law Seminar
  • Comparative Equality Seminar
  • Contemporary Criminal Justice Seminar
  • Consumer Protection
  • Counterterrorism Law
  • Criminal Procedure: Adjudication
  • Employment Discrimination
  • Employment Law
  • Fact-Writing and Persuasion in Legal Documents
  • Family Violence & Sexual Assault
  • Federal Courts
  • First Amendment: Freedom of Expression
  • First Amendment: Religion Clauses
  • International Human Rights Advanced Topics
  • International Human Rights Law
  • Internet Law
  • Issues of Race and Gender in Law
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Labor Law
  • Law and Religion Seminar
  • Legislation and Statutory Interpretation
  • Mediation: Representing Clients
  • National Security and the Law
  • New York Criminal Practice
  • Perspectives on Justice
  • Poverty Law Seminar
  • Drafting: Federal Civil Practice
  • Drafting: Federal Criminal Practice
  • Drafting: Litigation Documents and Contracts
  • Drafting: New York Civil Practice
  • Legal Writing-Advanced
  • New York Civil Practice: Jurisdiction and Pleading
  • New York Civil Practice: Pre-trial and Post-trial Procedure
  • Supreme Court Amicus Brief
  • Advanced Interviewing and Counseling
  • Advanced Trial Advocacy
  • Deposition Practice
  • Legal Research-Advanced
  • Mediation: Representing Clients
  • Negotiation (Intensive)
  • Pre-Trial Advocacy
  • Trial Advocacy

Course Descriptions


Experience

Clinics
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
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:
  • Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation
  • Catholic Migration Services
  • District Attorney’s Offices
  • Financial Industry Regulatory Authority
  • Girl Scouts of the USA
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center
  • Latino Justice PRLDEF
  • Legal Action Center
  • Legal Aid Society
  • Legal Services of New York
  • Mental Hygiene Legal Services
  • Mobilization for Justice
  • New York City Administration for Children’s Services
  • New York City Law Department
  • New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG)
  • New York State Attorney General’s Office
  • Public Defenders’ Offices
  • Queens Legal Services
  • The Legal Aid Society
  • The Safe Center LI
  • The Urban Justice Center
  • U.S. Attorney’s Offices
  • Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor


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


Network

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.

Professional Organizations

Student Organizations

  • Coalition for Social Justice
  • National Association of Consumer Advocates Student Organization
  • Public Interest Law Student Association

Student Resources


Suggested Path

Part-time students should spread out the suggested path below to account for their expected date of graduation.

Year Fall Spring Summer
1L
  • Required courses
  • Pro bono
  • Required courses
  • Pro bono
  • Work for a judge, public interest organization, firm, or government agency
2L
  • Evidence
  • Electives
  • Continue pro bono work
  • Clinic, externship, or Applied Skills course
  • Trial Advocacy
  • APWR course
  • Electives/Core Elective
  • Continue pro bono work
  • Clinic, externship, or Applied Skills course
  • Work for a judge, public interest organization, firm, or government agency
3L
  • Administrative Law
  • Complete SWR paper on public interest-related issue
  • Continue pro bono work
  • Clinic, externship, or Applied Skills course
  • New York Practice or Federal Practice
  • Electives/Core Elective
  • Continue pro bono work
  • Clinic, externship, or Applied Skills course
  • Graduation
  • Bar Exam

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