Employment Setting Online Resources


Attorneys seeking non-legal roles with non-profit organizations often consider management positions. In general non-profit managers are responsible for administering non-profit organizations and increasing profits—not for investors and shareholders, but for the individuals to whom the organization is dedicated to helping. Because non-profit organizations often have limited resources senior management is valued for their ability to manage cross-functionally. Successful managers require strong leadership skills as well as an understanding of basic business concepts, such as accounting, marketing, and business administration.

Non-Profit Management Selected Resources

Financial Support for Public Interest Idealist.org
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Public Interest Career Settings


What is typically considered “public interest” law can be broken roughly into three types of employment settings:

  • public interest groups, commonly nonprofit organizations
  • government organizations; and
  • public interest work by law firms.

Lawyers in all three settings are united in their basic goal of using the legal system to promote the public good. However, there is substantial variation both within and between each setting in their foci, goals, and strategies. The following is a rough overview of each type of employment setting and different employment possibilities within each setting.


1. Public Interest Organizations

a. Impact Litigation Groups

b. Legal Services Organizations

c. Public Defenders

d. Policy Centers

e. Community Development Groups

f. International Public Interest Organizations

2. Government

a. Executive Offices of the President

b. Federal Government

c. State Government

d. Local Government

3. Law Firms

a. Pro Bono Programs at Non-Public Interest Law Firms

b. Pro Bono for the Summer

 

1. Public Interest Organizations

Although the breadth of substantive issues and concerns covered by public interest organizations defies a complete listing, specialty areas include: children’s rights, civil rights/civil liberties, consumer rights, death penalty, prisoners’ rights, disability, economic development, education, elder rights, employment/workers’ rights, environmental, family, First Amendment, LGBTQ+ rights, health/mental health, homelessness/housing, human rights, immigrants/refugees, international human rights, migrants/farmworkers, multicultural rights, Native American rights, poverty, and gender rights. Different types of public interest organizations address these and other areas in a variety of ways.

 

a. Impact Litigation Groups

Lawyers and students who are particularly interested in high-profile cases, class actions, and complex litigation might consider an organization devoted to bringing about legal and social change. Such groups may seek to effect change through impact litigation (litigation that has the potential to broadly impact laws, policies, or practices for many similarly situated people), lobbying, filing amicus curiae briefs, and education campaigns. On the national level, this type of organization includes the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Similar organizations with a more local focus include the local chapters of these national organizations and statewide or regional groups.

 

b. Legal Services Organizations

Legal services organizations focus on providing direct legal assistance, typically on civil matters, to those who could not otherwise afford legal help. These organizations are often federally funded through the Legal Services Corporation and have names such as “legal assistance,” “legal aid,” and “legal services.” Lawyers in legal services organizations usually have significant client contact and assist individuals with their personal legal problems. Some offices, generally those not receiving federal money, also engage in impact litigation, lobbying, and other activities.

The activities of legal services lawyers are varied and comprehensive and may include client counseling, negotiation, advocacy, research, assistance with legal documents, and representation in court and administrative proceedings. Legal services attorneys can focus on a specific substantive area of law, such as housing, or they can deal with matters in a wide range of substantive areas, including government benefits, disability, elder law, housing law, immigration, consumer rights, family law, employment law/worker’s rights, and education. Local examples of such organizations include New Haven Legal Assistance Association and Yale Law School’s own Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization (LSO). Examples from other geographic areas include Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Maine, and Greater Boston Legal Services.

 

c. Public Defenders

Public defender organizations are assigned to provide criminal defense to people who could not otherwise afford an attorney. The majority of public defender organizations are publicly funded government entities, and the attorneys are compensated as salaried government employees. An example of this model is the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. In other jurisdictions, not-for-profit organizations, often referred to as defender services or legal aid societies, provide indigent criminal defense services. Notable not-for-profit public defense agencies in the U.S. include the Legal Aid Society of New York and the Bronx Defenders. In those areas without public defender offices, court-appointed private attorneys represent indigent defendants. Some jurisdictions have both public defenders and court-appointed attorneys.

Public defenders’ offices litigate all types of criminal matters from misdemeanors to major felonies and homicides; public defenders can also work exclusively with specific types of defendants like juveniles or death row defendants.

Federal public defenders and federal community defender organizations represent individuals accused of federal crimes such as white-collar and drug crimes. The name and contact information for the federal public defender for many districts can be found online at Leadership Connect. Students can access the site by using a Yale computer or connected to Yale through a VPN by clicking “sign in”.

For more information on state and federal defenders, consult CDO’s Criminal Defense guide available on the CDO website.

 

d. Policy Centers

Public interest minded attorneys and students who are particularly interested in public policy may find their niche in nonprofit policy centers and research organizations such as the Center for Law and Social Policy. These organizations have less client contact and focus on developing effective public policy with the ultimate goal of making recommendations to legislators and government administrative bodies. Attorneys in these organizations might spend a good portion of their time researching and analyzing policy initiatives and lobbying.

 

e. Community Development Groups

Those who are more interested in helping community groups gain the skills to fight their own legal battles might choose a fifth type of organization: one with a focus on community development, education, or grassroots organizing. These lawyers might be involved in building coalitions, investigating and challenging local regulations, presenting educational programs on legal issues, negotiating local disputes, and providing legal advice for community partners. Examples are the Center for Popular Democracy and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

Economic development is one kind of practice aimed at empowering low-income communities. Lawyers engaged in economic development might work with banks and other commercial groups on increasing access to capital, with entrepreneurs seeking to start or sustain small businesses, with developers seeking to create affordable housing, and with non-profit organizations seeking to improve economic opportunities. Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco both have projects focused on developing strong local economies.

 

f. International Public Interest Organizations

With the increasing interconnectedness of our world, the breadth and range of international legal public interest institutions and jobs continues to grow. Attorneys are involved in diplomacy, policy-making, administration, arbitration, and all types of internationally-oriented advocacy and activism. This work is done by a growing group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as well as intergovernmental organizations (such as the U.N.), and governmental entities (such as the State Department). CDO’s International Public Interest Law guide provides an in-depth discussion of international public interest opportunities and the resources available to you in this area.

 

2. Government

 

a. Executive Offices of the President

The Executive Office of the President (EOP) overseen by the White House Chief of Staff, is comprised of offices and agencies that support the policy goals and priorities of the President. Examples of EOP offices are the White House Communications Office and Press Secretary’s Office, the Office of Management and Budget, National Security Council, National Economic Council, Domestic Policy Council, Council on Environmental Quality, and Office of Science and Technology.

 

b. Federal Government

Department of Justice
Among the most well-known options is the Department of Justice (DOJ), self-proclaimed to be the “nation’s litigator,” which represents the federal government and all its agencies. The Department of Justice, headed by the United States Attorney General, is comprised of a number of different divisions, including Antitrust, Civil, Civil Rights, Criminal, Environment and Natural Resources, and Tax. These divisions develop and enforce federal legislation and pursue litigation on issues of national importance. For information about the Department of Justice, including descriptions of all components and of the hiring process, consult the DOJ website. Below are several helpful resources for students interested in applying to summer/permanent positions at the DOJ, including a list of alumni working at the DOJ who have agreed to answer students’ questions about their past or current government positions.

United States Attorneys serve as field officers for the DOJ and represent the government in each of the federal judicial districts. In some instances, U.S. attorneys defend the government and government officials in civil suits or work in conjunction with government agencies to file lawsuits against private individuals or organizations. In other cases, they serve as federal prosecutors, proceeding against  individuals for violations of federal law. For more information about the work of a U.S. Attorney, consult CDO’s Criminal Prosecution guide.

 

Other Executive Branch Agencies
Another avenue for practicing in the federal government is through one of the other executive branch agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, or the Department of Transportation. These agencies employ in-house counsel to handle the legal aspects of their work and often employ attorneys in other capacities as well. In-house attorneys for these agencies assist in developing agency regulations, drafting legislation, monitoring compliance with laws and regulations, representing the agency in administrative hearings, and working with U.S. Attorneys to represent the agency in litigation. Information on the executive departments and individual agencies can be found online at Leadership Connect.

 

Legislative Branch Positions
Lawyers and law students may also work for the legislative branch. Attorneys work on the staffs of individual senators and representatives, as staff attorneys for both Senate and House committees, and for the House or Senate itself in administrative offices, such as the Office of the Legislative Counsel or the Congressional Research Service. See the CDO resource Working on Capitol Hill for guidance and resources in this area.

 

Honors Programs and Internships
Many federal government entities have special programs to bring on new law graduates, or for summer interns. Post-graduate programs are often called “Honors Programs.” You can refer to the Government Honors & Internship Handbook on the Arizona Law School website to review or print the most up-to-date information. Enter the password “YLScareer2015” to get the most current information on government hiring. In addition, NALP publishes the Federal Legal Employment Opportunities Guide, available on the PSJD website.

 

c. State Government

State Attorney General
The state’s legal department is headed by the state Attorney General, the chief legal officer of the state. The structure and function of a state Attorney General’s office is determined by the state constitution and law, but there are certain commonalities. Attorneys General act as legal counselors to state government agencies and legislatures and also act as representatives of the people of the state, or the public interest. StateAG.org is an excellent resource for students interested in working at State AG offices. StateAG.org is legal research and education website that examines and communicates the role and impact of state attorneys general in law and national policy, and provides esources on the basic operations and functions of the office of state attorney general. Information and website links to attorney general offices across the country are available on the NAAG website.

Although state Attorneys General offices vary enormously, the New York State Attorney General’s Office (NYAG) is illustrative of the work of a relatively large office. The NYAG employs over 700 Assistant Attorneys General who work in offices in many locations across New York State. For more information see the NYAG website.


District Attorney Office
In a typical state, criminal prosecution, other than the exceptional cases that are handled through the state attorney general’s office, are prosecuted by a District Attorney’s office. District Attorneys’ offices may be organized by county or judicial districts and are typically led by an elected or appointed District Attorney. See CDO’s Criminal Prosecution guide for more information on this area of practice.


State Agencies
Numerous state agencies also have in-house counsel departments. These departments may work in conjunction with specialist attorneys in the attorney general’s office to bring litigation for the enforcement of state laws and regulations but also provide a close consultative role in the agency. Depending on the agency involved, the agency attorneys may be involved in legislative or rulemaking efforts, administrative hearings, and enforcement actions.


State Legislature
The state legislature employs attorneys in many capacities, similar to the U.S. Congressional structure. Information on the structure of a state’s government and its leaders can be found online through Leadership Connect.

 

d. Local Government

Cities often have municipal legal departments with city attorneys who provide legal advice to the city leaders, boards, and agencies, and represent the city in litigation and in other transactions. These departments vary enormously in size and structure, depending on the size of the city and their use of outside counsel. The New York City Law Department is a good example of a very large and fully structured city law department. It employs approximately 1,000 lawyers, divided into 16 legal divisions in all five boroughs. The divisions in such an office are diverse, including real estate litigation, environmental law, family law, and workers compensation. Visit the NYC Law Department website for more information.

Many large cities also have city agencies with in-house legal departments. This is similar to the in-house counsel in state agencies. Information on a city’s structure and departments can be found online at Leadership Connect.

 

3. Law Firms

 

a. Pro Bono Programs at Non-Public Interest Law Firms

Many private firms provide some opportunity to practice public service law through pro bono programs. These programs may allow, or require, attorneys to do a certain number of hours of court-appointment work or to collaborate on cases with a local or national public interest organization. The formats of these programs differ widely, as does the level of commitment on the part of the firm.

If you are interested in a particular firm and its pro bono opportunities, you can visit the CDO’s Working in Law Firms Career Pathway site. Information on the pro bono programs of firms participating in the Fall and Spring Interview Programs, and many other firms, is available online at the NALP directory and in the Vault Guide to Law Firm Pro Bono Programs, available through the online Vault Career Library for YLS. NOTE: you must be on the Yale Network/VPN or log in with a Yale email address and open the verification email to access site.

Some firms have created externship opportunities for their associates, allowing junior attorneys to spend months working at public interest organizations before returning to the firm. These opportunities can be found online or mentioned in the interview process.

 

b. Pro Bono for the Summer

Other Pro Bono Opportunities
Most firms are quite willing to have summer associates involved in the firm’s pro bono work. Often, it is just a matter of asking. In New York City, the Bar and some public interest organizations have developed more structured programs of summer pro bono work. For information on the structured pro bono opportunities for your NYC summer, see the CDO resource Assessing Law Firms: Culture, Clients, Compensation and Beyond.

 

Firm Sponsored Split Public Interest Summer
Several firms offer a version of a pro bono program for summer associates in the form of sponsored split summers. For a listing of firms that offer such a program and descriptions of their programs, see the CDO resource Firms Sponsoring Split Public Interest Summers.

 

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