Fellowships are a gateway for most entry-level public interest jobs. Although many organizations – such as public defenders, governments, and some legal service organizations – hire entry-level attorneys, a fellowship is often the only path for new attorneys into larger, national nonprofit organizations. These awards provide new lawyers with valuable legal training, practical experience in a particular area of practice, and often direct exposure to clients and diverse communities.
There are several different types of fellowships:
A number of nonprofit organizations administer their own fellowships, usually focused on a specific area of the law. Candidates generally apply directly to the organization, typically with a cover letter, resume and references. You do not need to develop your own project for these fellowships; instead, your focus is on your commitment to the work the organization already does. Fellows are treated as junior staff attorneys and participate in the various aspects of the organization’s workforce for one or two years. Some examples of Organization-Based Fellowships are:
- Zubrow Fellowship in Children’s Law – a two-year fellowship at the Children’s Law Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- ACLU Brennan Fellowship – A one-year fellowship focused on First Amendment cases in New York City.
Some foundations fund fellowships for applicants to develop a specific project in conjunction with sponsoring nonprofit organizations, also called host organizations. Securing a project-based fellowship is often a two-stage process; the candidate must first apply to a potential sponsoring organization and, once accepted, apply to the funding program. Fellowships have a finite term of one or two years. Funders usually consider the applicant’s qualifications, the organization’s ability to supervise the project, the feasibility and benefit of the project, and how well the project matches the foundation’s goals. Some examples of Project-Based Fellowships are:
- Skadden Fellowships – The Skadden Fellowship Foundation funds approximately 25 two-year fellowships every year to work in nonprofit organizations on behalf of underserved groups in the United States. The application deadline is typically in early September. We advise you to check the Skadden Foundation website regularly, read the CDO public interest newsletter throughout the spring and summer months for pertinent updates about the application process, and attend the information session on Skadden fellowships that CDO usually hosts in late March or April.
- Equal Justice Works Fellowships – Equal Justice Works (EJW) funds several dozen two-year fellowships annually, with the goal of providing a range of legal services to underrepresented communities in the United States. The application deadline is typically in early September. Here, too, you should check the website regularly, read the PIN, and attend the CDO information session on EJW in the spring.
- Soros Justice Advocacy Fellowships – Open Society Foundation offers 18-month fellowships for projects that address criminal justice issues at local, state and national levels. The projects may be implemented in conjunction with large or small nonprofit organizations.
- YLS Public Interest Fellowships – The following YLS fellowships all accept project-based proposals: Bernstein, Gruber, Heyman, Liman, Robina, YPIF and YLJ fellowships.
Law firms have developed a variety of public interest fellowship models. In all of them, the fellow is paid by the firm for a period of time to engage in public interest work, sometimes at the firm and sometimes at a nonprofit organization chosen by the firm. Some examples of firm-based fellowships are:
- Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson Fellowship – Fellows work at the firm for two years, then serves as a staff attorney at the Mexican-American Legal Defense & Education Fund in Los Angeles or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York for two years.
- Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger Fellowship – A three-year fellowship at a San Francisco law firm focused on environmental and land use law.
Law schools host a number of fellowships geared toward a combination of teaching, research, and writing. Some provide clinical teaching experience, while others are geared toward academic law teaching. Most of these fellowships are interested in candidates with a few years of legal experience and an area of subject matter expertise. The following is an example of an academic/clinical fellowship:
- Prettyman Fellowship Program – A two-year fellowship in the Criminal Defense & Prisoner Advocacy Clinic, the Criminal Justice Clinic, and the Juvenile Justice Clinic at Georgetown Law.
There are a few fellowships that provide funding to applicants interested in starting their own nonprofit organizations. Usually, these fellows work within an incubator organization that helps guide them in growing the organization and provides a variety of other resources. The following is an example of an entrepreneurial fellowship:
- Echoing Green Foundation Public Interest Fellowships – A two-year fellowship for social innovators who develop an independent and autonomous project in a public service area.
Government Honors Fellowships
Many government agencies at the federal, state and even city levels, have their own equivalent of fellowships known as Attorney Honors Programs or Attorney Fellowship Programs. Often, they only hire entry-level attorneys through these programs. The programs are for one or two years, but there is usually a very good likelihood, even an expectation, that the honors attorney or fellow will stay on in a permanent position. Some leading examples of government honors fellowship programs are:
- U.S. Department of Justice Attorney General Honors Program – Entry-level attorneys are usually hired for two-year or three-year terms into the agency’s participating components, like Antitrust, Civil Rights, and Environmental and Natural Resources.
- California Attorney General Honors Program – A two-year position working in one of several departments in the state AG’s office (criminal, consumer protection, environmental, etc.).
You are about to make a significant investment of your time, talent, and professional reputation in a fellowship, so it is important for you to make an informed decision. Before you begin your search, consider taking a few minutes to complete this Fellowship Planning Guide. This guide will make it easier to find a fellowship or design a project that is a good match for you by allowing you to consider who you want to represent, where you want to work on a project, what kind of work you want to do, why this project interests you, and how you will make an effective contribution through the fellowship.
Fellowship funders and sponsors are similar to other employers. They are looking for a fellow who closely connects with the goals, needs, and personality of their organization. Do your best to show that your personal goals fit with the purpose of the fellowship funder and, if it is a project-based fellowship, with the mission of the sponsoring organization.
Public Interest Fellowship Application Timeline
The fellowship cycle begins in spring of 2L year and goes through spring of 3L year for fellowships starting in the fall after graduation. The earliest fellowship application deadline of the cycle is usually at the end of May followed by one or two other external fellowships over the summer. The two major national project-based fellowships, Skadden and EJW, have deadlines in early September as do many government honors/fellowship programs. If you are planning on applying to these fellowships, you should reach out to potential host organizations that can “sponsor” you for your fellowship with the goal of finalizing a host organization no later than the end of July. A steady stream of organizational fellowships and a few other national project-based programs continue to be announced throughout the year. YLS fellowships generally open in January with a deadline in early February.
It is possible to apply for clerkships in early June of your second year and for fellowships at the start of your 3L year. But, if you consider applying for a clerkship that begins a year after graduation, you will have a “gap year”. That means that you will not be able to apply for any two-year fellowships, such as Skadden, EJW, Soros, and several organizational fellowships. Instead, you should focus on one-year external fellowships and YLS fellowships.
The Research Process and Online Resources
It is important to give yourself enough time to line up all the elements necessary for your fellowship applications, as some of the earliest fellowship deadlines fall soon after classes start in September.
Use your second year, particularly spring and summer, to learn about nonprofit organizations and fellowships in areas that interest you and to line up recommenders. If you are applying for national project-based fellowships, like Skadden and Equal Justice Works, your 2L summer is the time to develop your project in conjunction with a sponsoring organization.
As you investigate 2L summer opportunities, take particular note of organizations that offer fellowships or are willing to sponsor fellowship candidates. Consider establishing a relationship with one of those organizations by spending all or part of your summer interning there. If you are interested in organizations where you have not worked, get in touch with them. Be aware that some larger organizations, which regularly sponsor candidates for the national project-based fellowships, solicit resumes and interview potential candidates during the summer, often establishing deadlines to apply for sponsorship early in the summer.
A great first step is to talk with people who are familiar with fellowship programs, both project-based fellowships and organization-based fellowships. These resources can include current and former fellows, faculty members, alumni working in the area of law or at organizations that interest you, and YLS fellowship administrators. Consider making an appointment with CDO’s Public Interest Director Norma D’Apolito to discuss your path to securing a fellowship and a host organization. Below are several resources to help you in your search; you should regularly check these sites for newly announced fellowships.
CDO’s Public Interest Newsletters (PIN) – a weekly email sent to all students that shares information about public interest internships, fellowships, events and permanent career opportunities.
The Courtyard – we encourage you to join The Courtyard to connect with alumni and former fellows that have worked or are currently working at the host organizations that interest you.
The Public Service Jobs Directory (PSJD)
PSJD provides a comprehensive clearinghouse of public interest organizations and opportunities for lawyers and law students. YLS students can perform customized searches for organizations in which they have an interest and for public interest opportunities, ranging from short-term volunteer and paid internships to post-graduate jobs, fellowships, and pro bono opportunities. There is a comprehensive description of how to search for fellowships using PSJD here.
Once you have a list of potential organizations, try to identify which organizations are the best match for you.
Assessing Potential Host Organizations
As you talk with people and conduct your research, be sure to elicit information that answers these questions:
- How well do the organization’s values and goals match your own?
- How closely does your project fit with the organization’s mission and current activities?
- Does the organization have a specific idea for a project already?
- Are you likely to receive adequate supervision to do the work you are proposing?
- How familiar is the organization with the project-based fellowship application process?
- Is a staff member available to work with you on the application?
- Has the organization successfully hosted other fellows before?
- How enthusiastic is the organization about you and your project?
- Does your fellowship host organization certify compliance with Yale Law School's Non-Discrimination Policy? For instructions on confirming organization compliance, click here.
- Does the organization plan to sponsor a number of candidates, and if so, where do you rank?1
1. Project-based funders, including YLS, are usually reluctant to support more than one fellow at an organization or at the same department of an organization, and it can weaken your candidacy to have another person applying for the same fellowship with the same sponsoring organization.
YLS proudly offers more post-graduate public interest fellowships than any other law school in the country, enabling around 30 graduates each year to receive $50,000 in funding from YLS to support one year of work in the public interest. These highly competitive fellowships enable our graduates to jumpstart their careers while serving the legal needs of underserved members of our society. While YLS has a significant number of fellowships that become available in the spring, you should not restrict your search to just these fellowships. Applying to a mix of external and internal YLS fellowships gives applicants a greater likelihood of success.
Note: Your fellowship host organization must certify compliance with Yale Law School's Non-Discrimination Policy. For instructions on confirming organization compliance, click here.
Yale Fellowships Open ONLY to Yale Law School Graduates
Arthur Liman Public Interest Fellowship
The Liman Fellowship supports one year of full-time work in the U.S. in a law-related endeavor designed to further public interest, generally under the sponsorship of an existing organization or possibly through a start-up project to be completed at a qualified not-for-profit organization. Open to all graduates of the law school, regardless of graduation year. One fellowship, designated as the Resnik-Curtis Fellowship, will be awarded for project proposals in the field of criminal justice.
Gruber Fellowships in Global Justice and the Gruber Fellowships in Women's Rights
The Gruber Fellowship supports several one-year placements with host organizations worldwide to work on projects relating to global justice and/or women’s rights. Gruber Fellowships are open to graduates within the last three years of any Yale Graduate and Professional school. Fellows have worked in a number of countries around the world on a range of issues, including human rights, rule of law, post-conflict reconciliation and community building, reproductive rights, food security, and refugee rights. Fellows with international placements are eligible for a stipend up to $2,000 for airfare.
Heyman Federal Public Service Fellowship Program
The Heyman Fellowship supports YLS graduates who wish to work closely with high-level leaders in the federal government for one year, either through an existing position or through a “special assistantship.” The fellowship allows alumni to explore careers in public service and to bring creative, entrepreneurial ideas to the federal government. Positions that will not be considered include judicial clerkships, entry-level positions, and work for political campaigns. Appropriate positions include high-level substantive work within the White House executive offices, an agency, a commission, or a legislative committee. Available to YLS students and alumni up to three years post-graduation.
International Court of Justice Fellowship
The International Court of Justice at The Hague (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, selects recent law graduates from participating schools for a ten-month position with an ICJ judge. As a participating school, YLS provides financial support for the position through the Howard M. Holtzmann Endowment Fund for International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution at Yale Law School.
Mary A. McCarthy Fellowships in Public Interest Law
The McCarthy Fellowship supports short-term public interest law projects or staff positions in the first year after graduation and the bar exam. Fellows have worked in a wide range of areas, but especially in mediation and the rights of immigrants, prisoners, criminal defendants, and women.
Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague Fellowship (PCA)
The PCA Fellowship supports YLS graduates working on issues ranging from territorial boundaries and humanitarian law to disputes under bilateral and multilateral investment treaties and commercial contracts. The fellowship is funded through support from the Howard M. Holtzmann Endowment Fund for International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution at Yale Law School.
The Robert L. Bernstein Fellowships in International Human Rights
The Bernstein Fellowship supports projects anywhere in the world that foster innovative approaches to human rights advocacy or promote work on important human rights issues that have received relatively little attention. Available to YLS students and alumni up to five years post-graduation.
The Robina Foundation Human Rights Fellowship
The Robina Fellowship supports full-time human rights work for six months to a year in a number of categories: judicial clerkships in international and foreign courts and tribunals with substantial responsibility for human rights issues; international criminal tribunal internships; internships with inter-governmental or governmental agencies concerned with human rights; and independent human rights research. Available to YLS students and alumni up to five years post-graduation.
YLS Public Interest Fellowships (YPIF)
The YPIF Fellowship supports full-time public interest work for one year. The proposed plan of the fellowship must be one of the following: (1) a legal project designed by the applicant in partnership with a sponsoring organization; (2) an existing project with a host organization; or (3) a position as a staff attorney at a sponsoring organization. Eligible sponsors include non-profit organizations and state or local government offices. Available to YLS students and alumni up to three years post-graduation.
Yale Law Journal Fellowships
The YLJ Fellowship tracks the application process, eligibility requirements, and project-bases structure of the YPIF fellowships. However, after completing their year in public service, fellows are expected to publish reflection pieces on their experiences in the Journal’s online component, the Forum, for which they are paid as additional $5,000 The fellowship seeks to enhance the connections of legal scholarship, practice and service. Available to YLS students and alumni up to three years post-graduation
Yale Fellowships Open to All Law School Graduates
David Nierenberg ’78 International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) Fellowship
(Organization Based Fellowship)
The Nierenberg Fellowship supports graduates to work in IRAP's Litigation Department. Fellows represent refugees and displaced people and challenge government policies that harm vulnerable populations.
Yale Law School is committed to providing robust support to students and alumni seeking jobs in public interest law. Our help includes assisting students in identifying and applying for funded positions in public interest organizations and in government, both domestically and internationally. It is because of the Law School’s commitment to both the success of its students and the advancement of public interest that we require fellowship applicants to submit thoughtful, well-developed, and concise applications for funding. To the extent possible, applicants are encouraged to apply for all the fellowships that meet their interests, including those offered by YLS and the University as well as those offered by other organizations, foundations, or firms, as well as for permanent positions.
In order to be considered for the Liman, Gruber, Bernstein, Robina, Heyman, YPIF and YLJ fellowships, you must complete the Yale Law School Common Application. All other fellowships have descriptions of the application processes on their websites.
A complete application will comprise the following elements: Depending on the fellowship or fellowships for which you are applying, you may seek funding for either a specific project or a staff position. You should consult the individual fellowship descriptions for further information.
1. Personal statement (500 words maximum) describing your experiences with and commitment to public interest, public service, and/or human rights, aspirations for future work, and the ways in which the fellowship will help achieve your aspirations.
2. Concise summary (1 paragraph) of the proposal that includes the place in which you will work and the goals of the project you will undertake.
3. Proposal (1500 words maximum, 3000 words maximum for Liman application, including footnotes). The proposal should be (a) to pursue a project designed by you in partnership with a sponsoring organization; or (b) to work on an existing project with a host organization. The proposal, whether for a project or a staff position, should not be an essay akin to a substantial or supervised analytic writing, nor is mastery of the area of law expected. Rather, the goal is to explain how you hope to use or change the relevant law or otherwise contribute to the human rights or well-being of others. We ask that you provide sufficient legal, historical, and factual context for us to understand the need you seek to address, the nature of the work you propose, and the impact you intend that work to have.
(a) Project-based: The proposal should address:
1) the problem or need that the project seeks to address;
2) the project's specific goals and how you will meet those goals within the one-year fellowship period (a proposed timetable should be included);
3) a discussion of any relevant background information – legal, historical, factual – necessary to understanding the need for and the goals of your project, as well as any challenges that you anticipate.
Note: For Liman, the project description must reflect how the project would engage with the relevant legal regime and may include an additional 1500 words, for a total of up to 3,000 words in the project description.
(b) Staff positions: The proposal should address:
1) nature of the fellowship position and the organization that will host you;
2) the type of work you expect to do in the fellowship position, including any particular project you intend to carry out; and
3) a discussion of any relevant background information – legal, historical, factual – necessary to understanding the need for and the goals of the fellowship position, as well as any challenges that you anticipate.
4. Statement of other fellowships or public interest positions to which you have applied or plan to apply and, if none, an explanation (for example, a gap year, unusual geographic or project-specific need, and so on). Applying for external funding is not a requirement for receiving a YLS-funded fellowship, but is strongly encouraged, absent extenuating circumstances.
6. Unofficial YLS Transcript.
7. Two letters of recommendation: One from YLS faculty and one from a supervisor or employer.
8. STRONGLY RECOMMENDED: An additional letter of recommendation from YLS faculty. Note: Gruber requires you to submit 3 letters of recommendation. For current students, at least two recommendation letters must be from Yale faculty. Alumni must include at least one Yale faculty recommendation and at least one letter of recommendation from a current or former employer
9. List of people, including current or former fellows, whom you consulted. The purpose of some of the fellowships is to connect you to a field and to learn from people close to it. We, therefore, expect that before you craft a proposal, you have talked to some of those working in the arena. We will provide a list of current and former fellows and their fields so that you may consult with them. We recommend that you discuss the project with 2-4 people in the field, whether on the list we provide or not, who can help you think through it.
10. Letter from the host institution, detailing:
1) the organization's purpose and function;
2) a narrative of the need or problem the project seeks to address,
3) a description of how the fellow’s proposed work fits with the host organization’s activities;
4) a description of the supervision you will receive, including identification of your immediate supervisor;
5) an explanation of the coalition partners and community organizations that the organization works with in this area,
6) the resources that will be provided to support the project (e.g., office space, computer, malpractice and/or other insurance, if needed);
7) a statement addressing the potential for the organization to retain you as a full-time member of the organization’s staff beyond the fellowship year. NOTE: Post-fellowship retention is not a requirement; and
8) Your fellowship host organization must certify compliance with Yale Law School’s Non-Discrimination Policy. For instructions on confirming organization compliance, please click here.
Fellowship Recorded Program Videos
To view a full list fellowship recorded programs click here. Below is a recording to the most recent fellowship program that provides information on the application process for the YPIF, YLJ, Heyman, Gruber, Liman, Robina and Bernstein fellowships.
Project-Based Fellowships: YLS Public Interest Fellowships and External Fellowships
D'Apolito, Norma | Metcalf, Hope | Roseman, Mindy | VanCleave, Anna / Spring 2021
List of Current and Past Fellowship Recipients