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4 Questions You Need Answered About Public Interest Fellowships

Published February 19, 2019

If your passion for the law was sparked by wanting to serve the disenfranchised and underserved, you should probably become familiar with what public interest fellowships are and how you can get one. Here are 4 questions you need answered:

1. What is a public interest fellowship?
2. Why should you do a fellowship?
3. When can you do a fellowship?
4. How much do fellowships pay?
BONUS: The best resources for find a fellowship that fits you

1. What is a public interest fellowship?

Public interest fellowships are funding opportunities provided to those who would like to take non-paid summer public interest positions while they are law students or post-graduate public interest positions.

2. Why should you do a fellowship?

Fellowships provide the opportunity for law students and lawyers to gain experience in the field of public interest law. Organizations that work in public interest law, like Equal Justice Works, tackle legal issues such as social and economic inequality, discrimination, immigration rights, environmental protection, child welfare, and domestic violence. A short-term public interest law fellowship provides opportunities to practice law that further the interests of the entire public or advocate on behalf of disenfranchised groups.

Public interest fellowships are attractive for a number of reasons, including that they allow graduates to creatively pursue their passions and interests, while providing the training necessary to pursue permanent public interest positions. In addition, some fellowships provide loan repayment assistance.

The public interest and not-for-profit agencies where fellows work are often understaffed and need additional assistance, but are unable to pay students or recent graduates for their work. Fellowships “bridge the gap” and allow students or recent graduates to work in public interest positions and be paid to do so.

3. When can you do a fellowship?

As a law student, you can do fellowships over the summers while you are in law school. There are also post-graduate fellowships that are usually one- to two- years that are designed to give recent graduates experience in public interest practice.

4. How much do fellowships pay?

The answer to this questions is “it depends.” It depends on the fellowship and the length of employment. Summer fellowships can generally be $3,000 - $4,000. Post-graduate fellowships range drastically depending on the funding source and location. The reality is that you will probably not be living a life of luxury if you are a public interest fellow, but you will be getting paid enough money to live and fulfill your passions in the public interest. As stated previously, there are also incentives in the form of loan forgiveness which add value to these types of positions.

The University at Buffalo School of Law has a student-run organization called the Buffalo Public Interest Law Program that raises money annually to fund several summer public interest placements. Every year, they hold an auction in early March and all of the proceeds go to funding fellowships for UB School of Law Students. Get an idea of where the fellows were placed by visiting the list of fellows here.

Bonus: The best resources for find a fellowship that fits you

The most popular and esteemed resource for public interest fellowships is called PSJD. PSJD is the Public Service Jobs Directory, an online career service center for public interest lawyers and law students. It is a community exchange to which public sector employers and subscriber law schools contribute opportunities and resources. Additionally, Equal Justice Works is another up-to-date and trustworthy resource for public interest fellowships.

Be sure to also check your law school Career Services Office and job database for any internal fellowships that may be available exclusively to students at your school.

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Amber Melvin, Esq.'13 is a graduate of the UB School of Law and Assistant Director of Admissions

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