Equal Justice Works recently provided a “Top 10” list of criteria for evaluating law schools for students interested in public interest careers. The original post is here, but we thought we would go through the checklist and provide some answers as well!
The following is the “Top 10” list with our thoughts:
1. A dedicated administrator to support public interest initiatives AND a dedicated career counselor who is knowledgeable about public service careers in nonprofits, government, and postgraduate fellowships.
The Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising (OPIA) has not one, but the equivalent of more than seven full-time dedicated counselors and administrators who provide advising and support for students interested in public interest careers. OPIA offers a warm and personalized approach to helping you learn about and land public interest opportunities and helps foster a public interest community at HLS.
OPIA opens the door for HLS students to a tremendous network of public interest attorneys, fellowships, organizations, and alumni. OPIA also sponsors about 100 educational and social events per year. You can learn more about OPIA here.
2. Cross-curricular offerings that address the unique skill set and challenges faced by public interest attorneys, e.g. doctrinal courses, clinical courses, and externships.
With nearly 30 in-house clinics, almost 70 clinical faculty/clinical supervising attorneys, and over 60 clinical courses, students at HLS have access to a vast array of experiences through which they can strengthen their skills in preparation for public interest work. You can learn more about our clinical offerings here. And even a quick look at the HLS course catalog reveals an extensive array of doctrinal courses larger than any other school that prepare HLS students for all facets of a public interest career.
3. A formal pro bono program with a staff administrator (as opposed to a student-run program).
Our Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs boasts seven full-time staff members who coordinate the clinical and pro bono opportunities available to students. Harvard Law School students are required to complete at least 40 hours of pro bono work during their time here, but the Class of 2009 completed over 308,000 hours of pro bono work, averaging over 500 hours per student!
4. Active public service student groups that organize informational programs and opportunities for students to get involved in public service initiatives.
With over 100 student organizations ranging from the Prison Legal Assistance Project and the Labor and Employment Action Project to Advocates for Education and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, students at HLS are extremely active in seeking out opportunities to get involved in public service. 1Ls can become involved in student practice organizations, such as Harvard Defenders or HLS Advocates for Human Rights, or join journals, such as the Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, as early as fall semester. You can see a list of all the student organizations here.
5. A well-funded loan repayment assistance program (LRAP) that helps graduates working in public service careers pay down their educational debt.
Harvard’s loan repayment assistance program is known as the Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP) and was the first law school program to address the needs of graduates seeking public service careers. It remains one of the most comprehensive and generous programs of its kind.
The plan helps relieve the burden of education loan repayment for J.D. graduates in full-time government, non-profit or academic jobs. In addition, full-time law-related jobs in the private sector are also covered under LIPP. LIPP participants pay a limited portion of their annual income towards their annual loan repayment obligations. LIPP then covers the remainder of their LIPP-eligible loan payments. LIPP’s flexibility also means that graduates may enter LIPP at any time after graduation if their job, debt, and income qualify. You can learn more about LIPP here.
6. A summer grant program, preferably one where funding is guaranteed for qualified applicants, that provides funding for students pursuing unpaid public interest work during the summer.
Harvard’s Summer Public Interest Funding (SPIF) for the summer of 2009 offered the largest weekly stipend of any school that guarantees funding and no law school offers more guaranteed funding for a broader range of public interest jobs. All students are eligible and in 2009, 497 students took advantage of SPIF for an average award of $5200. You can find out more about SPIF here.
7. Additional grants and scholarships that support students pursuing public service work during and after law school.
The Office of Public Interest Advising (OPIA) staff includes a full-time Fellowships Director who has been advising HLS students for more than 16 years, and has been highly successful at helping them land public service and traveling fellowships.
In addition to having an uparalleled track record of helping students land competitive outside fellowships, HLS offers a number of its own internal postgraduate fellowships (in addition to funding from Harvard University available to students at various Harvard schools). The exclusive HLS fellowships include:
• The Beagle Fellowship at NRDC funds two years at one of the four NRDC offices.
• The Skirnick Fellowships provides fully-funded fellowships and or supplemental fellowships for a wide range of public interest work. Open to 3Ls.
• The Kaufman Fellowships provide fully-funded fellowships and or supplemental fellowships for a wide range of public interest work. Open to 3Ls and judicial law clerks.
• The Henigson Fellowships fund three students per year to do human rights work in a developing country.
• The Satter Fellowships fund two people per year to do human rights work in a country deemed “not free” on the Freedom House index.
• The Holmes Fellowships fund one year of public service work for graduating 3Ls doing law-related work at a nonprofit or government agency (or the international equivalent).
HLS is also launching the a Public Service Venture Fund to provide at least $1,000,000 per year in fully-funded fellowships, seed grants for start-up nonprofits and supplemental funding to graduating HLS 3Ls and judicial law clerks breaking into public service work.
HLS also offers generous funding for our winter term (3 weeks during your 2L and 3L years when you can take a course or pursue a short-term internship domestically or abroad) as well as for clinical and spring break travel.
8. Recognition for students that meet a pro bono goal and/or demonstrate public service leadership. HLS has several awards for public service including:
• The Gary Bellow Award for commitment to social justice, which goes to one student and one recent graduate
• The Dean’s Community Service Award
• The Andrew Kaufman Awards for the most pro bono hours
9. A network of alumni working in public service that is available and willing to meet with and/or mentor students.
Due to its size, Harvard has probably the largest network of alumni working in public service of any school. Want to work at the ACLU? We have alums there. Want to work at the Department of Justice? We have tons of grads there. Want to do human rights work in Bolivia or education policy in Washington, DC? We have alums who have done the same.
We have a database of alumni, the Alumni Advising Network, who have offered to serve as mentors to current students. Harvard has created HLS Connect – an online tool that is searchable by geography, practice setting, issue area or type of work (e.g. policy or litigation).
The Heyman Fellowship in Federal Government Service also offers an organized network of graduates in the federal government who are available to advise and mentor students interested in federal government work.
Finally, because they have built such an extensive network, OPIA advisors are able to make personal referrals to alumni and others in virtually any public interest field you can think of. When it comes to public service and public interest law, OPIA probably has the best “Rolodex” in the world!
10. Clinical AND doctrinal faculty who practiced in the public sector prior to teaching.
The clinical faculty is comprised of expert practitioners who have extensive experience in their fields prior to joining the Harvard faculty and who continue to carry active caseloads and projects of their own. Additionally, many doctrinal faculty members not only practiced in the public sector prior to teaching, but also continue to be extremely active with cases, writing amicus briefs, and shaping policy. Just to name a few:
• Professor Ben Sachs was a Skadden Fellow at Make the Road by Walking and then was Assistant General Counsel at the Service Employees International Union for a total of seven years before entering academia.
• Professor Lucie White has worked providing legal services in the South as well as on numerous human rights projects internationally.
• Professor Phil Heymann has served in many federal agencies and in multiple high-level positions including as former Deputy Attorney General of the United States.
• Professors Carol Steiker, Charles Ogletree and Ron Sullivan all worked for the Public Defender Service (Professor Sullivan was its director). They continue to be active in criminal justice work.
• Professor Jody Freeman recently returned from serving in the White House as Counselor for Energy and Climate Change.
• Clinical Professor Jim Cavallaro worked for Human Rights Watch and started and ran his own NGO in Brazil for a decade before joining HLS.
• Clinical Professor Phil Malone worked for the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, where he litigated the Microsoft case, for 20 years before joining the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
• Assistant Clinical Professor Alex Whiting joined the law school with over ten years of experience in the Department of Justice, first in the Civil Rights Division and then in the US Attorney’s Office for Massachusetts, and over five years of experience as a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
As you can tell, HLS goes above and beyond in every aspect to support students who are interested in public interest careers. And thanks to EJW for its Top 10 List!