My name is Sarah Alba and I graduated in 2011. I work for Manhattan Legal Services; I am doing a project, a mixed consumer and employment project working to help low income New Yorkers, who are being denied jobs because they either have a criminal history or poor credit history.
One of the ways that Penn Law is very helpful for people who want to do public interest is that after your first year you have an open curriculum, so you can really devote yourself to anything that you want to. So, I took [the] Civil Practice Clinic, which has been very helpful in my work now because it taught me how to interview clients, how to work with clients, how to take a client’s view into perspective when you are making legal decisions.
I also did an externship while at Penn where I worked three days a week doing employment discrimination work, which has helped me now understand what the law is and what my clients’ rights are.
I think the thing that is important - and this is true for any law career - is choosing where you want to work your second summer and making sure that by that point you sort of know your direction. By the time I was applying for a second summer job, I knew that I probably wanted to do a fellowship when I graduated, so I was looking at places that I could get fellowships with. I knew I wanted to do civil legal services, I wasn’t sure exactly which area, so I applied to civil legal services organizations with the goal of getting a fellowship which is what I ended up doing.
And then also just taking advantage of all the opportunities the school gives you to do public interest work. Penn has a lot of clinics, obviously the pro bono requirement gives people a chance to start doing public service work from their 1L year, and then there’s also great externships that give people the ability to work in an organization for an entire semester as basically a part-time employee.
This transcript has been edited for length.