Public Interest Application Process
- Cover Letters
- Resumes - General
- Applying to Prosecutor Offices
- Splitting Your Summer and Tips for Evaluating Law Firms
The 1L Public Interest Checklist and Timeline
- Research job opportunities through online resources such as PSJD.org, Symplicity, and the Arizona Guide for Government Internships, and review the spreadsheet on our website of past 1L summer jobs (November - December)
- Attend Professionalism Cohort Meeting # 2 – “Making Your Pitch as a Professional” (November 6, 2017, 12 pm)
- Attend the Practice Area Fair to speak with public sector employers (November 13, 2017, 4:30 – 6:30 pm)
- Attend the Law Student Open House hosted by Community Legal Services to learn about direct legal services opportunities in Philadelphia (November 14, 2017, 4 – 6 pm)
- Meet with CP&P, professors, and 2Ls/3Ls who worked at the orgs that interest you (November - December)
- Create a spreadsheet of organizations that interest you, with application deadlines (November - December)
- Prioritize organizations that interest you most after conversations with CP&P, professors, 2Ls and 3Ls, and practitioners in the field (December - early January)
- Draft cover letters and submit applications (Dec. 1st – Jan. 15th); note: you do not need to send out applications until after exams
- Submit resumes and cover letters to the Public Interest Public Service (PIPS) Job Fair in Philadelphia if participating (Dec. 4th – Jan. 2nd); note: there is no advantage to bidding early
- Continue applying to additional organizations and follow up on previously submitted applications (January -February)
- Prepare for upcoming interviews by reviewing CP&P online materials, continuing to research the organizations, networking and conducting an online mock interview through InterviewStream (CP&P’s online mock interview software) or in-person mock interview with CP&P (January - February)
- Participate in the PIPS Job Fair (Optional) (January 26, 2017)
- Submit the Summer Funding Registration Form and apply to various funding sources (details to be announced in early January; deadline to apply is March 2, 2018)
How to find a Public Interest Job
- A public interest job search can be a highly individualized one. The good news is that an agency or organization that does work in an area of interest to you probably exists. You will want to think about what kinds of work and what substantive legal areas interest you, and then identify the agencies and organizations that are doing that work. Your first step in looking for a public sector job is to ask yourself some questions.
- Do I want to work in a nonprofit organization or a public interest agency?
- Do I want to do direct service (Legal Aid) or impact litigation and policy work (ACLU)?
- Do I want to do criminal work or civil legal services?
- Do I want to work for prosecution (DA, State AG), or defense (Public Defender)?
- Do I want to defend the state or city against lawsuits (City Law Department, State AG)?
- Are there “public interest law firms” that do work of interest to me?
- Is there a particular subject or population I want to concentrate on such as survivors of domestic violence, immigrants and refugees, disabled children, employment discrimination, environmental issues or gay and lesbian civil rights?
- Am I interested in litigation, transactional, or legislative work?
- Whatever the answers to those questions, you will find an organization that meets your interests. You may not know what you want to do now or in the future. However, the process of identifying and researching public sector employers in your first year will help you to narrow your interests for the future. Much of the work you will experience will be transferable to public and private sector jobs in the future.
- The key to a successful job search is information. It is important that you take the time to explore the types of organizations that interest you to (1) find those organizations that most closely match your values and interests, and (2) develop enough background on the type of work done by the organizations you are targeting to articulate your interest in a cover letter and in an interview.
- OCS provides many resources that will give you information about nonprofit organizations and government agencies and the work they do. You will also want to peruse Job Postings on Symplicity and the other on-line sources.
- You can research organizations and agencies based on geography, issue or client population. You can also research organizations by the type of work they do: for example, direct legal services, policy work, criminal enforcement, tax regulation or impact litigation. Use this information to create a chart or list of the organizations and government offices you would like to contact.
If your career plans will include public sector work in your second year or after graduation, it is important to keep a record of who you contacted in your first year search and the outcome of those contacts. This will help you organize your search in the future.
- Once you have identified organizations that are doing the work you want to do, you should decide on a strategy for contacting these organizations. Generally, your “application” for a public sector job will consist of a resume, a cover letter and a writing sample. It may also include your transcript, when available, and a list of references.
- What you send and how you approach your potential summer employers will depend on how you developed your list. If you are responding to a specific job announcement you will want to do exactly what the announcement tells you to do. Thus, if the announcement calls for a resume, cover letter, transcript and list of references send those items. If an item is not available at the time you apply (e.g., your transcript), explain that in your cover letter and forward the item to the employer when it becomes available.
- If you have created a list of organizations that interest you then you will most often want to send a resume and cover letter explaining your interest. You can send the other materials when asked by the employer. That way you will not waste a lot of money on copying and mailing before you know an employer is interested in you.
- OCS will also be happy to review any cover letters and resumes for you. The important thing to remember when writing a cover letter is that you want to be as specific as possible about why you are interested in the particular organization or agency and the work they do. You also want to indicate if and when you will be in their city and available for an interview. If you will not be in that city any time soon, offer to schedule a telephone interview in the meantime.
- You may have a friend, former employer or an attorney you meet informally tell you of a great opportunity with a public sector employer. In this type of situation you may be told to write or call a specific person at the organization. In the alternative, you may just be asked to give your resume to your contact and wait for the employer to call you. These are appropriate job searching scenarios and often the way that law students and lawyers find jobs.
- Another way to find potential employers is to contact alumni working in the fields that interest you. Penn has a network of graduates willing to speak to students about their areas of practice. This resource can be used for a summer or permanent job search. Additionally, your classmates may have contacts through the organizations they worked for before coming to law school or during their summers.
- Public interest organizations hire students and graduates on a much less systemic schedule than many private sector employers, and that can be frustrating. However, this also means that there will always be some public interest employers that are still considering applicants no matter when you begin your search. Of course, the sooner you begin the research the more likely you will be able to match up your interests with an appropriate organization, so we encourage you to start investigating potential employers as soon as possible. Our recommended time frame is December 1st to January 15th.
Follow up is very important in the public sector job search. You will want to call after mailing your information to make sure the employer received it and to find out (1) if there is any further information needed by the employer, and (2) if possible, the employer’s time-line or process for hiring.
- Getting Started in Your Public Sector Summer Job Search: 1L Summer Internship Nuts and Bolts
Government Application Process
How to Search for Government Jobs
- Arizona Guide to Government Honors and Internship Programs (password: tame)
- Public Policy Handbook (un: end | pw: hunger)
- Opportunities in Public Affairs (un: PennLaw1790 | pw: GoatRules)
- Public Affairs Jobs
- Guide to the Department of Justice
- Westlaw Job Search Database
- Making the Difference
- The Best Places to Work
- Partnership for Public Service
- Tom Manatos Jobs Listing
- GPALS Career Symposium Recordings
- Other Helpful Job Search Links
- Federal Departments
- Federal Agencies and Offices
- Administrative Law Judges (ALJs)
- State and Local Government Directory
- State Government Search Engine
- State Civil Rights Commissions
- State Consumer Protection Agencies
- State Economic Development Agencies
- State Environmental Agencies
- State Labor Law Agencies
- State Securities Commission
- Penn Law Fact Sheet Introduction to Applying to Post-Grad Federal Opportunities
- Penn Law Fact Sheet Applying to Prosecutor Offices
- Penn Law Fact Sheet Applying to the DOJ
- Penn Law Fact Sheet Applying to Army JAG
- Penn Law Fact Sheet Applying to Navy JAG
Although the hiring time frames for most public interest and government employers are later than those of large law firms, we encourage you to spend time over the summer researching organizations of interest to you and beginning to cultivate relationships with people currently working there. While you may not need to apply for these jobs over the summer, you can use the summer months to research organizations to learn which ones are doing the work that matches your goals and interests; to develop contacts with these organizations by networking and informational interviewing; and then to develop a focused list of employers you will approach in the fall.
Because public interest and government job searches are self-directed and vary widely according to your specific interests and goals, we encourage you to make an appointment with a career counselor that can help you craft an action plan for the coming months.
Please note that working at a law firm does not preclude you from taking part in public interest work. Many law firms that participate in our on-campus interview program have strong pro bono programs and are signatories of the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Challenge, which means that they have committed to donate a certain percentage of their billable hours to pro bono. There are also opportunities for service through the many established law firm public service fellowship programs. Please click here to review a document prepared by Yale Law School that details firm-sponsored split public interest summers. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about these programs or about splitting your summer in general.
Additional Pro Bono Resources
- The American Bar Association has a directory of state and local pro bono programs available online.
- Pro Bono Net has pro bono information for selected practice areas and jurisdictions.
- The Law Firm Pro Bono Project is a project of the Pro Bono Institute and the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. The National Legal Aid and Defender Association web site is also an excellent resource to find organizations offering pro bono opportunities.
- 10 suggestions for evaluating a law firm’s commitment to pro bono work from James Sandman, former Managing Partner at Arnold & Porter, Washington, DC, and a Law School graduate:
- Look at the breadth of the firm’s work. Look at the number of lawyers doing pro bono and the number of hours per lawyer.
- Focus on partner involvement. If partners are not committed to the work, they won’t be happy about associates working on pro bono matters over paying client matters.
- Externship opportunities - don’t place too much importance on them. They are good opportunities for a few attorneys at the firm, but if that’s all the firm offers, it’s not enough.
- Look at the firm’s description. Is it specific or general? Does it look like a marketing piece or is it substantive?
- How does a firm count hours spent on pro bono matters? Do they count towards the firm’s minimal billable hours goal? If there are different salary tracks for different hour commitments at the firm, do pro bono hours count towards that commitment? Does the firm have a bonus system that is tied to hours? Do pro bono hours count towards that?
- What are the types of pro bono work the firm has been involved in this year? Ask this at an interview to find out how familiar attorneys are with pro bono cases. You will also learn the substance of the work being performed. Ask the interviewer if he/she has the chance to do much pro bono work.
- How does the firm get its pro bono work? If the response is that you can do anything that you want, that may translate to “you’re on your own to find the work”, which isn’t always easy to do.
- Ask who runs the pro bono program. Most firms serious about pro bono will have a pro bono coordinator or partner. Ask to talk to that person.
- Many firm pro bono programs focus on certain types of cases. Be sure the firm is willing to allow you to do the type of pro bono work that interests you.