By Dennis Hung • December 26, 2018•Careers
Public interest lawyers play an important role in society. Choosing this position means making an active choice to sacrifice your time and money to help others, but it also means giving yourself a chance to make a real change. If you're considering this type of position, you may want to look at the factors that will hold sway over your professional life.
Do You Have a Desire to Serve?
The most important question to ask yourself about a public interest job is whether or not you have the drive to serve. This is often the type of law that those who go to law school to make a difference concentrate on, so you should take some time to decide if that's your primary reason for being a lawyer. Public interest law is rarely glamorous, but it will allow you to make a direct impact on the issues that are the most important to you.
The Myth of the Easy Job
One thing that must be considered is the fact that you won't necessarily have an easy time getting a public interest job right out of school. While there are always rumors that it's easier to go into the public sector than the private sector, the truth is that many public interest jobs require at least two years of experience before they'll even look at your resume. This means that you're going to have to put in serious time before you can aspire to the jobs where the hardest work is done.
Looking at the Dollars and Cents
Simply put, the salary expectations of someone who goes into public service shouldn't be that high. While many think of lawyers as people who make a great deal of money, those who practice public interest law don't make much compared to other lawyers. In fact, public defenders even have a salary cap, which can make it difficult to pursue that kind of career in a larger city. Remember, your student loan payments don't go away just because you're pursuing a higher calling, so your debt-to-asset ratio will probably be skewed in favor of debt for many years to come.
The Sacrifices You'll Make
There are certain sacrifices you'll make if you choose to work in public interest. You will, for example, be expected to work long hours and the environments in which you work will rarely be glamorous. You will almost always have to take on more than you feel is possible, all while being expected to function as if every case is the only one on your docket. You'll have to sacrifice your time and often even your mental well-being, but this can be worthwhile for those who are interested in dealing with topics like immigration or something similar to national debt relief reviews.
It's also a good idea to look at the short-term choices you'll need to make to pursue this type of law. You'll want to start interning with public-interest groups while you're in undergrad and continue those internships in law school. Unlike many of the corporate summer positions, you probably won't be paid as an intern but you'll actually be expected to do a great deal of legal work. If you're looking at public interest, your goal should be to dive into the field as soon as possible so you're prepared for the reality of the job when you graduate.
Choosing to become a public interest attorney will put you on a difficult path, but it can also be quite rewarding. If you want to make a change in the world and speak for those without a voice, this is the best path for you. Though the hours will be long and the pay won't be great, you'll get a chance to stand up for what you believe to be important. For some, that's more than worth any problem presented by this type of position.