Public Interest Law Career Guide

By Paul Hellyer
Updated May 2023


Portia L. Allen-Kyle, Advice to Thrive By: How to Use Your Resume and Cover Letter to Build Your Brand and Launch a Dynamic Public Interest Career (2022). Provides tips for crafting impactful resumes and cover letters for law students pursuing careers in public interest law.
Publisher's Description
KF299 .P8 A45 2022 (OCS)

Maria Armoudian, Lawyers Beyond Borders: Advancing International Human Rights Through Local Laws and Courts (2021).
Reveals how human rights lawyers in the U.S. are advancing international human rights through civil litigation.
Publisher's Description
K3240 .A76 2021 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Alan K. Chen & Scott L. Cummings, Public Interest Lawyering: A Contemporary Perspective (2013).
Offers an in-depth analysis of public interest lawyering, covering NGOs, government agencies, and private firms. Addresses issues including ethics, the role of legal education, financing, and the globalization of public interest practice.
Publisher's Description 
KF299 .P8 C48 2013 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Jefferson Decker, The Other Rights Revolution: Conservative Lawyers and the Remaking of American Government (2016).
Explains how conservative lawyers have used public interest law firms to advance conservative causes.
Full text on Oxford Scholarship Online
KF299 .P8 D43 2016 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Nicole Hallett, Becoming a Public Interest Lawyer (2022).
A comprehensive guide for law students seeking a career in public interest law.
Full text on West Academic

Earl Johnson, Jr., To Establish Justice for All: The Past and Future of Civil Legal Aid in the United States (2014).
This three-volume set offers a detailed history of civil legal aid and analysis of its future prospects.
KF336 .J64 2014 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Kenneth A. Manaster, Alan W. Scheflin & Viva I. Harris, Pro Bono Practice & Legal Ethics (2016).
Explores the challenges and rewards of pro bono work, with an emphasis on legal ethics.
Publisher's Description
KF299 .P8 M28 2016 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Alfredo Mirande, Rascuache Lawyer: Toward a Theory of Ordinary Litigation (2011).
"Rascuache" is a Spanish word for "poor" or "wretched." The author describes his work representing rascuache clients and how he applies critical race theory to his day-to-day legal practice.
Publisher's Description
KF373 .M534 A3 2011 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Jonathan Rapping, Gideon's Promise: A Public Defender Movement to Transform Criminal Justice (2020).
Explains how public defenders can take a more active role in criminal justice reform.
Publisher's Description
KF9646 .R37 2020 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Daniel Sheehan, The People's Advocate: The Life and Legal History of America's Most Fearless Public Interest Lawyer (2013).
An autobiography from an eminent cause lawyer who was involved in several historic cases including litigation over the Watergate and Iran/Contra scandals.
Publisher's Description 
KF373 .S485 A3 2013 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Michael E. Tigar, Sensing Injustice: A Lawyer's Life in the Battle for Change (2021).
An autobiography by a prominent human rights lawyer known for representing controversial clients.
Publisher's Description
KF373 .T58 A3 2021 (Law Library 2nd Floor)



Cara Bayles, How Some Attys Are Ditching BigLaw for Public Interest Work, Law360, Sept. 13, 2020.
Many law school graduates gravitate towards BigLaw to help pay off their law school debt, but still have an interest in someday pursuing a career in public interest law. This article explains how lawyers make the transition from BigLaw to public interest work.

Kara Blomquist, Beyond the Pay Gap: 5 Tips for Creating a Financially Viable Future in Public Interest Law, Student Lawyer, Nov.-Dec. 2018, at 17.
Practical advice on the pay gap between nonprofit organizations and large law firms.

Scott L. Cummings, Movement Lawyering, 27 Indiana J. Global Leg. Studies 87 (2020).
Explores the rise of "movement lawyering," an alternative model of public interest advocacy that integrates legal and political strategies.

Syeda Davidson, Don't Tell Me I Had to Start Somewhere, TYL, Fall 2014, at 10.
A young lawyer who worked for legal aid challenges the perception that legal aid jobs are undesirable. 

Jenna Greene, Defending Legal Services, American Lawyer, July 2017, at 28.
In an interview, the President of Legal Services Corp. talks about the survival of government-funded legal services under the Trump administration.

Gabrielle Orum Hernandez, A High-Tech Helping Hand, American Lawyer, June 2017, at L4.
"Bar associations across the country are seeking technology platforms to help mobilize attorneys and create a more resilient legal assistance community."

Marianne Engelman Lado & Kenneth Rumelt, Pipeline Struggles: Case Studies in Ground Up Lawyering, 45 Harv. Env't Law Review 377 (2021).
Using the battle over oil and gas pipelines as an example, this article examines how lawyers can support community-led efforts in environmental justice and explores the relationship between legal work and community-based movements.

Mary Beth Schluckebier, Movement Lawyering: Using People Power to Promote Change, The Legal Intelligencer, Sept. 20, 2021, at 7.
Examines the history and current state of movement lawyering, also known as community or political lawyering. The author describes her own work for Philadelphia's Public Interest Law Center to support the rights of renters.

Sandra Simkins, The "Pink Ghettos" of Public Interest Law: An Open Secret, 68 Buffalo L. Rev. 857 (2020).
Addresses the challenges women face in public interest legal careers.

Symposium, Rebellious Lawyering at 25, 23 Clinical L. Rev. 471 (2017).
Nine articles on the culture and practice of progressive public interest law.

Debra Cassens Weiss, How Much Do New Public Interest Lawyers Earn? Despite Raises, Pay Is Well Below that of Law Firms, NALP Says, ABA Journal, June 22, 2022.
A brief report on median salaries for public interest lawyers.

Ashley Zink et al, Why I Do Public Interest Work, Student Lawyer, Jan.-Feb. 2019, at 14.
A collection of nine statements from law students explaining why they chose a public interest career path.


Dialogue: The Magazine of the ABA Division for Legal Services
Chicago: ABA Division for Legal Services
On the Web at: 


Organizations & Websites

ABA Division for Legal Services
321 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60610
tel: (800) 285-2221
The Division works to improve access for all to legal services. It offers periodicals, directories, and other information for lawyers. Within the Division, 11 committees and commissions focus on different aspects of legal services.

Equal Justice Works
1730 M St. N.W., Ste. 800
Washington, D.C. 20036
tel: (202) 466-3686
“Equal Justice Works organizes, trains and supports public service-minded law students and is the national leader in creating summer and postgraduate public interest jobs.” Their website includes a searchable database of public interest law career opportunities.

Harvard Law School Office of Public Interest Advising: Job Search Toolkit
This free site offers an overview of public interest work and provides detailed job search advice, including interview tips and sample resumes and cover letters.

Legal Services Corporation
3333 K St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007
tel: (202) 295-1500
This nonprofit corporation is the single largest funder of civil legal aid. Their website includes information on meetings and events, career and internship opportunities, online resources for legal aid attorneys, and a blog.

National Legal Aid and Defender Association
1901 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Ste. 500
Washington, D.C. 20006
tel: (202) 452-0620
NLADA is the largest and oldest organization for legal professionals who serve low-income clients. They provide support for their members, information for the public, and take part in legislative efforts.

PSJD: Your Pathway to Public Service Legal Careers
1220 19th St. NW, Ste. 401
Washington, D.C. 20036-2405
tel: (202) 296-0076
PSJD offers a database of nonprofit organizations and job opportunities in public interest law. The database covers internships, postgraduate fellowships, and permanent positions. Students at William & Mary Law School may create a PSJD account for free.

Photo:  Associated Press