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What Public Interest Law Looks Like: Areas of Practice

March 19, 2018

For most of us, the type of work we do and the way we do it is one of the most critical components of happiness. If you’re heading to law school to make justice accessible and attainable for more people in more places, you already know that public interest work could be your calling.

But what does that really look like?

Dreaming up job prospects or envisioning your career a decade from now isn’t so easy if you don’t know the many ways this work gets done. Below is a list of the most common public interest practice settings. Read on for an introduction to what the work looks like.


Nonprofit and Legal Services Organizations

Typically organized around specific sets of issues, this work advocates for or against changes in the law, whether representing individual clients or working to advance law reform. The work often involves partnering with community groups and organizers.

Where you can find CUNY Law grads: Legal Aid Society


Public Defenders

Court-appointed counselors quickly become responsible for all phases of motion practice and legal research and writing. They handle large caseloads, managing strategy, interviews, pretrial hearings and trials, plea bargains, and the investigations themselves.

Where you can find CUNY Law grads: The Bronx Defenders



The Department of Justice, Attorney General’s Office, state agencies, and public authorities all offer unique public interest opportunities. Litigating public issues, negotiating contracts, drafting regulations, and advising officials are all in a day’s work.

Where you can find CUNY Law grads: NYC Commission on Human Rights


Elected Office

Law is still the most common background for elected officials. Whether aiming for local office, as a city council or school board member, or aspiring to be on the national stage, this work often provides experience introducing legislation and being a community advocate.

Where you can find CUNY Law grads: New York City Council


Political Campaigns

Every campaign needs legal experts – and staffing them means gaining an array of skills in a fast-paced environment. This work explores issues and needs through the lens of an elected official’s cares and concerns.

Where you can find CUNY Law grads: Recently, The Bernie Sanders Campaign



Judicial clerkships and staff attorney positions mean inside exposure to the judicial process, along with the opportunity to help research questions, shape case opinions, and sometimes formulate new laws.

Where you can find CUNY Law grads: U.S. Immigration Court


International Public Interest Work

This work is as varied as it is nuanced. Entities across the world are working on environmental law, human rights, transitional justice, and more. State agencies, including the Department of State and the Environmental Protection Agency, and entities such as the International Criminal Court and United Nations all approach law on a global scale.

Where you can find CUNY Law grads: Reprieve



Learning about, selecting, and supporting creative projects to benefit institutions (such as hospitals) or to ameliorate social problems is one way to put a public interest education to work.

Where you can find CUNY Law grads: The Educational Foundation of America



Whether representing public or private sectors, union attorneys provide legal direction and advice for leadership and constituents alike. Labor reform, worker cooperatives, and bankruptcy law are all areas of work in this field.

Where you can find CUNY Law grads: United Federation of Teachers


Private Law Firms

Whether it’s pro bono work at a traditional firm or issue-oriented work at a private public interest firm, issue-based advocacy can be found along more traditional lines of practice.


Related Categories: Uncategorized

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