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Author Topic: Not interested in BigLaw..How competitive are nonprofits?  (Read 2219 times)

kennedyposter

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Not interested in BigLaw..How competitive are nonprofits?
« on: November 27, 2008, 09:29:33 PM »
I'm a 0L...Still deciding where to go. Only in at Marquette and DePaul so far but the night is young. Anyway, I'm interested in going into environmental and I would love to do summer 1L, 2L gigs at cool not for profits (like Earth Justice, for instance). If anyone has any experience with this type thing, how competitive are these intern/clerk summer positions? I'm hoping much less than BigLaw because the best schools I applied to are GW, Fordham and William & Mary and I doubt I will get into any of those. The best I'm looking at is probably Temple. Any thoughts?

wtracing

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Re: Not interested in BigLaw..How competitive are nonprofits?
« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2008, 08:35:08 PM »
As long as you know you're seriously committed to public service (10 years of your life at LEAST), go to the best school you can and ONLY use federal loans. Your payments will be manageable and better schools will afford you more opportunity to pursue the jobs you want. If you're not 100% set on public interest and you are debt averse, then go somewhere cheap.
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Miss P

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Re: Not interested in BigLaw..How competitive are nonprofits?
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2008, 09:19:24 PM »
To answer the OP's question, summer internships at local legal services organizations are not usually highly competitive.  In contrast, summer internships at major national non-profits, especially impact litigation outfits, are often very competitive.  I don't know much about the major environmental non-profits, but if you are interested in environmental law, you might also want to think about local options such as your local government's environmental protection agency and legal services organizations, particularly those that do housing law (which often intersects with concerns about environmental racism). 

You shouldn't have a problem getting interesting summer work from any of the schools you listed.  My advice is to go somewhere near where you want to practice, if you can sort that out, so that you can make connections at clinics and internships throughout your time in school.  (Connections to, and experience with, public interest organizations is one of the biggest hiring criteria for most public service jobs.)  In addition, I suggest that you look into the kind of support the school provides for students who hope to go into public service, starting with public interest scholarships, guaranteed summer stipends/work-study money, and loan forgiveness (even if most schools are changing their LRAP programs in response to the new federal loan forgiveness legislation).  But be sure to look beyond the financial; other things, such as whether there is public interest programming, a dedicated public interest counselor in career services, and a sizable public interest population at the school, will make a huge difference in both your happiness and your career opportunities.

Good luck!

That's cool how you referenced a case.

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kennedyposter

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Re: Not interested in BigLaw..How competitive are nonprofits?
« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2008, 12:42:30 PM »
To answer the OP's question, summer internships at local legal services organizations are not usually highly competitive.  In contrast, summer internships at major national non-profits, especially impact litigation outfits, are often very competitive.  I don't know much about the major environmental non-profits, but if you are interested in environmental law, you might also want to think about local options such as your local government's environmental protection agency and legal services organizations, particularly those that do housing law (which often intersects with concerns about environmental racism). 

You shouldn't have a problem getting interesting summer work from any of the schools you listed.  My advice is to go somewhere near where you want to practice, if you can sort that out, so that you can make connections at clinics and internships throughout your time in school.  (Connections to, and experience with, public interest organizations is one of the biggest hiring criteria for most public service jobs.)  In addition, I suggest that you look into the kind of support the school provides for students who hope to go into public service, starting with public interest scholarships, guaranteed summer stipends/work-study money, and loan forgiveness (even if most schools are changing their LRAP programs in response to the new federal loan forgiveness legislation).  But be sure to look beyond the financial; other things, such as whether there is public interest programming, a dedicated public interest counselor in career services, and a sizable public interest population at the school, will make a huge difference in both your happiness and your career opportunities.

Good luck!



Amazing advice! Thank you!

mtfbwy

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Re: Not interested in BigLaw..How competitive are nonprofits?
« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2008, 01:33:38 PM »
All three of the posters have provided you with good insights and sound advice. All I can add is the following: don't rule out a stint at a firm, including a large firm. 

Public interest outfits (especially the elite, national types alluded to by Miss P) are not in the business of training new law grads to practice law.  In a key respect, public interest organizations are similar to in-house law departments at a corporation: they are mainly staffed by lawyers who "got their chops" at either law firms or in the government (or both). 

At the most competitive/presigious/leading public interest organizations, my guess is that the lawyers (i) did their 1L summer at a public interest organization; (ii) did their 2L summer at a large firm; (iii) took the bar (with the support of that firm) and began practicing at that firm; and (iv) after about 2-5 years or so, left the firm and began their career in public interest. 

(I work at a large firm, and though at this point I'm in it for the long haul, several of my fellow junior associates plan to go into public interest or government work in 2-3 years.)

Good luck! 

observationalist

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Re: Not interested in BigLaw..How competitive are nonprofits?
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2008, 02:26:00 PM »
All three of the posters have provided you with good insights and sound advice. All I can add is the following: don't rule out a stint at a firm, including a large firm. 

Public interest outfits (especially the elite, national types alluded to by Miss P) are not in the business of training new law grads to practice law.  In a key respect, public interest organizations are similar to in-house law departments at a corporation: they are mainly staffed by lawyers who "got their chops" at either law firms or in the government (or both). 

At the most competitive/presigious/leading public interest organizations, my guess is that the lawyers (i) did their 1L summer at a public interest organization; (ii) did their 2L summer at a large firm; (iii) took the bar (with the support of that firm) and began practicing at that firm; and (iv) after about 2-5 years or so, left the firm and began their career in public interest. 

(I work at a large firm, and though at this point I'm in it for the long haul, several of my fellow junior associates plan to go into public interest or government work in 2-3 years.)

Good luck! 

Yeah, at the Equal Justice Works Career Fair in DC this fall I interviewed with Earthjustice, the EES of the DoJ, Oceana and SELC.  The three non-profits all said their permanent hires tend to come from private practice or government... it's rare for large outfits like them to hire straight from law school.  There are smaller outfits (Waterkeepers for litigation, Land Trusts for conservation easement drafting, etc). that will give you specialized experience in a particular area, and you should look for those types of organizations around the schools you're looking at.  Smaller groups will hire out of law school when someone has worked for them throughout.  The DoJ (or federal/state gov't in general) is a great place to get the experience you'd need... one of my classmates was in the EES last summer as a 1L and loved it. Their Honors Program is competitive but if you can get into the DoJ for a summer or semester externship during school you're in a much better spot.  I can tell you that of the 6 of us who were hired by Riverkeeper last summer, two were straight from Pace's clinic, I got in through a faculty connection, another had Columbia's enviro clinic backing him up, and a third met some of their attorneys at a public meeting he'd attended in Brooklyn while interning with the EPA.  Only one intern was hired through the conventional resume/cover letter/interview process, and he was a 2L.  There's definitely more of a focus on networking than the sometimes gpa-centric selection process used by private firms.

Also, see here for the discussion we had on good schools for environmental law. http://www.lawschooldiscussion.org/prelaw/index.php/topic,4015205.0.html
I think we hash out the different views on what sort of work experience you should be looking for.
Vanderbilt University Law School Class of '10

Miss P

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Re: Not interested in BigLaw..How competitive are nonprofits?
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2008, 08:17:04 PM »
All three of the posters have provided you with good insights and sound advice. All I can add is the following: don't rule out a stint at a firm, including a large firm. 

Public interest outfits (especially the elite, national types alluded to by Miss P) are not in the business of training new law grads to practice law.  In a key respect, public interest organizations are similar to in-house law departments at a corporation: they are mainly staffed by lawyers who "got their chops" at either law firms or in the government (or both). 

At the most competitive/presigious/leading public interest organizations, my guess is that the lawyers (i) did their 1L summer at a public interest organization; (ii) did their 2L summer at a large firm; (iii) took the bar (with the support of that firm) and began practicing at that firm; and (iv) after about 2-5 years or so, left the firm and began their career in public interest. 

(I work at a large firm, and though at this point I'm in it for the long haul, several of my fellow junior associates plan to go into public interest or government work in 2-3 years.)

Good luck! 

I agree with this to a large extent -- and I think overall you and observationalist have provided excellent advice and info.  I just want to make two notes:

1. While this is mostly true, it is not true for direct services organizations, which do train their attorneys and interns.  These direct services organizations provide an alternate path to developing the litigation skills, etc., that major national non-profits demand. (Indeed, some say that they provide a better path because they give interns higher-level responsibilities than they would have at a firm or in the federal government, and because they put law students in contact with the constituent communities of the national organizations' work.  I think it goes both ways.  Some impact litigators and policy analysts really look down on direct services and others fetishize it.  It's important to know how to play your hand with both types.)

2. Get to know the culture of the particular organizations that interest you.  While most of the big national organizations will be psyched to hire someone from a litigation department at an elite private firm from time to time, some are less convinced of the benefits of firm work -- and some look down on people who take highly paid private-sector jobs as sellouts who aren't committed enough to the cause.  (I tend to think this is pretty unfair, especially when people who were privileged to do public service without huge financial sacrifices because of their schools' great LRAP programs make these judgments about people who had to pay back their own loans in full.  But so be it.)
That's cool how you referenced a case.

Quote from: archival
I'm so far from the end of my tether right now that I reckon I could knit myself some socks with the slack.

Reaching

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Re: Not interested in BigLaw..How competitive are nonprofits?
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2008, 10:50:47 PM »
Re: firm -> nonprofit environmental nonprofit

From what I heard, it's really tough to get a environmental nonprofit job straight out of law school. But then you're faced with a choice of whether to go to a firm and whether to do environmental work at the firm.  I had a memorable with an environmental associate at a firm who answered yes to both questions.

She wanted to work for the environment but ended up working for the environmental group at a firm. Five minutes into the interview, she said, "I'm now defending the polluters."  And when she tried to do pro bono work for environmental organizations, she frequently was conflicted out by the other clients that her firm represented.

I will always remember that interview.  Both because she was one of the only people at my law firm interviews who genuinely wanted to hear about my public interest experiences and because she was so candid about the choice she made to hone her environmental skills by "defending the polluters."

observationalist

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Re: Not interested in BigLaw..How competitive are nonprofits?
« Reply #8 on: December 01, 2008, 12:05:05 AM »
Re: firm -> nonprofit environmental nonprofit

From what I heard, it's really tough to get a environmental nonprofit job straight out of law school. But then you're faced with a choice of whether to go to a firm and whether to do environmental work at the firm.  I had a memorable with an environmental associate at a firm who answered yes to both questions.

She wanted to work for the environment but ended up working for the environmental group at a firm. Five minutes into the interview, she said, "I'm now defending the polluters."  And when she tried to do pro bono work for environmental organizations, she frequently was conflicted out by the other clients that her firm represented.

I will always remember that interview.  Both because she was one of the only people at my law firm interviews who genuinely wanted to hear about my public interest experiences and because she was so candid about the choice she made to hone her environmental skills by "defending the polluters."

I guess it depends on how well an individual can reconcile their interest in environmental protection with the opportunity to be trained by well-paid experts on how enviro issues play out in a given industry or area.  Going into private practice may very well result in representing clients who's motives aren't necessarily the same as yours (and in fact, that's the whole point), but if you can find an area of the law you like and can learn to specialize in it you can gain the expertise you would need to return to a public interest organization you like (or seek out your own clients who's interests are aligned with yours.)  I hope the woman you spoke to was able to pay off their loans in a short amount of time and move on to greener pastures... and hopefully the work she was doing at least helped prepare her for the flip.  If she was doing environmental defense, for example, then she was essentially getting paid a lot of money to learn the playbook of the people she ultimately wants to see in court.

One glimmer of hope for the idealists out there: the environmental firms that have traditionally represented the "bad guys" are, ultimately, just representing the companies that can afford to hire them.  Their ranks aren't loaded with evildoers, just moneymakers.  And as the green industry explodes and new climate change legislation and regulations come to pass, we'll likely be seeing the same firms striving to stay at the forefront of regulatory advising and transactional work.  Energy is energy whether dirty or clean: if you get into a firm specializing in energy/enviro now you'll likely be representing cleaner companies down the road as they gain a larger share of the market. Climate change in particular is going to open up a whole new area of regulatory/trans work in the next few years.  Those of us who enjoy the subject matter and are going into private practice should be able to ease our collective conscience with the knowledge that we'll be contributing to global efforts to reduce CO2 while getting paid in the process.
Vanderbilt University Law School Class of '10