1. What is Social Justice & Public Interest Law?

Social Justice and Public Interest Law consists of working for marginalized, subordinated, and underrepresented clients and causes. Many of the career paths outlined above, like bankruptcy, criminal, international, employment, environmental, and health law include aspects of Public Interest and Social Justice Law work.

2. Whos Who at SCU?

SCU is filled with Social Justice and Public Interest Law opportunities. Below is a brief run down of whos who on campus.

1. Center for Social Justice and Public Service
The Center for Social Justice and Public Service (the Center), directed by Professor Stephanie Wildman, provides a locus for public interest and social justice study and service. The Center builds a community for students, faculty, lawyers, and others who share the commitment to giving voice in the legal system to marginalized, subordinated, or underrepresented clients and causes. The Center puts on numerous extra-curricular social justice events during the school year, including a speaker series, facilitated discussions during their “Social Justice Thursdays” which are geared toward 1Ls, Diversity Lectures, and Visiting Practitioners. For a complete list of Center events, please visit the Centers website at law.scu.edu/socialjustice/.

2.Public Interest Social Justice Coalition The Public Interest Social Justice Coalition (PISJC) is a coalition of law students which raises awareness and addresses issues of public interest and social justice. PISJC provides a network for students concerned with such issues, and unites student organizations engaged in public interest goals. Public interest and social justice law work can be difficult emotionally and intellectually. Having a group of peers to share those experiences is invaluable. Please visit the PISJC webpage for more information and schedule of upcoming events at law.scu.edu/pisjc/

3. Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center (KGACLC) KGACLC, directed by Professor Angelo Ancheta, provides free legal services to low-income individuals seeking help with employment, workers compensation, consumer, and immigration matters. SCU law students are the primary case handlers supervised by an attorney on-site. The Law Center accepts a few carefully-screened cases for full and partial representation, and offers weekly clinics during which individuals get free legal advice that enables them to take charge of their legal problem. Students can enroll in courses including skills clinics and interviewing & advising in these areas of law. In addition, students are welcome to voluntarily participate in the KGACLCs workshop presentations. These presentations provide the audience with knowledge of their rights in the areas of auto fraud, workers rights, and landlord-tenant. To learn more about the KGACLC, visit their website at law.scu.edu/kgaclc/

4. Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) Professor Cookie Ridolfi, a tenured member of the law faculty, is the director of the NCIP. NCIP, a part of the National Innocence Network, works within an educational framework to exonerate indigent California prisoners who have been wrongly convicted. Operating as a law school clinical program at Santa Clara University, NCIP provides legal representation to wrongfully convicted prisoners. Supervised by experienced legal and forensic staff, NCIP law students evaluate case historiesincluding transcripts, medical reports, and appellate briefsas well as work with prisoners, crime and evidence labs, law enforcement, defense attorneys, and prosecutors, to help prove claims of innocence. To learn more about the NCIP, visit their website at law.scu.edu/ncip/

3. What is the Public Interest & Social Justice Law Certificate?

The Public Interest & Social Justice Law Certificate is a certificate earned upon graduation. The requirements include three categories: academic, practicum, and public service. In addition, a certificate with special emphasis in consumer law, criminal justice, critical race jurisprudence, Immigration and Refugee Law, or Health Law can be elected. Please note that an International Law Certificate with an emphasis on Human Rights is also available. To learn more about either certificate, consult the Certificates Guidelines & Procedures Handbook (extra copies are located at the Center for Social Justice and Public Service)

4. Where is Social Justice and Public Interest Law practiced?

Any lawyer in any practice can engage in Social Justice and Public Interest work. However, there are primarily two kinds of public interest organizations: client oriented and policy oriented. The categories are further subdivided within each area of law.

Client Oriented

  • Legal Aid Societies are community and neighborhood based organizations which service low-income persons.
  • Client-oriented organizations represent clients in an area of specialization, such as disability rights, prisoner issues, or immigration law.

Policy Oriented

  • Impact and class-action litigation represents cases which pose a legal question affecting a large number of people and may result in systemic reform. This area of law may also include legislative and administrative advocacy.
  • Social action organizations advocate public policy and law reform through means other than litigation.
  • Support centers provide assistance, research, analysis and dissemination of information to other programs.

5. What courses and academic experiences at SCU Law would be helpful?

The Public Interest Social Justice Law Certificate and Curriculum webpage provides a list of courses that are eligible to satisfy the certificate requirements. This is a great place to start looking for courses that have been offered in the past that may be of interest to you and the area of public interest law you are considering. In addition, employers value hands-on experience with clients. The clinics offered through the KGACLC and NCIP provide students a great opportunity. Students interested in getting credit for work experience may qualify for the Civil, Social Justice and High Tech Externship course. For more information, please visit law.scu.edu/apd/civil-practice_high-tech_student-info/

6. What timeline should I be following? Although there are no hard and fast rules, there are some important things students can begin doing as early as their first year to prepare themselves for a career in public interest law. Contrary to a widely held belief, public interest law is very competitive. Most legal aids and non-profit organizations are under-funded and cannot afford to hire many entry level attorneys. Regardless of what year you are in law school, there a several things you should be doing if you plan to pursue a career in public interest law. Commitment to public interest and social justice Demonstrating your commitment to public interest and social justice is probably the most important thing to establish. This shows employers that you are serious about public interest work. In addition, employers look to see this commitment on a resume. For this reason, it is something you want to highlight and bring attention to on your resume. Several ways you can become involved and show your commitment to public interest and social justice are the following:

  • Volunteering with local direct legal services organizations
  • Participating in clinics/workshops at the KGACLC and/or working with the NCIP
  • Internships: Civil, Social Justice and High Tech Internship program
  • Taking social justice/public interest courses and demonstrating a commitment to acquiring the Public Interest and Social Justice Law certificate

Although employers are primarily concerned with a commitment to public interest and social justice, many employers are not as concerned with whether the public interest work youve done in the past is in the area of law their organization is involved in. Many employers are looking for more general experience and want to see that you can communicate and work with clients, research, and write. That being said, employers do want to know why you are interested in their specific organizationso you should be able to communicate this reasoning. Even if you are not sure you are committed to a career as a public interest attorney you should consider volunteering some of your time at one of SCU’s public interest clinics. It is one of the few ways law students can get invaluable first-hand exposure to clients. Firms and public agencies look for people who can interact well with clients because your clients, after all, are your customers.

Internship Considerations Because most employers value hands-on experience, one of the best ways to do this is through an internship. You can intern as early as your first year summer. Both SCUs Public Interest Career Fair and the Public Interest/Public Sector Day are excellent opportunities for students to meet with public interest employers. One thing to note is that public interest internship deadlines are generally later than the big firm hiring period. Many public interest organizations hold interviews for summer internships from October through March. Another consideration is your public interest resume. Because most public interest employers are looking for a demonstrated interest in public interest, you will probably want to tailor your resume so that this is conveyed. For additional resume tips, suggestions, and resume review, stop by the Public Interest Law Career Services. In addition to summer & semester internships, another great way to get valuable experience is through volunteering. Many nonprofits accept volunteers, especially during the semester. Volunteer work is something you can keep in mind if an internship opportunity doesnt work out with a particular organization the organization may be able to work with you during the semester as a volunteer.

Events There are numerous opportunities for students to become familiar with the organizations and social justice issues in the Bay Area. One of the easiest ways to immerse yourself into the world of public interest law is through the semester events the Center for Social Justice and Public Service hosts (see above in the “Whos Who” section for link to Center webpage and calendar of events). Another on campus event is the SCU Public Interest Career Fair, generally held during the late fall. During the 2006 fair, over 25 employers turned out to meet with students and collect resumes. For more information about the fair, please visit the Law Career Services Fair Information webpage at law.scu.edu/careers/public-interest-career-information-fair/

Lastly, the annual Public Interest/Public Sector Day (PI/PS Day), held early February in San Francisco, is one of the biggest career fairs in the Bay Area. At the 2006 PI/PS Day, over 80 employers met with students and held interviews for summer and post-graduate employment. For more information about PI/PS Day, please visit their webpage at www.pic.org./

Networking
Events are a great way to network. Career fairs provide an opportunity to meet with employers, learn more about their organizations, and learn about opportunities in the community. In addition, participating in student clubs is another way to meet like-minded students. Besides the Public Interest Social Justice Coalition, there are several other organizations that are either public interest oriented and/or help serve the community. The ACLU, Amnesty International, La Raza, and Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Advocates (BGLAd) are some organizations you may want to check out. For a complete list of student clubs, please visit law.scu.edu/life/student-organizations

Seminars & Conferences There are two big conferences that SCU students have attended in the past that are geared toward public interest legal services. The first, held during the middle of the fall semester, is the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair. Each year, more than 1,200 like-minded students travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair. The Conference and Career Fair offers students an opportunity to search for volunteer opportunities, summer positions and post-graduate opportunities in the public interest sector. For more information, please visit www.equaljusticeworks.org/. The second conference, held during the spring semester, is the Trina Grillo Law Retreat. The Trina Grillo Law Retreat provides a unique opportunity for public interest and social justice-oriented law students, faculty, and practitioners to exchange viewpoints, explore career opportunities, and formulate strategies for social justice. For more information, please visit law.scu.edu/socialjustice/trina-grillo/.

Words of Wisdom to First Year Students
Just a few tips to first year students to help ensure you position yourself well to attain a summer public interest internship. First, make sure you have something on your resume that demonstrates your commitment to public interest. Second, start early thinking about what you would like to use as a writing sample. A memo drafted for LARAW, with some additional edits, makes a great writing sample. Usually, writing samples are anywhere from four to ten pages. Make sure you allow plenty of time for additional review by your LARAW professor. Your sample should reflect your best writing and legal analysis. Third, and perhaps most important, get to know students who are also interested in public interest work theyll help you navigate the world of public interest and perhaps put you in touch with potential employers. Apply for SCU summer grants through the Public Interest and Social Justice Endowment.

Post-Graduate Fellowships
Many public interest organizations are unable to hire entry-level attorneys. Fellowships are important because they provide a gateway for recent graduates to fill entry-level public interest positions otherwise difficult to attain. A post-graduate fellowship is a specified sum of money awarded after law school graduation for a fixed time period. Most fellowships last for one or two years and are to fulfill a relatively specified purpose. Post-graduate fellowships are generally due during the fall of your third year of law school. You should begin thinking about whether you want to pursue a post-graduate fellowship during your second year. If you decide to apply, you should begin the application process during the summer after your second year. For more information on post-graduate fellowships, please visit law.scu.edu/careers/public-interest-law-career-services and click on the “Fellowship” link. This brochure discusses several types of fellowships. In addition, PILCS hosts a fellowship information event during the fall semester. Please check the list of scheduled events for more information. You can also make an appointment to meet with a PILCS coordinator for more information.

7. What professional organizations and associations can I join to meet people and find out more? CALegalAdvocates.org is a website for legal aid attorneys hosted by Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC). The site also has a student listserv that law students can register for and use. This listserv helps public interest law students communicate with one another throughout California. Law students use this listserv to post and answer questions about law school, public interest employment opportunities, apartment sharing over the summer, and internship advice. Also, LAAC staff regularly posts information about fellowships, summer internships, and educational panels & trainings to the listserv. Many professional organizations are available on Linkedin:

8. What job search reference resources should I check out for further information? The PILCS website has a number of links to different organizations, both in-state and out-of-state. Each organization listed has a brief description. These are also organized by area of law. In addition, the PILCS office has a job research guide entitled “Serving the Public: A Job Search Guide.” This is a great nationwide resource. It lists organizations according to type of law practiced and by state. Public interest internships and post-graduate opportunities are also posted to SCUs online job listing site. If you have any questions about using this system, please contact either PILCS or Law Career Services at 554-4350. PSLawNet is another great resource. All students should have been given a username and password via email during their first year. If you never received this information, or misplaced it, you can log in using the “sign up now” link to the right of the main page. PSLawNet is a webpage that contains job opportunities, career fairs, fellowship & funding sources, and other important public interest information. Also, CALegalAdvocates may contain posted job opportunities.

9. Which faculty members at SCU practice(d) and/or specialize in Social Justice and Public Interest Law?

top of page