While “public interest” law used to be a dirty word amongst corporate-minded law school students, there has been a noticeable shift in perception. In fact, more and more law school graduates are choosing jobs in public interest law. The percentage of law school graduates taking public interest jobs grew to 6.7% in 2010 from 2.1% in 1990, according to the most recent data from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).
An article in The National Law Journal (“Second-Class Careers No More”) offers some insight into this trend. Part of the field’s growth is due to more clinics and internship opportunities being offered on campus. But there has also been an increase in the number of financial programs that help public interest lawyers cope with their law school debts. Several organizations and groups have opened up to help fund public interest careers. The largest of these organizations, Equal Justice Works, finances 700 summer public interest internships, 170 post-graduate fellowships, and has a budget of $11 million. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom also launched the Skadden Fellowship Foundation that annuallyfunds 25 two-year public interest law fellowships.
While public interest law is still not the most lucrative choice (the average national starting salary at corporate law firms is nearly $103,000, whereas the average public interest law job salary is $42,000), the many fellowships and loan-forgiveness programs now available may have made public interest careers a more popular option.
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