There are a variety of public interest fellowships available to law students who are interested in pursuing public interest law at graduation. Typically, fellowships are one- to two-year opportunities designed to give recent law graduates experience in public interest practice.
Public interest fellowships are attractive for a number of reasons, including that they allow graduates to creatively pursue their passions and interests, while providing the training necessary to pursue permanent public interest or teaching positions and that they provide networking opportunities for developing strong professional contacts in the field. In addition, some fellowships serve as a point of entry for permanent employment. Some fellowships also provide loan repayment assistance.
Many post-graduate public interest fellowships require advance preparation, so students must begin thinking about fellowships early in their law school career. The Career Services Office has extensive information about the hundreds of fellowship opportunities available to students. Below are descriptions of the most popular and well-known fellowship programs. Please be advised, however, that this list is not exhaustive. You should check psjd.org for a more complete list of public interest post-graduate fellowships.
For more information on how to prepare and apply for these opportunities, check out PSJD.org's Postgraduate Fellowship Resource Center.
Project-based fellowships allow fellows to develop projects to serve unmet legal needs in a particular area of interest. Typically, applicants propose their own projects, often in conjunction with an existing organization. In some cases, applicants may apply for support to start a new organization. These fellowships are funded by a third-party organization, allowing the fellow to work -- usually on a specific project -- with a host organization. In the public interest legal world, Equal Justice Works and the Skadden Fellowship Foundation are the largest funders of project-based fellowships, and are among the most sought after fellowships as well.
PSJD.org makes the following recommendations regarding project-based fellowship applications:
The most important step you can take to prepare an application for a project-based fellowship is to consult with Megan Heneke in the Career Services Office and, if possible, alumni of the fellowship programs you are interested in. Fellowship applications are as much science as they are art. As compelling as your project idea may be, it will compete with dozens or hundreds of other compelling ideas. Well-organized applications -- focused on providing the information requested -- go a long way. You should consult with individuals who have prepared and reviewed applications in the past. This outreach will pay enormous dividends in producing the strongest applications possible.
Second, ideally you will have built a strong, trusting relationship with your would-be host organization by the time you apply for fellowship funding. This does not have to be the case, but your fellowship application is stronger when you can show that you have worked closely with your host organization. If you are looking to connect with a host organization, search PSJD.org for opportunities by entering "Fellowship - Legal: Project-Based" in the Job Type field. This will connect you to organizations interested in hosting fellows.
Equal Justice Works Fellowships
- Fellows work on issues such as domestic violence, homelessness, community economic development, immigration, civil rights, juvenile justice, employment rights, access to health care and consumer fraud.
- There are four components of an Equal Justice Fellowship: a project, a fellow, a host organization, and one or more sponsors.
- Students must find their host organization before they apply to Equal Justice Works. The fellowships require a two-year commitment and may take place anywhere in the country.
- Applications are due in September of your third year and are available starting in July.
- For more detailed information, and application materials, please visit www.equaljusticeworks.org
- Previous UW Law recipients: Brent Denzin, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Madison, WI (2005-2007).
Skadden Fellowship Foundation
- Fellows provide legal services to the poor, elderly, homeless and disabled, as well as those deprived of their human rights or civil rights. Fellows have also worked on issues concerning economic development and community renewal. (Note: there are some issue areas that the fellowship does not sponsor, such as immigration, reproductive rights, and environmental justice.)
- Fellowships are awarded for one year, with the expectation of renewal for a second year.
- Applicants must find a public interest 501(c)(3) organization to sponsor them before they apply for a fellowship.
- Applications are due in October of your third year or during a judicial clerkship.
- Previous UW Law recipients: Gabrielle Lessard, National Economic Development & Law Center, Oakland, CA (1993-1995); Ricardo Soto, California Rural Legal Services, Oceanside, CA (1993-1995); Barbara Zabawa, Center for Public Representation, Madison, WI (2001-2003); Vicky Selkowe, Economic Justice Institute, Madison, WI (2003-2005); Jess Shoemaker, Farmers Legal Action Group, Minneapolis, MN (2005-2007); Samantha Kading, Land Tenure Center and Wisconsin Judicare, Madison, WI (2005-2007); Scott Colom, Mississippi Center for Justice, Jackson, MS (2009-2011).
- For more information, visit skaddenfellowships.org and OCPD's Skadden Fellowship page.
Soros Justice Advocacy Fellowship
- The Open Society Institute offers 18-month fellowships for projects that address criminal justice issues. Projects may range from litigation to public education to coalition building to grassroots mobilization to action research. Projects must identify a clear policy goal. The projects may be implemented in conjunction with non-profit organizations.
- For more information and application materials, visit the Open Society Foundations page: Grants, Scholars, and Fellowships.
Echoing Green Fellowship
- Echoing Green offers two-year fellowships to social innovators who create new social change organizations in a public service area such as the environment, arts, education, civil and human rights, and community economic development. Echoing Green seeks individuals or partnerships (organizations led by two people) with: Innovative solutions to significant social problems; Strategies to create high-impact, sustainable change in people's lives; The ability to grow and lead a new organization.
- The proposed project may be domestic or international. Fellows receive seed funding and technical support to turn their innovative ideas into sustainable organizations. The fellowships are not limited to law-related projects.
- For more information, and application materials, visit Echoing Green.
Organizational fellowships are positions within existing organizations, usually for a defined period of one to two years. Applicants do not need to develop their own projects, but instead work on special projects designated by the organization. To find a broad list of organizational fellowships, visit PSJD.org's job search tool and search for Job Type "Fellowships - Legal: Organizational." The following is a very limited list of examples:
Greenlining Institute Fellowship
- The Greenlining Institute is a California based organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for low-income and minority communities. The Greenlining Legal Fellowship is a year-long training program for leaders who have recently completed law school and attained their Juris Doctor by the start of the program. Legal Fellows will be assigned to either the Energy, Telecommunications and Technology, or Environmental Equity programs, and will develop expertise in those areas under the direction and guidance of Greenlining’s legal team and the Academy Director.
- For more information, and application materials, visit Greenlining.
- Previous UW Law Recipients: Kene Okocha (2007-2008)
American Civil Liberties Union Legal Fellowships
- The ACLU sponsors a number of exciting fellowships within its National Legal Program. The Legal Program has over 80 attorneys, who work on a broad range of civil rights and civil liberties issues, including: racial justice, free speech, national security, human rights, reproductive freedom, drug law reform, prisoners' rights women's rights, and immigrants' rights.
- Fellowships are for one to two years, depending on the project, and project placements are located throughout the country.
- For more information, and application materials, visit ACLU Careers.
Women's Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program
- The Women's Law and Public Policy Fellowship enables a diverse group of new public interest lawyers to gain invaluable experience advancing women's rights. Fellows work in Washington, DC with a variety of organizations involved in legal and policy issues affecting women, such as domestic violence, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, immigration, education, health care, homelessness, poverty, disability rights, civil rights, HIV/AIDS, and international women's human rights.
- For more information, visit the Women's Law & Public Policy Fellowship Program.
- Previous UW Law Recipients: Janel George (2005-2006); Diana Aguillar (2006-2007)
Juvenile Law Center Zubrow Fellowship
- The Zubrow Fellowship provides an opportunity to engage in a wide variety of advocacy efforts on behalf of children in the delinquency and dependency systems. Zubrow Fellows are involved in training, legislative efforts, litigation, policy work and some direct representation on issues ranging from the rights of dependent youth aging out of the foster care system to the needs of juveniles reentering the community from delinquent placements.
- The fellowship is a two-year fellowship.
- Applications are due in the early fall of your third year.
- For more information, and application materials, visit Apply to the Zubrow Fellowship.
Teaching fellowships are designed to offer graduates the ability to learn how to teach law in a clinical setting, or work on legal research projects. EXAMPLES:
Georgetown Clinical Graduate Teaching Fellowships
- Georgetown University Law Center's fellowships offer new and experienced attorneys alike the opportunity to combine study with practice in the fields of clinical legal education and public interest advocacy. Each fellowship is associated with one of the Law Center clinical programs, and varies considerably from the others in purpose, requirements, and duties.
- Fellows typically enroll in a two-year program during which they are in residence at a specific Georgetown clinic. In at least one of their years in residence, fellows directly supervise J.D. students enrolled in the clinics, assist in teaching clinical seminars, and perform work on their own cases or other legal matters in representing their clinic's clients.
- Fellowships usually begin in the late summer with an intensive orientation designed to introduce fellows to clinical teaching methods. The orientation is part of a year-long teacher training course entitled Elements of Clinical Pedagogy. Upon completing the requirements for graduation, a fellow is awarded the degree of Master of Laws (Advocacy).
The following fellowships are usually available:
For more information about each fellowship, click the associated links below.
- Appellate Litigation: Two graduate fellowships for LL.M. candidates interested in training as appellate advocates in the federal and D.C. courts. Fellows argue at least two cases in the federal courts of appeals, work with students on cases pending in the D.C. courts, federal courts of appeals, and the United States Supreme Court, and also supervise student written work and oral advocacy preparation. Application usually due in the end of November.
- Center for Applied Legal Studies: The fellowship provides a unique opportunity to learn how to teach law in a clinical setting. Fellows and faculty members work as colleagues, sharing responsibilities for teaching classes, selecting students for the clinic, supervising students in their representation of clients, grading and all other matters. Application usually due in the end of November.
- Criminal Justice & Juvenile Justice (Prettyman & Stiller fellows): This fellowship program combines instruction in the Law Center's graduate school with representation of indigent clients in the local courts of the District of Columbia. After five weeks of study of criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence, and trial practice, fellows accept court appointments to defend clients in misdemeanor cases, and eventually, represent clients in felony cases. Application usually due in end of October.
- Domestic Violence Clinic: Two-year graduate teaching fellowship for individuals interested in learning how to teach law in a clinical setting, prepare for a career in litigation, and work on issues of physical abuse between intimate partners. Application usually due in end of October.
- Federal Legislation Clinic: For individuals interested in developing their skills as "legislative lawyers" -- lawyers who use their legal skills to advance social policy. The goal of the Clinic is to provide a comprehensive education regarding the federal legislative and administrative process through active involvement in selected pieces of legislation and regulations. Application usually due in the end of November.
- Harrison Post-Graduate Teaching Fellowships: Fellows supervise JD students enrolled in the housing and community development clinic and the policy clinic, help teach clinical seminars, directly serve Institute clients and conduct policy research. Fellows are in residence year-round for a two-year appointment, after which they receive an LL.M. degree. Applications welcome any time, but hiring decisions are usually made in late spring, for which the deadline is March 1st of each year.
- Institute for Public Representation Fellows: Attorneys at the Institute act as counsel for groups and individuals who are unable to obtain effective legal representation on matters that have a significant impact on issues of broad public importance. The Institute works in the areas of first amendment and media law, environmental law, civil rights and general public interest matters. Application usually due in the end of November.
- International Women's Human Rights Fellows: The clinic offers a teaching fellowship for individuals interested in developing their skills as advocates. Fellows aid in deciding on appropriate topics for the clinical course, teaching the clinical course, planning course materials, and supervising students. Fellows also conduct the research, writing, and editing necessary to transform student work into publishable pieces. Application usually due in the end of November.
- Law Related Education Fellowships (Street Law Clinics): Fellows develop teaching, supervisory and research abilities in a setting that combines public education, clinical teaching, and public interest work. The fellowship program combines seminar teaching, field supervision of second- and third-year law students, administration, curriculum development and scholarly research in the context of practical law affecting everyday life. Fellows also conduct research, writing, and curriculum development. The fellowship includes a study of educational methodology, clinical legal education, substantive legal topics, and supervisory techniques. Application usually due in December.
Distinguished Environmental Scholar Fellowship -- Lewis and Clark Law School
Scholar researches and writes at least one article or other scholarly piece on topics of his/her choice in the field of environmental or natural resources law.
For more information, visit Lewis & Clark Law School's Environmental, Natural Resources, & Energy Law Distinguished Visitors.
Government entities host fellows as well, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the EEOC, and the Department of Housing, to name a few. These are typically called "Honors Programs," and are available for students immediately after graduation or a judicial clerkship. EXAMPLES:
U.S. Department of Justice Attorney General's Honors Program
The Honors Program is the Department's entry-level recruitment program and is the only way the Department hires graduating law students. Students apply in their third year for an entry-level position following graduation. Organizations that typically participate in the Honors Program are: the Antitrust, Civil, Civil Rights, Criminal, Environment and Natural Resources, and Tax Divisions; the Federal Bureau of Prisons; the Executive Office for Immigration Review; the U.S. Trustees' Office; and select U.S. Attorney's Offices.
- For more information about the Honors Program, visit the Attorney General's Honors Program.
- Previous UW Law Recipients: Sarah Schuh (2007), Federal Bureau of Prisons; Rebecca Perlmutter (2005), Antitrust; Alvin Chu (2004), Antitrust
Presidential Management Fellows Program
The Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF) is a competitive program that recruits law graduates and those from other disciplines to work in executive branch agencies. Attorney positions for PMFs are extremely rare, and students should not apply to the PMF Program if their goal is to be placed in an attorney position. Most often, law students selected as finalists for the PMF obtain appointments in positions such as policy analyst, budget analyst, tax law specialist, or other non-attorney positions.
- For more information, visit: Presidential Management Fellows.
- Previous UW Law Finalists with Placements: Jon Beidelschies (2008), Department of Veterans Affairs, Pittsburgh, PA; Elizabeth Soltis (2008), Congressional Research Service, Washington, DC; Stacy Sparks (2009), Drug Enforcement Administration Office of Legislative Affairs
Firm-sponsored fellowships are defined positions within a law firm or a split-time position, whereby a fellow spends a portion of his/her time working at the sponsoring firm and a portion working at a designated non-profit agency. EXAMPLES:
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson Fellowship
- The fellow works as a litigation associate at the New York firm for two years. Then, the fellow serves as a staff attorney at the Mexican- American Legal Defense & Education Fund (MALDEF) in Los Angeles or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund (NAACP LDF) in New York for two years. The fellow may, but is not required to, rejoin the firm at full seniority. In some cases, the fellow may continue on the MALDEF or LDF staff.
- For more information, visit the Fried Frank Civil Rights Fellowship.
- Previous UW Law Recipients: Jenigh Garrett, LDF (2003-2007); Carlos Becerra, MALDEF (2003-2007)
Relman & Dane Civil Rights Fellowship
- The Relman & Dane Civil Rights Fellowship offers a new attorney the opportunity to litigate important civil rights cases with experienced practitioners at the firm.
- For more information, visit Relman Colfax.