Expert Opinion: Five Questions for a Public Interest Leader – Joy Moses

Joy Moses is a Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress.

A recurring feature on the blog will be “Five Questions for a Public Interest Leader” – a short interview with a variety of public interest legal leaders including non-profit directors, public defenders, law school administrators, and more. Our fifth installment is with Joy Moses, a policy analyst in the Poverty and Prosperity program at Center for American Progress. Before starting at the Center, she worked at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty focusing on educational issues facing homeless students, and she started her career at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund where she also focused on education issues. Our questions with her today focus on her experience as a policy-oriented lawyer.

1. Please tell us about how your career path led you to transition from litigation to policy work.

I began my career as an Equal Justice Works fellow at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.  I then transitioned to a position at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.  Both positions involved some litigation, but also policy work, public information efforts, and providing trainings.  Since I enjoyed thinking through policy questions, research, and writing, I eventually made the move to the Center for American Progress, a public policy think tank.

2. When you were in law school, did you plan to pursue a policy-related career?

While in law school, my career plans more so centered on the issues that were of concern to me — poverty, K-12 education, and racial justice.  I spent much less time thinking about whether I wanted to approach those issues via policy work, litigation, or some other means.

3. What advice do you have for law students who think they might want to explore policy or think tank career options?

It is always beneficial to pursue internships with employers who do the type of work that interests you.  It helps in assessing whether the reality of the work fits your expectations while also providing an opportunity to build a resume that includes the type of work you plan to pursue.  Valuable experience can also be gained through internships in Congress, state legislatures, or with city councils.  That being said, these types of internships are often unpaid and therefore may not be realistic options for low-income students.  In such cases, it helps if your law school allows you to work at an outside agency for either work study dollars or academic credit.  Of course, it is also useful to take classes in relevant areas—e.g., policy development, legislative drafting, and/or the particular subject matters that are the focus of your career goals (environmental law, poverty law, etc.).  Finally, I think clinical experience is very valuable.  Even if the clinic is focused on litigation, the real world work will only help in you in understanding how people are affected by the laws and policies developed by policy professionals.  It also furthers your understanding of substantive issues.  For example, representing tenants in landlord tenant court would likely influence your later thoughts about housing policy.

4. Any advice for how law students and lawyers can market themselves to compete for policy positions against non-lawyers?

Many lawyers are engaged in policy work.  In marketing yourself for these positions it is helpful to point out the skills you garnered in law school.  You have an understanding of how courts interpret laws, which is useful when you are put in a position of helping to shape them.  You may have also completed coursework related to legislative drafting or policy development, information that is useful when working for policymakers or advocacy organizations that often try to sell their legislative proposals to policymakers.  Finally, your coursework, clinical experiences, and internships may have allowed you to garner knowledge about substantive issue areas that are relevant to the position.

5. Is there anything you would have done differently in school or your career, looking back now?

I gained some value from each of my experiences.  I think this is generally the case.  You may find that some of the activities you engage in are directly relevant to your later work, but others serve the purposes of helping to hone your career goals or shape your development as a professional.

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