Resources for Postgraduate, Public-interest Fellowship Applications

This is about the time of year that rising 3Ls start thinking seriously about crafting proposals for postgraduate, public-interest fellowships.  Project-based fellowships, like the ones offered by Equal Justice Works and the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, involve a law student submitting a proposal to the funding agency at the beginning of the Fall, 3L semester.  In the case of Equal Justice Works, year 2011 fellowship proposal applications will be available on July 5 and are due in on September 15, 2010.  As for Skadden, the applications are now available here and are due in on October 4, 2010.

Project-based fellowships are coveted, and competition for them is fierce.  Hundreds of public-interest minded law students vie for relatively few positions.  For instance, at Equal Justice Works, 43 Class-of-2010 graduates were awarded fellowshipsSkadden awarded 27 fellowships to Class-of-2010 grads, down from 36 in 2008.

This is all the more reason to craft the strongest proposal possible.  Take advantage of PSLawNet’s tip-sheet, Project-based Fellowship Applications: Take Cues from Those Who Know.  Among other advice offered in this handout:

  • Create Your Own Fellowship Team: identify people who can help you with the application process, including career services/public interest advisors and faculty or alumni who received fellowships and/or served on fellowship selection committees.
  • Build a Relationship with Your Would-be Host Organization: A relationship with your would-be host is a vital part of the successful fellowship application (and the successful fellowship). It’s best to apply with an organization that you have previously worked for. But if that is not possible, it is wise to still propose a project that relates to work you have done, so that you can demonstrate that you have the knowledge, skills, and passion to do the job.
  • Focus on the Clients: It’s about the clients, not about you and your career goals. Make sure to emphasize how your project makes an impact and who the beneficiaries of your project are. Can you get client input for the proposal?
  • Do Not Take Yourself out of the Proposal Driver’s Seat: A senior program manager at a funding organization notes, “Sometimes when I read an application…it reads like the host organization supervisor thought up a project and then found a fellow to fit the bill rather than a personal passion coming through in the project description.” Funders wish to support a specific project driven by a fellow, not a new staff attorney position for the host organization.
  • Do Not Be Vague or Unrealistic: Avoid making the project proposal excessively grand, including too many ideas (i.e. the kitchen sink). While the goal is typically for the project to sustain itself after the fellowship term ends, the fellow should still specifically map out realistic objectives to be achieved during their term. (Note: The opposite can happen too when the application is too narrow and not capable of sustaining itself so that the reader cannot see it lasting two years and beyond.)

For additional tips and more general information, see PSLawNet’s Postgraduate Fellowships Information & Resources Page.

Please remember, too, that project-based fellowships are not the only game in town.  Organization-based fellowships, which don’t involve a third-party funder in the application process, are much more plentiful and can provide equal opportunities in terms of gaining experience and developing professionally. Again, use PSLawNet’s Postgraduate Fellowships Information & Resources Page and search the hundreds of fellowship (project- and organization-based) listings in PSLawNet’s opportunities database.  We are doing our annual update of fellowships listings now, so if you see one that’s out of date, just check back in a few weeks or get in touch with the employer/host organization directly.

Good luck!

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