*Guest Post* – The Benefits of Working in Public Service by: Brittany Hamner

Brittany Hamner is a Project Assistant at NALP and rising 2L at Howard University School of Law. She is interested in a career in public service, and is currently interning with the D.C. Housing Authority.  

Benefits of Working in Public Service

It’s the time of year where law students entering their second year (2L) participate in what is known as “On Campus Interview” or OCI process.  During this time, employers largely from the biggest private sector law firms in the nation come to the top law schools and interview certain students from the incoming 2L class.  Students at the top of their class in these top law schools will receive offers from these big law firms and go on to make six figure salaries right out of law school.  For those students who do not make the cut, or are not at top tier schools where OCI may not even exist, all hope is not lost.  Although there is a huge gap between private sector and public interest salaries, public interest jobs offer several key advantages over private practice.  Below are some advantages to public service work.

Furthering the Public Good

Most importantly, the primary reason to undertake public interest work is to further the public good.  The opportunity to help underserved people, effect societal change, or provide equal access to justice for individuals is work that a dollar amount cannot be placed on. In fact, the lowest paid lawyers (typically those doing public interest work) report the highest levels of happiness. (NY Times).  There is the opportunity to do pro bono work at most firms; however, this work will comprise of a fraction of the number of hours spent defending large corporations, which may not provide as much personal satisfaction.

Better Work-Life Balance

Public service offers a more relaxed culture because the focus is on service rather than profit.  Unlike the private sector, there isn’t the pressure to meet billable hour quotas, gain face-time with partners, or spend free time on client development activities and thus allows for more flexible schedules, and 9-to-5 work days.

Valuable Work Experience

In a recent article posted by the ABA Journal, dissatisfaction with work quality was cited as the top reason associates leave their firm. (ABA Journal).  Law students, new lawyers, and paralegals work on urgent issues all the time in the public interest sector.  “That’s the very nature of public interest work: it is law reforming, a challenge to the status quo.” (Equal Justice Works).  Where some law firms assign new attorneys to a specific practice group, public service allows new attorneys to explore a variety of practice areas while performing substantive work.

Job Security

The public sector offers job security that the private sector simply cannot match.  After the recession in 2008, many students who had accepted offers into big firms were deferred and instead went into careers in public service.  Upon the end of the deferral, many chose to stay with their public interest organization citing job security, as well as the other reasons listed here, as their reasons.  (NY Times).

Money

Finally, as mentioned, there is a huge gap between private sector and public interest salaries; however, senior lawyers at nonprofit organizations tend to earn a comfortable living.  Among public sector jobs, there are also government jobs, both state and federal, which tend to pay more than nonprofit organizations.   Further, legislation such as the College Cost Reduction & Access Act provides public service loan forgiveness and income-based repayment options, which can make entering public service quite easy.  (Equal Justice Works).

 

Opportunities in the public sector are both plentiful and diverse and the skills and training you receive are easily transferable no matter where your legal career takes you.  For information on Public Sector Career Paths, visit the PSJD Resource Center or search Public Service Jobs with the PSJD search tool.

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