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Starting your project-based fellowship proposal: Where and why lawyers give great ideas away

by Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow (2014 – 2015)

Those of you in your last year of law school are probably considering the variety of organizations offering themselves as potential partners for 2015’s batch of project-based fellowships.

If you haven’t heard about these entry-level opportunities, here’s the short version: they’re the most straightforward way to do what you are most interested in straight out of law school. You should read each fellowship’s application materials carefully before applying, but speaking loosely each follows a similar model: Prospective fellows partner with non-profit organizations to propose new projects that the hopeful applicant would undertake—projects which would expand the scope of the sponsoring non-profit’s work. Fellowship committees provide grants to their new Fellows to complete the proposed project at the host organization. In other words, successful fellowship candidates write their own job descriptions—not a bad first year as a lawyer.

The tricky part about getting a project-based fellowship is that you can’t apply on your own. You have to convince a non-profit to sponsor your application. You can find a sizeable number of non-profits looking for promising potential fellows to sponsor right now on PSJD. (Try searching for “Job Type: Fellowship – Legal: Project-Based” in the advanced search or searching for the keyword “Fellowship Sponsor” [in quotations].) Some of these organizations have project ideas already, and are looking for a 3L with the right experiences and skillset to successfully pull them off. Many, however, expect prospective fellows to bring their own proposals to the table.

This can be a daunting task. At the beginning of your third year of legal education, you may have been exposed to public-interest legal work through your internships or a clinic, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve observed some “group or issue not adequately represented in our legal system” and arrived at a clear idea about how to address the problem legally with the support of a host organization, to paraphrase the EJW Application Guide. So, as you set out to secure yourself a sponsor, you may be wondering, “Where do project ideas come from?”

In the non-profit legal world, there is far more work to be done than resources with which to do it. Mostly, this fact is discouraging. But students looking for project ideas should take heart: with a little research, you can find a plethora of already-identified legal needs begging for more attention.

Some of these issues are lucky enough to make the news. For example, last May NPR ran “Guilty and Charged”: a special series documenting at length its yearlong investigation into nationwide practices punishing impoverished defendants more harshly than those with means.  Among other resources, the series includes a state-by-state survey of costs courts pass on to defendants and profiles of a variety of individuals who suffered at the hands of such fee-based justice systems. If you’re interested in procedural due process or economic justice, check out the series and see what jumps out at you.

When reading NPR’s series, one thing you’ll notice is that particular legal organizations, such as the Southern Center for Human Rights, NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, and Arch City Defenders, drove NPR’s reporting. Many legal practitioners already know what they would work on if they had the resources and the manpower. Not all of them are fortunate enough to attract NPR’s attention. Look for organizations with missions related to your particular social concerns (try searching PSJD’s employer profiles) and see if they have white papers or reports about emergent issues they hope to address. For example, Georgetown Law’s Human Rights Institute funds a student-led fact-finding mission investigating an emerging human rights crisis each year. Each mission generates a report based on its research, but few of them attract enough resources to continue their work beyond their initial year. A number of these reports focus on human rights crises in the United States and would be excellent sources for a project proposal.

Once you find an idea that grabs you, try following up with some of the legal authorities behind it. An email or phone call might seem pushy, but these organizations will have unbeatable insight into what needs to be done next and will jump at the chance to help you convince a fellowship committee to devote resources to their issue. (Speaking personally, I would love to see my past work with Georgetown on urban water shutoffs receive this kind of attention from prospective project fellows.)

So remember, if you’re stuck: The proposal will be yours. The project will be yours. The inspiration doesn’t have to be. While you’ve been in school, some lawyer somewhere is already championing your particular interest. Find out what that person would do with enough time or enough money and begin your project proposal there.


The ABA’s Steve Grumm Breaks Down New York’s New Pro Bono Scholars Program

During last week’s annual State of the Judiciary address, New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the new voluntary Pro Bono Scholars Program. This new initiative would allow 3Ls to study and sit for the February bar exam and spend the rest of their final year of law school completing pro bono work with an academic component.

Steve Grumm, friend of NALP and director of the ABA Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives, recently posted a few initial thoughts and reactions on the Program for the ABA’s Access to Justice blog:

  • How are we defining “pro bono”? Clearly academic credit is not a barrier b/c it’s a part of the Program. How about paid/stipended placements? Since the Program is connected with the 50-hour Rule, maybe the Program will use the 50-hour Rule’s broad definition of pro bono. [EDIT: a law school administrator friend weighed in: “The definition will need to comply with the requirements of participating law schools' clinical/externship/academic programs. So it is not clear that pro bono work for which law students are paid will be allowed because the law schools will not be allowed to grant academic credit for paid pro bono work (even though certain paid pro bono work can count towards the 50-hour bar admission rule).”]

  • Can/will law schools reduce tuition on 3L spring semester?

  • Could a student participate in the Program without sitting for the Feb. bar exam?

  • To whom do 2Ls apply to participate in the Program? Their school, NY Board of Law examiners, NY courts? My guess based on the Chief’s announcement is that the schools will administer Program participation.

  • When will the Program roll out? Presumably this depends on the pace of the Advisory Committee and Task Force work, and the time law schools will need to create administrative structures.

To read the full blog post, including Chief Judge Lippman’s full address, head over to the ABA Access to Justice blog.



Class of 2013 Skadden Fellows again a mixed group

The Skadden Foundation has listed its Class-of-2013 fellows.  Twenty-nine fellows, hailing from 16 law schools, will begin their projects next year.  Six schools had multiple fellowship awardees: Columbia (2); Harvard (6); NYU (4); Stanford (2); Georgetown (2) and Yale (3).  Other schools from which fellows come include Penn, Michigan State, University of Washington, Boston College, UCLA, UC Irvine, Washington & Lee, Vanderbilt, University of Chicago, and University of Illinois.  The 2013 Class includes four additional fellowships funded in memory of Joe Flom and Peter Mullen.  The Fellows will work in 10 states and the District of Columbia, focusing on issues ranging from the harassment of LGBT students in rural, impoverished regions of New York State to the foreclosure of homes of working poor Los Angeles families.

For comparison’s sake, here’s how previous Skadden Fellowship classes looked:

  • 2012:  28 fellows from 16 law schools;
  • 2011:  29 fellows from 21 law schools;
  • 2010: 27 fellows from 20 law schools;
  • 2009: 28 fellows from 14 law schools;
  • 2008: 36 fellows from 16 law schools.

Congratulations to the Class of 2013!  The Fellowship is such a extraordinary honor, and we look forward to seeing the great things you will accomplish.


Job o’ the Day: Alan Morrison Supreme Court Assistance Project Fellowship with the Public Citizen Litigation Group in DC

From the job posting:

To augment its Supreme Court litigation, the Litigation Group operates the Alan Morrison Supreme Court Assistance Project, named after the Group’s founder. The Project focuses on helping small-firm practitioners, lawyers for non-profit organizations, and other lawyers with little or no experience in Supreme Court litigation. The Project provides direct assistance to lawyers before review is granted, either by helping with a petition for certiorari or a brief in opposition, and provides assistance in cases in which review is granted, working with the lawyers to prepare briefs and oral argument. In some cases, a Litigation Group attorney will become the lead lawyer on the case.

The Litigation Group is looking for a bright, energetic lawyer to coordinate the Project and work on Supreme Court cases for one year. Most, but not all, of the cases on which we work are civil rather than criminal. Most of our work at the petition stage involves assisting the party who won below in preparing an opposition to the petition for certiorari, to keep the case out of the Court and thereby preserve a victory. The fellow will review all paid cert. petitions. Working under the direct supervision of the Litigation Group director, the fellow makes an initial judgment about whether the case is of interest to the Project and prepares a memo and recommendation about whether to offer assistance. Considerable legal research and analysis are often required to determine whether assertions in the petition, such as a conflict among the courts of appeals, are supportable. The fellow then makes an initial contact with the attorney to whom help is being offered to explain the Project and the assistance that we can provide. In addition, all cases accepted by the Court for full review are considered for possible assistance by the Project. When an offer of help is accepted, a Litigation Group attorney assumes principal responsibility for the case within the office. For a list of the Project’s current cases, see litigation/forms/scap_index.cfm.

The application deadline is12/09/2013. Ideal applicants will have had some practical litigation experience while in school or elsewhere and a solid academic background, in addition to a demonstrated commitment to public interest work.

For more information, view the full job listing at (log-in required).


Job o’ the Day: Director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project in Durham, North Carolina

From the PSJD job posting:

The Capital Punishment Project (CPP) of the American Civil Liberties Union is seeking applicants for a full-time Project Director to work in its Durham, North Carolina office. The effective hire date will be on or about October 1, 2013.

Read the rest of this entry »


Job o’ the Day: Southern Education Leadership Initiative with the Southern Education Foundation

The Southern Education Foundation is the South’s oldest education philanthropy organization, dating back all the way to 1867. Their mission is to advance equity and excellence in education for low income students and communities in the South – a region that is home to the nation’s poorest people. With low levels of education attainment and high dropout rates, the Southern Education Foundation helps fulfill the need for new leaders to develop community partnerships and corrective public policies that will improve education equity, quality and opportunity at all levels.

In 2004, SEF initiated the Southern Education Leadership Initiative to provide highly motivated and diverse graduate students opportunities to develop leadership skills and engage with their communities on contemporary education issues. Students spend the summer in trainings and working at a leading nonprofit sector organization. From the PSJD job posting:

Interns Receive:

  • An opportunity to work for eight weeks in an organization concerned with equity and excellence in education e.g., a policy institution, community-based organization or philanthropic institution;
  • A modest stipend and travel expenses for summer trainings;
  • Exposure to research in the field, practical experience, and opportunities to meet and work with outstanding and inspiring education reformers and advocates.
  • Professional development and leadership trainings that orient them to issues in education and the nonprofit sector.
  • Opportunities to network, reflect, and exchange ideas with fellow interns.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must be between the ages of 20-32 years old to qualify for program.
  • Completion of 60 credit hours (or the equivalent of junior status & above in undergraduate program) or enrollment in a graduate program or law program at a college or university.
  • Familiarity with or demonstrated interest in social justice and/or education policy and practice.
  • Excellent interpersonal, writing, and critical thinking skills, with flexibility to respond well to diverse people, settings, and tasks.
  • Submission of the complete application by due date, including all supporting documents. (No exceptions on late applications will be made). Application available here:
  • Must be willing to potentially relocate for summer, not take any kind of coursework or other job opportunities during summer program, and attend in full the Orientation and Closing Meetings of the program.

The summer stipend is $4500 and the deadline to apply is March 1, 2013. For more information, view the full job listing at (log-in required).


On a Lighter Note: Washington Post’s “What’s Out?/What’s In?” List for the New Year

If you’re sick of lists, you have our apologies.  Here’s the Washington Post’s annual offering, “The List”, which purports to tells us what’s coming down the pike in pop culture, and what’s being forgotten.  For some of us it’s a lesson in, “Darn! I just learned what that is and now it’s gone!”


Public Interest News Bulletin – November 2, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Bloomberg News

Happy Friday, folks.  If you were affected by the storm earlier this week, I hope you are safe and well.  Sandy delivered a painful reminder of our fragility.  One of the world’s most developed, sophisticated population centers found itself completely subject to nature’s whim.  Humbling.  And tragic for too many people.  On the legal front, the National Disaster Legal Aid website is serving as a resource both for those seeking help and those wishing to render it.  And while the news coverage has focused on the New York/Jersey region, it’s noteworthy that the storm’s impact has been felt far and wide.  I heard from a Cleveland-based legal aid lawyer who’s gone the week without electricity.     

For some post-Sandy escapism, here’s word that a new Star Wars movie is in the making (and that George Lucas is selling his empire to Disney).  Since I grew up loving the original trilogy and watching too many saccharine 80s sitcoms, I’m tempted to greet this development with unmitigated joy.  But I’ve got real questions about the franchise that inflicted Jar Jar Binks upon the world turning itself over to the company that gave us The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea.  Be warned, Disney: take good care of this galaxy far, far away.  

This week in very, very short:

  • Texas counties pooling resources to provide indigent defense in capital cases
  • Mandatory pro bono, Singapore style
  • Low-paid FL prosecutors and defenders
  • Pushback on pushback on Income Based Repayment
  • More on NY’s new 50-hour pro bono rule
  • Missouri prosecutor minces no words in assigning fault for indigent defense system woes
  • NOLA PD may see big cut in city funding
  • We can hear you now.  Corporate lawyers should be freed up to do more pro bono, says Verizon general counsel.
  • Even Harvard’s public interest minded law students face a difficult career path
  • Great work from Iowa Legal Aid, but times are tough
  • Low-paid Pittsburgh prosecutors and defenders
  • New masters-in-law course in animal law
  • Recent hiring by the Land of Enchantment’s (great state nickname!) public defense program
  • Online ATJ in IL
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries

  • 11.1.12 – in Texas, counties banding together to provide capital defense counsel: “Parker County commissioners recently voted to join the Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases program, an action that could save the county thousands of dollars during the prosecution of expensive capital murder cases.  The program, funded through the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, represents defendants who are charged with the offense of capital murder and are eligible for the death penalty but cannot afford to hire their own attorneys.  The organization helps participating smaller counties meet the legal requirement to provide access to counsel for those defendants by providing a core team of four — two…attorneys, a mitigation specialist and a fact investigator — as well funds for an investigation…. Of the 240 counties eligible for the program … 193 have agreed to participate so far.”  (Story from the Weatherford Democrat.)
  • 11.1.12 – I work hard to offer a global worldview, dear reader.  So here we have news about a potential move to mandatory pro bono in Singapore.  Only 16 hours, though, which is odd.  Here’s some detail from Today Online: “Lawyers could soon be required to contribute a minimum of 16 hours of free legal services, as part of a high powered committee’s proposal to make it mandatory for practitioners to provide legal aid to low-income and disadvantaged Singaporeans….  The scheme will cover legal assistance in four broad areas: Criminal legal aid, civil legal aid, community mediation including other voluntary services in the Subordinate Courts, and legal advisory work to institutions and charities.”
  • 10.31.12 – “Florida prosecutors and public defenders can’t keep over-worked young lawyers very long without at least a break-even pay raise to offset the state’s 3 percent pension deduction, lawyers told state budget planners at a public hearing Wednesday….  ‘We have two kinds of assistant state attorneys today,’ said Buddy Jacobs, general counsel for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association. ‘We have those that are leaving and those that are looking.’  Jacobs said 56 percent of assistant prosecutors are five years, or less, out of law school, and that the typical young prosecutor starts at $40,000 a year — with $80,000 to $100,000 in college debt…. The state attorney offices have had about 15 percent turnover in each of the past two years, he said.”  (Story from the Florida Current.)
  • 10.31.12 – student debt expert Heather Jarvis pushes back on a report that was itself critical of the Income Based Repayment program: “The New America Foundation released ‘Safety Net or Windfall:  Examining Changes to Income-Based Repayment for Federal Student Loans’… arguing that changes to Income-Based Repayment (IBR) should be better targeted towards low-income borrowers rather than “high-income borrowers with graduate and professional degrees.”   The analysis in the report clearly demonstrates what advocates have long known is a weakness in the IBR program—the lowest-income student loan borrowers need more and different help.  But the wealthy certainly do not benefit the most from Income-Based Repayment.  Wealthy students and families have money to pay for education, do not need to rely on student loans, and neither need nor will receive many benefits from Income-Based Repayment.  We have a debt-based system of access to higher education.  Unless or until that changes, student loans enable middle- and lower-income students and families to pay for…advanced degrees.  Middle- and lower-income students…must borrow substantial amounts or decide not to pursue advanced graduate and professional degrees.”
    • Speaking of student debt, the federal “Pay As You Earn” regulations were finalized this week.  PAYE makes two significant changes to the Income Based Repayment program. It first lowers the debtor’s monthly contribution from roughly 15% of disposable income to 10%.  Second, it knocks down the 25-year forgiveness period to 20 years.  (Distinguish this, however, from the Public Service Loan Forgiveness provision, which forgives eligible loan balances after 10 years of payments into IBR.)  (Here’s some coverage from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.) 
  • 10.31.12 – New York’s newly implemented 50-hour pro bono requirement for admission to the bar just will not leave the news.
    • New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman delivered remarks to a DC-based audience earlier this week.  The Blog of the Legal Times has coverage: “The pro bono requirement, which is the first of its kind for a state bar, is ‘conceptually unassailable,’ Lippman said, even as he acknowledged concerns raised by law schools and legal services providers about how it would work in practice. He also said that the requirement was not a precursor to a mandatory pro bono requirement for the bar, another concern within the legal community.  Lippman said he hoped other states would consider similar requirements
    • And from the New York Law Journal, we learn that the chief judge expects that few bar applicants will be exempted from the rule’s requirement.
  • 10.30.12 – pulling no punches regarding Missouri’s troubled indigent defense system, the state prosecutor association’s president blames the indigent defense program’s leaders, not overwhelming caseloads, for the program’s woes: “Simply put, the current public defender system is broken beyond repair because its top brass has surrendered in the face of its challenges. The only suggestion the public defender leadership ever offers is that they need more money. When the state budget is already stretched too thin, Missourians deserve a better solution….  We need to consider a new model where we reserve state-paid public defenders for the most serious felonies, such as murders and sexual offenses, while contracting representation of misdemeanors and low-level felonies to private counsel who could do the work more efficiently.  (Op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)
  • 10.30.12 - the city of New Orleans is funding the district attorney’s office at just slightly less than it did last year, but the public defender’s office will see funding slashed by 33% (from $1.2 million to $800,000.)  Here’s the story from the Times-Picayune. 
  • 10.29.12 – loosen up state practice rules so that in-house counsel – who may not be licensed in the states in which they physically work – can do more pro bono.  This is the case made by Verizon general counsel Randal Milch in a Corporate Counsel op-ed.
  • 10.29.12 – a piece on Iowa Legal Aid trumpets the organization’s work on behalf of thousands of vulnerable Hawkeye Staters, but closes on a somber note: “All of that work is being done with fewer people, though. Iowa Legal Aid served nearly 17 percent fewer people than in 2010 because of reduced revenue and reductions in staff. At the end of 2011, the organization had 12 fewer attorneys and 8 fewer support staff than it had at the beginning of 2010. Funding from the Supreme Court was reduced to $172,000 for 2012, which is down from the $828,572 grant received three years ago, and federal funding was cut by 15 percent.”  (Full piece in The Hawkeye.)
  • 10/28.12 – the pet industry is booming – Big Pet? – and Lewis & Clark Law School has created a masters-in-law certificate program for tomorrow’s animal rights/law lawyers.  From the Columbia Tribune: “Enrollment in the yearlong program [which has an initial class of six students] is expected to grow to 15 or 20 students in three to five years, said attorney Pamela Frasch, assistant dean and executive director of the [school’s Center for Animal Law Studies].”
  • 10/26/12 – New Mexico’s public defender program has done a fair amount of recent hiring.  That’s tapering off but they’re still looking for lawyers.  From the Las Cruces Sun-News: “Vacancies in the agency have declined from 20.8 percent in 2011 to 15 percent today.  Moreover…the chief public defender…said she expected vacancies to drop to 8 percent by January.  Her department is filling 70 jobs, she told the Legislative Finance Committee this week. In raw numbers, the public defender has 211 attorneys and 182 support employees. [The chief defender] said she had begun to reduce the vacancy rate because the Legislature increased her budget by $1.2 million last session. Overall, the [program’s] budget is $40.14 million. It stood at $42.6 million in 2010, then legislative cutbacks began because of the national fiscal crisis.”
  • 10.26.12 – this Government Technology story is ostensibly about the launching of a successful online, self-help legal aid website in one county.  But it points to a larger trend in Illinois toward empowering low- and moderate-income residents with online legal resources.  

Music!  This week I’m having all kinds of trouble not listening to Centro-matic’s ”Patience for the Ride.”  If I had to guess, I’d say the song has to do with the Enron fallout and similar instances of corporate malfeasance.  But as with all well-written songs, it draws upon more universal themes.  And I hear ”Patience for the Ride” as an anthem for public interest lawyers who face long odds and powerful opponents.  The song also contains a somehow-unpretentious use of the word “eleemosynary”.  That’s straight badass, is what that is.


Job o’ the Day: Policy Internship at the UN World Food Program in Washington, DC!

The UN World Food Program (WFP) is currently accepting applications for Policy Interns in its Washington, DC Liaison Office. Headquartered in Rome, Italy,  the WFP is the United Nation’s food assistance agency and feeds an average of 100 million people in 80 countries each year. In addition, WFP provides critical emergency relief to a wide spectrum of people, including victims of natural disasters and conflicts, refugees, and those living with HIV/AIDS.

The WFP prefers currently enrolled applicants with a background in international development, public policy, or business administration. The intern will be able to gain hands-on experience in global development policy within a well-established international organization. Duties will include tracking developments related to priority international organizations and NGOs; reviewing leading news, opinion, and research publications, and any other policy related duties that may arise.

For helpful tips and more information on working for the United Nations, check out PSJD’s “Jobs with the UN & International Organizations: A Brief Guide“.

The deadline to apply is next week, on 09/12/2012. Visit to view the full listing (log-in required).


Job o' the Day: Paid Research & Policy Internship with Break the Cycle in Washington, D.C.!

Break the Cycle is a national nonprofit organization working to engage, educate, and empower youth to build lives and communities free from dating and domestic violence. To help them with their mission, they are now looking for a Research & Policy Intern to join the team!

The Research and Policy Intern will:

  • Research and analyze state and local laws related to dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
  • Contribute to the development of written products to assist schools and community-based organizations improve their response to young survivors of abuse.
  • Examine and categorize relevant studies to support the work of the Training and Policy Departments.
  • Write content for the Break the Cycle website.
  • Assist with other with other tasks as needed.

To learn more about the position, check out the full description at!