Seeking a career in government or the non-profit sector requires strategic planning throughout law school because job opportunities for public interest positions are substantially more limited than positions with traditional law firms. Public interest employers typically hire only when an opening arises and rarely participate in recruiting. Consequently, there tends to be substantial competition among law students and graduates when positions become available. Public interest employers place great importance on hiring individuals who can demonstrate a strong and continuing commitment to public service. As a result, students desiring a public interest career should plan to work closely with the Office of Public Service to identify opportunities that will build upon their public interest experience and position them well for opportunities that arise.
Law-Related Public Service Graduation Requirement
All JD students at SMU Dedman School of Law are required to complete 30 hours of law-related public service at a pre-approved placement to be eligible to graduate. This requirement is an excellent opportunity for students to test out different public interest practice settings, gain practical lawyering experience, and begin to develop a sense of the type of lawyer they would like to become and the area of law they find interesting. Many of our students complete substantially more hours volunteer public service hours and those with over 200 hours at graduation are inducted into the Pro Bono Honor Roll at graduation. Having extensive volunteer public service hours and gaining experience at a number of different nonprofits and government agencies helps demonstrate a student’s commitment to public service. Information on how to complete your public service hours can be found here
Unpaid Internships and For-Credit Externships
Just as students can gain practical experience working in different nonprofit and government agencies completing their public service hours, summer internships and for-credit externships
are longer-term placements that serve as phenomenal opportunities for students to develop proficiencies practicing law in the public sector.
Law School Clinics
SMU Dedman School of Law offers a vast array of clinical opportunities for students to gain experience representing the underserved in our community. Many of the clinics provide the students the chance to build skills that can make them an asset to various public interest employers. Information about our dynamic clinical program can be found here
There are a vast array of student organizations
that a public service-minded student would find beneficial to both their career and personal development. In collaboration with the Office of Public Service, the Association for Public Interest Law raises funds each year to fund stipends to support students completing unpaid public service internships over the summer.
Because job opportunities in public interest organizations are so limited, one of the best ways to establish a public interest law career is to participate in a post-graduate fellowship. Fellowships are short-term funded positions (typically 1-2 years) that are sponsored by a specific organization seeking to expand leadership in its particular area of law and allows fellows to assist underrepresented populations and/or address specific issues in a given community. These can be highly competitive and allow new attorneys to assume significant responsibility and gain valuable skills than would be possible in other types of legal work. More information about post-graduation fellowships can be found here