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6 Top Tips for Pursuing a Public Interest Legal Career

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 09, 2016 12:58 PM

You were inspired to pursue the law by Atticus Finch -- before the rewrite. You always wanted a career helping others. Or you just want to get out of debt sooner. Either way, public interest law is for you. And while public interest law might not make you the richest lawyer ever, odds are that it will make you happier.

So, to help you break into a career helping others, here our FindLaw's 6 top tips for lawyers who want to work in the public interest.

1. Public Interest Law Fellowship Seekers: 8 Resources to Know

It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a network to succeed in public interest law. A great way to build that network is through a public interest fellowship, or a limited appointment with a public interest organization. Here are eight resources that can help you land one.

2. Legal Incubators Nurture Small Firms, New Lawyers

If you want to hang your own shingle while working for the public good, a legal incubator could be what you need to get your start. Several law schools and bar associations offer incubator programs (styled after the tech incubators that gave us AirBnB and Uber) for lawyers looking to start their own business, often with a focus on providing affordable services to underserved communities.

3. Is Massive Law School Debt Hurting Public Interest Law?

If you graduate with six figures of student debt, you might think twice about pursuing a public interest career, where attorneys get paid much less than their BigLaw counterparts. And if debt is holding you back, you might not be alone. But hey, at least you can discharge your federal loans after 10 years of public interest work, right?

4. Survey: Poor Lawyers Are the Happiest

Public interest lawyers, whether they're public defenders, community organizers, or litigators at environmental nonprofits, aren't the best paid. But they are the happiest, according to a survey of over 6,000 attorneys.

5. How to Negotiate a Salary

Sure, public interest lawyers often start off making less than $50,000 a year. But you don't have to. Good negotiation skills can help you up your public interest salary even when working at organizations with tight budgets.

6. 5 Ways Attorneys Can Rack Up Pro Bono Hours

And let's not forget, doing good isn't just for full-time public interest lawyers. If you're burnt out by your regular legal gig, pro bono work might be for you. After all, many attorneys view it as their most rewarding type of legal work. So here's how to find it.

FindLaw has an affiliate relationship with Indeed, earning a small amount of money each time someone uses Indeed's services via FindLaw. FindLaw receives no compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

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