1 Feb 2010

Why Would Anyone Want to Be a Public Interest Lawyer?

Why Would Anyone Want to Be a Public Interest Lawyer? An interesting question, especially when the times are competitive and law school education drains a lot of money. A compensating (and equally esteem carrying) career is thus the norm of the day. There are, however, those who aspire to be public interest lawyers. For those who are not so illuminated, Professor Philip G. Schrag of Georgetown University in his paper entitled 'Why Would Anyone Want to Be a Public Interest Lawyer?' gives ten reasons for one to be a public interest lawyers. Providing really interesting insights on the aspect, the paper is replete with illustrations where public interest lawyers are reflected to be in a much better position then those in the corporate race. 

We have borrowed a few words of the intriguing well-written paper just for reference to cull out the ten reasons given by Schrag as extracted below. However we promise the entire article is not only illuminating but also giving a rewarding insight into the brighter side of the public interest lawyering. 
The first reason to become a public interest lawyer pertains to the colleagues who are likely to surround you. Almost no one drifts into public interest law. Lawyers choose this work because they believe in causes, and they know that those around them share their basic value systems.
A by-product of the shared mission is that in many public interest organizations, new lawyers are able to receive outstanding mentoring, though it is usually from peers rather than bosses.
The third reason to do this work is that the collegiality in public service extends far beyond one’s own institution. Public interest lawyers are part of a large national and international community of like-minded souls who encounter each other through their work, through periodic conferences, and through social contacts.
The fourth reason to become a public interest lawyer is the large degree of responsibility that is given even to beginners.
A fifth reason to become a public interest lawyer relates to the flexibility or versatility that this type of practice offers. Lawyers in private practice tend to become specialized. If they are very good at corporate taxation or municipal bonds or biological patents, they are likely to spend decades if not their entire careers in those particular specialties.
The surprising sixth reason to become a public interest lawyer: you might do it for the money. While starting and ending salaries are higher in the largest law firms than in public service, not everyone starts in large law firms, especially these days, and even in better times, because of their pyramid structure, very few people end in them.
The seventh advantage of a career in public service is that you can have a life outside of your office.
Reason number eight is that except in certain large government bureaucracies, the work is rarely routine. Public interest lawyers get to work on cutting edge issues all the time. That’s the very nature of public interest work: it is law-reforming, a challenge to the status quo.
Ninth, consider this: practicing public interest law is fun. It’s fun because when they are successful, public interest lawyers usually turn the tables on more powerful institutions, and it’s fun because upsetting the status quo forces you to be creative and innovative.
Public interest lawyers spend their lives in that pursuit. Most public interest lawyers represent people or institutions that are unable to obtain legal representation from the private sector for one of three reasons: either they are so unpopular that no one is willing to represent them for a fee; or what they need from a lawyer (such as the establishment of a principle, or recovering a small amount of money, or avoiding a small judgment) would not generate or warrant a fee, or the client simply is too poor to pay a fee.
The paper can be accessed from its SSRN link.

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