For some law students—and many students of color—choosing to become a public interest lawyer is one of the most complicated choices during law school. And it is by no means an easy one. It’s a decision that involves not just choosing to skip out on interviewing for law firm positions during early interview week or permitting yourself not to take that corporation’s course. Often a public interest law career is a decision that significantly affects and shapes your future career, lifestyle, relationships, work-life balance, and—most importantly—financial well-being.
Balancing Community Needs and Financial Concerns
Public interest work is needed to better most communities and the world. Tasks like challenging mass incarceration and fighting for people’s rights provide a sense of advocacy that other career paths do not offer. Similarly, the number of advocates needed to fight these cases surpasses the current demand. The reasons for this are mostly financial.
This summer, I had the opportunity to be a fellow at the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School. I worked in the Challenging Mass Incarceration and Criminal Justice Advocacy Clinic. I did the work I imagined when I first pursued a legal degree, and I felt a sense of purpose and fulfillment with every interaction I had, the research I conducted, and each memorandum I drafted.
Although this was the work I knew I wanted to do and came to law school to do, the fact that I was getting paid $15.15 an hour led me to realize that I needed a firm job next summer. As a first-generation immigrant, I’ve seen my mother escape a civil war to come to America in hope of giving me and my siblings a better life than she had. I saw her work three jobs to provide for her family. Next, I started to doubt my career path because financial security is vital to someone like me from a developing country.