Carolina Law students who wish to pursue public interest career paths will find a career development environment that is supportive, even though you will undoubtedly think at one time or another that you are in the minority of students in seeking a public interest profession. Not only will you find a number of your peers interested in pursuing career paths similar to yours, but you will find an institutional commitment to supporting the public interest career paths of students. Throughout the years, a large percentage of Carolina Law grads have entered the public sector and made tremendous contributions to the communities in which they live. In 2011, 21% of the graduating class took jobs in public service upon graduation. We hope that many of you will continue this tradition.
Most public interest employers are looking for students and graduates who have a demonstrated commitment to service. Involving yourself in public interest work while still a law student will not only give you exposure to what kinds of things public interest attorneys do, but it will also prove to employers that you are committed to this kind of work. There are many opportunities to do public interest work while enrolled at Carolina Law.
Most of the student organizations at Carolina Law have a public service component to their activities and some focus purely on public interest areas. A complete list of student organizations can be seen at http://studentorgs.law.unc.edu/. Specifically dedicated to public interest law, the Carolina Public Interest Law Organization (C-PILO) raises money each year for summer public interest grants through several fundraisers, including a pledge drive, its annual Auction and Benefit, and Jammin’ for Justice, a student/faculty spring concert.
Pro Bono Program
Carolina Law students provide pro bono services to the community through the UNC Law Pro Bono Program. This program allows law students to work with attorneys who provide pro bono services or legal representation free of charge. Students are able to gain experience with real cases and help the community at the same time. Several student organizations also coordinate pro bono projects, such as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Project, Domestic Violence Advocacy Project, and the Innocence Project. Many students also participate in pro bono service during fall, winter, and spring breaks, either individually or on group trips coordinated by the Pro Bono Program. Students who perform 75 hours of pro bono work will receive a certificate from the North Carolina Bar Association and UNC School of Law. Additionally, students who perform 50 hours of pro bono work will receive a notation on their transcript, and those performing 100 hours of pro bono work or more will be recognized at graduation. For more information, visit http://www.law.unc.edu/probono/.
Carolina Law offers six clinics for students: Civil Legal Assistance, Community Development, Consumer Financial Transactions, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Justice, and Immigration. The clinical programs offer 3L students the chance to develop competency in lawyering skills including interviewing, counseling, fact-gathering, creating a litigation plan, and negotiating. The clinics serve indigent clients or nonprofit organizations that might not otherwise have legal representation. For more information, visit http://www.law.unc.edu/academics/clinic/.
Carolina Law offers a number of students the opportunity to take on externships in exchange for academic credit. Externships are carefully selected by the faculty, and most placements are in state or government offices, nonprofit agencies, or judicial chambers. Externships allow students to work on real-world, ongoing legal matters under close supervision in a public or non-profit setting. Students receive academic credit for working at an approved externship placement. For more information, visit http://www.law.unc.edu/academics/externship/.
There are many opportunities outside the law school to volunteer in the local community. Many students have volunteered for such agencies as the Orange County Dispute Settlement Center, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, Compass Center for Women and Families (formerly the Family Violence Prevention Center of Orange County), and Inter-Faith Council. While some students provide volunteer legal services for these agencies, others simply do whatever is needed, such as distributing meals at the homeless shelter or functioning as a hotline counselor. The benefit of doing volunteer work, even that which is not legal in nature, is that you will be reminded on a daily basis of the value of community service. Also, you will inevitably make important contacts in the community and help demonstrate your commitment to the public interest sector.
Each year, UNC Law awards summer grants to students who are taking unpaid or low-paying summer public interest and public sector jobs. In 2015, over $300,000 was awarded to students from law school and student-raised funds. Grant recipients worked in nonprofit organizations, legal aid offices, state and federal government agencies, public defender offices, and district attorneys' offices across ten states. More Information and Upcoming Deadlines.
Public Interest Peer Mentor Program
Students can sometimes feel as though they are in the minority being interested in public interest work and may consequently start to question their career goals. The Public Interest Peer Mentor Program pairs incoming 1Ls who are interested in public interest law with upper-class students who are pursuing a public interest career. The upper-class mentors meet with 1L mentee(s) on an individual basis throughout the year to provide a peer support system, as well as information that students need early on in their law school careers to be successful in the public interest sector. For more information on the Public Interest Peer Mentor Program, please visit http://www.law.unc.edu/career/public/peermentor/ or contact our Public Interest Career Counselor.
Public Interest Job Search Group (3L)
Each year, the UNC Law CDO organizes a job search group for 3L students pursuing full-time employment in the public interest and/or government sector. The cohort is typically established in November and meets regularly before winter break and throughout the spring semester. Participants benefit from peer-to-peer support, direct career counselor contact, and methods for taking an active and structured approach to the job search process. For more information on the PIJSG, please contact our Director of Public Interest Advising.
Public Interest Job Search Tips
The CDO has compiled a few specific insights and suggestions for students regarding the Public Interest job and internship search. More information (My Carolina Law).