Public Service a Less Traditional, Highly Rewarding Legal Career Path

By Mike Sims, president of BARBRI

Many law school students envision a prestigious position with a big law firm after they pass the bar. Firms typically start their lengthy recruiting process by interviewing students after they complete their first year of law school for coveted clerkships the following summer. If all goes well during the clerkships, law firms traditionally extend job offers conditional upon grads passing the bar a year later. So, successful law firm interns have guaranteed jobs before they even crack open a third-year law book.

But as The Wall Street Journal reported in June 2014, only slightly more than 20 percent of 2013 graduates working in private practice nine months after graduation landed jobs at firms with more than 500 lawyers.

That leaves about 80 percent of law school grads who must find work elsewhere. While many of them will end up at a law firm, a larger number of them will travel less traditional career paths.

Large law firms aren’t for everybody. While the common six-figure pay is higher than it is for other attorney positions, so are the workloads and stress levels. And some new attorneys find the work at firms less than fulfilling.

Luckily, there are many other options for people with law degrees. Take public service, for example. It might not be the first industry law school students think of, but it can be extremely rewarding work.

From litigating to lobbying and advocating to protecting, in cities large and small, most public service jobs are found in the government and nonprofit sectors. Whatever cause you are passionate about, you can probably find an opportunity to put your law degree to work for it. Such jobs also usually offer a better life-work balance than jobs at law firms.

At BARBRI, we wanted to do something that both helped students see beyond big law jobs and bolstered our commitment to giving back. So we created the BARBRI Public Interest Fellowship in early 2014 to promote social responsibility and raise awareness of alternate career paths for new attorneys.

The BARBRI Public Interest Fellow program gave third-year law students the opportunity to compete for a year-long, paid position as an attorney at Save the Children – the leading, independent organization that creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. We wanted to help Save the Children improve kids’ health, education and economic opportunities through the valuable addition of an in-house legal fellow who would help navigate an increasingly complex legal landscape.

Dozens of students submitted videos expressing why they wanted to work for the admired children’s nonprofit. BARBRI and other industry judges critiqued their entries, writing samples and resumes before naming Catherine Wauters of Arlington, Va., the fellowship winner. Wauters, who graduated from the George Mason University School of Law, is now working closely with Save the Children’s legal team on a broad range of matters in support of its global mission to make a lasting, positive impact on children’s lives. BARBRI funds her salary.

As a rural community health volunteer in the Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa, Wauters helped teach mothers how to incorporate more locally available and nutritious foods into their children’s diets. The work inspired Wauters to go to law school so that she could tackle similar developing world issues through legal systems. She views the BARBRI opportunity at Save the Children as a good start.

And so do we.

There is much honor in applying your legal knowledge to meet the needs of underserved audiences, and BARBRI is pleased to play even a small role in educating law students about this line of work. Public servants should be commended for their dedication and commitment to programs and organizations that exist solely for the purpose of helping people.

In today’s challenging legal job market, we encourage aspiring attorneys to consider public interest positions that make the world a better place.

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