While you may have just finalized your internship plans for this summer, we know that many of you are already thinking ahead to 2L summer and weighing the pros and cons of spending it in the private sector. Below, we offer some thoughts you may find helpful as you consider whether to participate in the Early Interview Program (EIP).

The choice of whether to spend a summer at a private law firm is uniquely personal, and there is a range of reasons that such a position may make sense for individual students. OPIA advisers remain glad to work with you toward your public interest goals whether you spend the summer, a few years, or even a long-term career at a private law firm. Our goal is to empower every HLS student to make informed career choices that best suit their unique interests and circumstances.

To make wise decisions, though, it is critical to have accurate information. To ensure that a decision to pursue private sector work is informed by your own personal needs and interests, rather than myths about the alternative, we’ve addressed some of the most common misconceptions about public interest law. We also encourage you watch a past recording of OPIA’s Is EIP Right for Me? panel to hear perspectives from students and advisers. OPIA has an extensive video library of similar programs.

Also remember that OPIA offers a Virtual Public Interest Interview Program (V-PIIP) each fall, as well as other job fair and interview programs throughout the year, providing opportunities for students to interview with employers hiring for summer internships and post-graduate positions. Nearly 250 employers from government, non-profit, and other public interest sectors participated in V-PIIP last fall, either through interviews or resume collection.

To further help with your decision-making process, consider the following factors:

  • Private Sector Work in Your 2L Summer May Make Sense if…
    • You think you might genuinely like working in a corporate law firm setting after graduation. Firms primarily hire entry-level attorneys out of their 2L summer intern classes.
    • You think you will have regrets if you don’t at least try firm work and want to use your 2L summer to see whether this setting suits you.
    • You are someone for whom a large summer salary could make a significant difference in your debt load or other financial obligations, or, after investigating the Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP), you believe LIPP will not be sufficiently generous to allow you to meet your financial responsibilities on a public interest salaryStudent Financial Services can also help you crunch numbers and navigate your specific financial situation.
    • You will be paralyzed by fear if you don’t have a job offer as you start your 3L year when many of your classmates do. While some students will land early public interest jobs or fellowships and be set by the end of the fall term, others may need to apply for a wider range of jobs/fellowships and finalize their plans in the winter or spring. However, HLS students have continued to do spectacularly well in landing public interest jobs. With persistence, flexibility, and a willingness to work your way towards your ideal job, you will be able to find an entry-level public interest position!
  • It Is Not a Good Idea to Participate in EIP Just Because…
    • Everyone else is doing it. There is no “one-size-fits-all” job or job search. What makes sense for a classmate may not be right for you.
    • It is “easier” than pursuing public interest work. Most people who do pursue public interest work find that the personal and professional satisfaction is worth the extra effort.
    • You think you won’t get a job at graduation if you do not participate in EIP.
    • You believe your debt load is unmanageable even with LIPP without first investigating the assistance you’d receive. While it is true that starting salaries at public interest organizations do not compare to those at most large law firms, most public interest attorneys are nevertheless able to live in circumstances they find comfortable. Before you assume that you must take a private sector job because of high student loan debt, take the time to educate yourself about how LIPP would work for you specifically. For more information on living on a public interest salary, watch videos of our past Living on LIPP panels and make an appointment with a LIPP adviser.
    • You think a private law firm is the only place where you will receive proper “training.” Depending on your public sector interests, your law firm training may not be applicable or valuable to public interest employers. For every public interest employer that values law firm experience, there is another that views it as irrelevant at best. Even employers that like to hire out of law firms will also consider applicants with a different background. For example, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) has hired HLS clerks through the Department of Justice (DOJ) Honors Program, as well as graduates working in local prosecution and even civil legal aid. Work at a law firm because you want to, not because you think you “have to” to get a public interest job in the future.
    • You are doing it for “interview practice.” Law firm interviews differ significantly from public sector interviews in their scope and focus.
  • Trade-offs that Come with Spending Your 2L Summer in the Private Sector…
    • If you still aren’t sure what you want to do at graduation and are doubtful that you would enjoy working at a large law firm, spending your 2L summer at a law firm involves the opportunity cost of another public interest internship to figure out the right fit.
    • While working in the private sector will certainly not preclude you from pursuing public interest work at graduation, it may put you at a competitive disadvantage for some public interest employers (usually not government employers) and fellowships that are looking for a consistent commitment to public interest work.
    • The relative ease of going into the private sector vs. conducting a public interest job or fellowship search may mean that you default into it, even if you don’t love it.
  • If You Decide to Pursue Private Sector Work Next Summer, Be Sure to:

    Pick your firm carefully! Make sure it:

    • Is strong in the type of practice you want to pursue (e.g., if you want to be a civil rights litigator, don’t pick a firm with a strong corporate department but a weak litigation practice).
    • Will provide you with opportunities to develop skills that are transferrable to public interest work.
    • Has a robust commitment to pro bono work and engages in pro bono work in your areas of interest or that will allow you to develop skills relevant to your public interest transition. Be sure to review the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Program’s resources for evaluating law firm pro bono work (pdf).
    • Meets other criteria that may be important to you (geography or diversity, for example).

    Consider splitting your summer. If you’re not required to be back on campus early, your 2L summer may be as long as 16 weeks, and it may be possible to do both a private sector job and a public interest position.

    Think about how to build a strong public interest track record outside of your 2L summer, such as through in-house or externship clinics and extracurricular opportunities.

Tags: Career Resources, Public Interest