Public interest law can be a demanding career for new lawyers, as it involves huge workloads for less pay than the attorneys could make working in private firms. This pay gap, combined with the sometimes large amount of student debt that new lawyers graduate with, can equate to a recipe for public interest organizations lacking the best talent. At the University of Arkansas, there’s a movement afoot to change that by establishing an endowment to pay law students for working in public interest organizations.
The Public Interest and Rural Community Sustainability Fund will allow students to accept jobs in sectors where they may not otherwise be paid for their work or where compensation is well below market rates compared to positions at private firms in the region. This work can be performed for the public interest, which may include, but is not limited to, non-profit organizations; federal, state or tribal government agencies; and private law firms in small towns in Arkansas and within the Cherokee Nation.
Law school students will have the opportunity to concentrate on public interest commitments during their enrollment, while benefiting from a stronger financial position from which to engage in a public interest career upon graduation.
While this does not fix the major structural problems that keep all law graduates from being able to freely pursue a public service career without the worries of paying off large amounts of law school debt, it certainly represents a step in the right direction. It’s also not an entirely bleak picture for law grads who wants to go into public interest careers, as Federal law offers student loan forgiveness for graduates who work in public interest jobs for a combined ten years after graduation.
Also, a number of law graduates choose careers in public interest, despite whatever financial challenges they might face. Public interest work comes in all sorts of different forms, and some of the most rewarding of that work is helping those who cannot afford the rates of traditional law firms. For instance, Access Justice is a full-service law firm committed to providing affordable, quality service to clients, while charging no more than $99 per hour.AJ is committed to public service, and we applaud programs that encourage law students to pursue a career in the interest of the public good.