Public Interest/Public Service at Columbia
Columbia Law School trains and nurtures lawyers who use their law degrees for positive change.
Press Release: Columbia Law School Unveils Series of New Initiatives to Enable Pursuit of Legal Careers in Public Interest
The Law School offers a wide range of public interest and public service opportunities—both inside the classroom and beyond—to support all students on their individual paths.
Faculty and Classes
Columbia’s world-class faculty exemplify the Law School’s determination to nurture bright, inquisitive, well-rounded attorneys who will not just carry on the “good fight,” but do so from positions of leadership. Our classroom offerings include courses and seminars on cutting-edge issues taught by world-renowned scholars, many of whom also do work that puts their ideas into practice. We also offer skill-building classes and courses on innovative approaches to advocating for social justice and legal change. Columbia Law School also has a broad program of experiential learning which includes clinics, externships, and practicums linking research and practice. At Columbia, students have many different ways to combine studies with concrete, impactful work in the field, while building relationships with "real lawyers" in the trenches. Many of our graduating students cite their externships and clinics as highlights of their law school experience.
Outside of the classroom, you will find myriad opportunities to participate in public interest and public service activities. The Law School houses numerous centers, led by faculty or practitioners, focused on public interest issues. There are 14 student-led law journals, many of which focus on public interest topics. Our robust and diverse roster of student organizations provide countless opportunities to get involved in public service work or to meet other like-minded students via projects, events, and mentorship programs. Our specialized moot court program enables students to hone their skills while engaging in issues pertaining to racial, economic, and social justice.
Each year approximately three-quarters of the graduating class exceeds Columbia's 40-hour pro bono graduation requirement. Students work on a range of projects, including helping transgender clients petition to have their names legally changed to match their gender identity, facilitating benefits applications for veterans, and assisting refugees all over the U.S. and the world. We also offer approximately 20 Spring Break Caravans each year, allowing our students to travel to destinations around the U.S. and overseas (such as New Orleans, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sicily, and Puerto Rico, amongst many others) to provide vital assistance to underserved communities.
Columbia provides financial support for students and graduates to work in public interest and public service through several programs. Our Guaranteed Summer Funding and Human Rights Internship Programs fund students to work at nonprofits, government agencies, and NGOs over the summer. Through the support of donors and partner employers, we offer prestigious fellowships for postgraduate work in public interest and government. Additionally, Columbia’s generous Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), Enhanced LRAP Fellowships, and Public Service Bridge Loan help graduates afford to work in the public sector, making “doing good” a reality.
Also, in very specific circumstances, Social Justice Initiatives provides students with small grants to help them pursue careers in public interest or public service. Expenses that may be eligible include those associated with traveling to an interview for a postgraduate job outside of the New York City area, the cost of attending career seminars, workshops, or conferences, and costs associated with 2L summer employment. For more information, contact Natalie Stephenson.
In addition, Columbia Law School awards two highly competitive scholarships to a small number of incoming J.D. students who demonstrate a commitment to public interest or public service law and bring strong academic credentials: Public Interest (Admissions) Fellowships and Greene Public Service Scholarships.
Social Justice Initiatives (SJI)
Columbia has one of the largest offices at any law school devoted to nurturing students who are interested in exploring public interest or government work—while on campus, or for a future career. Bearing primary responsibility for professional development and career services for students and graduates interested in pursuing public interest and government work, SJI brings leading public interest advocates to campus and provides assistance to students and graduates regarding careers and summer opportunities. SJI’s advising staff counsels students on how to forge a comprehensive social justice education that includes courses, clinics, externships, pro bono, term-time internships, journals, and more. SJI hosts over 100 student events a year—some substantive, some related to professional development, and some social—many in conjunction with student groups and Centers. SJI also runs Columbia’s Pro Bono Program. As a result of its varied activities, SJI has an extensive network of social justice organizations and practitioners in the United States and abroad that are a resource to Columbia law students and graduates.
When students leave Columbia, they are equipped with substantive knowledge about social justice work, lawyering skills, and leadership training, and have received strong guidance in navigating the public interest and government job markets. Our students receive prestigious public service and government postgraduate fellowships, in addition to entry-level jobs at some of the top public service organizations in the country.
In addition, SJI launched Columbia Law School’s Public Interest/Public Service (PI/PS) Fellows Program in fall 2019. The PI/PS Fellows Program brings together and supports a community of students seeking to use their legal training to effect positive change in society. Designed for students committed to pursuing public interest or public service careers upon graduation, the program provides PI/PS Fellows with specialized opportunities and resources for exploring public interest and government lawyering both in the United States and abroad.
Vibrant Campus and City
Our position as part of the larger Columbia University community is also of great benefit to our students. Columbia is a preeminent research university, and there are opportunities to take classes, join projects or attend events at other schools at Columbia on topics including criminal justice reform, ecology, social work, public health, and international and public affairs. And, of course, New York City, which plays host to most major nonprofits and government agencies at the local, state, and federal level, provides countless internship and volunteer opportunities. Many students with specific areas of interest create their own field-based learning opportunities at organizations in New York City, like the ACLU, the United Nations, Center for Reproductive Rights, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Legal Aid Society, The Door, and the Innocence Project or go on field trips to see first-hand the work of social change lawyers.