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Date Created: 12/21/15
VIEW POINT 1.800.973.1177 Kelli Dunn Howard On Landing a Public Interest Job [by Teresa Talerico] As a Legal Aid attorney in Austin, TX, Kelli Dunn Howard spends her days championing the rights of low-income tenants and the disabled. She can’t imagine doing anything else. “I went to law school solely for the purpose Apply for post-graduate public interest Remember: you’re not in it for the big bucks. of going into civil rights law, public interest grants and fellowship programs. Equal Jus- law, whatever you want to call it,” Ms. How- tice Works, formerly the National Association “The lack of money is always going to be ard said. “I always wanted to have a career for Public Interest Law (www.equaljustice- there,” Ms. Howard said. “You have to ac- that somehow involved social services, fight- w orks.org), is an excellent resource for c ept that as a reality. You may not have a ing for people’s rights.” these, many of which require that you de- secretary, and your friends have their own velop and head your own project. Ms. Howard secretary. You may have a computer from Public interest law can be a deeply rewarding recommends researching fellowships in the 1984. Those are things that could happen to opportunity to make a difference, whether second year of law school and applying for you, and you’ve just got to work with it. There it’s working for the American Civil Liber- them in the third year. are very few material perks.” ties Union or a local environmental group. Nevertheless, it’s a competitive field that is “Because the funding is so difficult to come Ms. Howard noted that there are loan-for- not as financially lucrative as others. Break- by, it’s worth your time to go through the g iveness programs available to help public ing into public interest law can require doing fellowship process,” she said. “It looks very interest attorneys with student loan debt. volunteer work in law school, tracking down good on your resume. You can show you’ve grant money, and recognizing that it’s not been in charge of something at the age of 25, “The non-monetary reward is that you love about slaying giant dragons of injustice every right when you graduate from law school, your job,” she said. “I don’t do this for the single day. which is not something a lot of people can money; I do this because I love it. My mentor say.” throughout undergrad and law school likes Ms. Howard, a staff attorney for Texas to quote Fredrick Douglass, who said that ‘in RioGrande Legal Aid and a graduate of the EJW also has a career fair every year in the struggle for justice, the only reward is University of Texas School of Law, offered Washington, DC. the opportunity to be in the struggle.’ If you some advice for those interested in public have that in mind, you’ll go far.” interest careers. Demonstrate your dedication to public inter- est work. That could mean anything from Don’t underestimate the work you’re doing. Start early. If your law school has a public in- volunteering at a domestic violence center, terest association, join it. Visit your school’s clerking for Legal Aid or taking relevant “When you start out, you might have a more public interest career center if there is one. classes. lofty view of what civil rights work is,” Ms. Make contacts in the community where you Howard said. “You don’t realize that a lot of want to work. Connect with other students “Now that I’m on the hiring side, I know what things that might seem a bit mundane are who share your interests. we look for is people who’ve got a resume actually about civil rights. Like consumer that shows they’ve already been working in law. You might help someone who’s been “That can be very important at a school like public interest,” Ms. Howard said. “We want given a bad loan on their mobile home: the UT, where I’d say fewer students are inter- to know they’re committed to doing this interest rate is out of control; they can’t ested in public interest than, say, at a school because we’re not doing it for the money. We make the payments. Maybe this person has like Berkeley,” Ms. Howard said. “You really want you to be here because you really want been taken advantage of because the person want to have that group of people that are to help the clients and you’re really passion- only speaks Spanish. That’s a good example like minded.” ate about it. I can say that’s true for a lot of of a civil rights case. It’s not happening at the public interest employers.” Hague War Crimes Tribunal. It’s happening PAGE 1 continued on back VIEW POINT 1.800.973.1177 to thousands of people all across the coun- try all the time. It’s all about people’s rights and protecting them, even if you’re wres - tling questions of civil procedure rather than sovereign immunity or the constitution or something more exciting.” PAGE 2
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