The Vital Role of Public Service

Growing Interest in Public Service Law
There is a growing interest in careers in public service law - please see a recent New York Times article about the growing trend of law students reevaluating their career options and realizing the benefits of a career in public service.

What is Public Service Law?
Public service law, often called public interest law, is defined as providing legal representation to individuals, groups, or interests that historically have been underrepresented in our legal system. This definition also includes attorneys who serve the public through work for the government and judiciary.

Public Service can often include the development of and advocacy for public policy. Attorneys who work in this field may be employed by government agencies, legislative bodies or groups interested in the promotion of policy initiatives that benefit the public.

In addition, public service lawyers sometimes select clients and cases based on whether the representation would advance the ends of social justice. This differs dramatically from traditional legal practices where the market is generally the principal determinant of case selection.

Public Service Jobs and Positions: An Overview


Non-Profit Organizations
There is an endless list of non-profit organizations that specialize in public service law. The most commonly recognized organizations are Legal Aid and Legal Services, which are partially federally-funded entities that provide civil legal representation to low- income individuals. Other organizations include those advocating in a single area of the law, such as the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities or the Children First Project. For more extensive information on the types of organizations available, the PSLawNet database in the Public Interest Law Center is an excellent resource.

Public Service within Law Firms
There are many private firms who specialize in, but are not limited to, public service cases, and many private firms who accept all types of cases, but dedicate a substantial portion of their time, on a pro bono basis, to public service causes. In addition, there are also private law firms who handle solely public interest cases


Public Sector Careers

Government Lawyer
Most public service lawyers who do not represent private clients work for the federal, state, or local government. The government is, after all, the ultimate embodiment of public service. A government lawyer works on behalf of the public, as an elected or appointed official to serve that office's functions. Some of the more well- known government lawyer positions include Assistant Attorney General, Assistant State Attorney, Assistant Public Defender, staff lawyer for County and City Attorneys, and staff lawyer for the Department of Justice. Legal work on behalf of legislative bodies and agencies of the executive branch are also public service positions.

Criminal Law Attorneys

There are government lawyer positions in both prosecution (State Attorney) and defense (Public Defender).. In addition, the Office of the Attorney General generally handles criminal work that may affect an entire state (such as organized crime or health care fraud).

Civil Law Attorneys

These municipal lawyers generally act as "in-house counsel" to represent the civil needs of cities or counties within a state.

Government Agencies

Federal, State and Local Units of government employ attorneys to further interests of the public through a variety of legal roles which include drafting legislation, developing administrative code and analyzing regulatory guidance. Attorneys working for government agencies are found in counsel's office as well as throughout the policy development division of the agencies.

The Judiciary
A judge is a public servant, sworn to devote his or her efforts to uphold the laws and Constitution,eschewing all private interests. Judges often employ law clerks to assist them with their duties. This type of clerkship is often a training ground for young lawyers. Judicial clerkships of all levels are considered prestigious positions to pursue.