Public interest law generally refers to law-related work performed on behalf of individuals, organizations, or causes that would otherwise lack effective representation within the legal system. Another way to think about public interest law is that it involves clients or issues that are not typically served by the for-profit bar. It is generally considered to encompass non-profit, most private, plaintiff-oriented practice and government employment.

Some public interest lawyers engage in “direct service” or “individual client representation,” representing individual, organizational, or governmental clients in adjudicative proceedings (e.g., litigation or administrative hearings) or transactional matters (e.g., contract negotiations or real estate deals). This type of legal representation is quite similar to that found in private sector settings, albeit involving very different clients and circumstances. Other public interest lawyers engage in law-related work that is not focused as much on individual representation as it is on bringing about social or political change. Such work may entail lobbying, policy advocacy, public education, community organizing, and/or class action or impact litigation.

Public interest employers hire independently and in an ad hoc manner, and students generally obtain positions through networking, direct outreach, and recruiting events. The Office of Public Interest and Community Service (OPICS) coordinates many recruitment and networking programs with public interest employers throughout the year. One of the largest national recruiting events is the Equal Justice Works career fair every fall.

International Public Interest Law

International Law in the public interest can involve almost all practice areas, and therefore no single practice area can be called “International Law.” For example, all of the following fields can and do overlap with public interest international law: human rights, women’s rights, trade, labor, environmental protection, project finance, and development. International law is an extremely broad area, and can be practiced both in the United States and abroad, in both the public and private sectors (read on for more information on International Law in the private sector).

For students interested in international law, field experience is critical. Though international hiring is decentralized and ad hoc, Georgetown Law offers opportunities for students to intern abroad through our International Internship Program. Each year, approximately 75 Georgetown students intern abroad with over 60 different organizations – law firms, government bodies, non-governmental organizations and corporate in-house legal departments located in over 35 countries covering six continents.