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The Public Service Venture Fund (PSVF) awards up to $1 million in grants each year to help graduating Harvard Law School students and alumni ignite the public service careers of their dreams. The fund gives two types of grants: organization-based fellowships for innovative postgraduate work at a nonprofit or government agency and seed grants for start-up nonprofit ventures that serve the public. While seed grants can only go to student-led ventures, organization-based fellowships place students at existing organizations and are thus open for hosting by employers.

Learn more about the mission and goals of the PSVF.

Guidelines for Hosting

Important guidelines for hosting an HLS Organization-Based Fellowship include:

  • Only nonprofits or government agencies may be host organizations, and only in the absence of their own entry-level positions or fellowships.

Location Examples

Situation 1

A national organization has openings for environmental attorneys in Cities A, B and C on the West Coast.  The openings in those cities are available to immediate graduates; that is, Student is eligible for positions in Cities A, B, and C. Organization has no openings in its office located in City D on the East Coast.  Student asks whether Organization can host her for a PSVF Fellowship in City D.  Student explains that he has a preference to remain on the East Coast as that is where he has lived his entire life.

Situation 2

Same as situation 1, except rather than a national organization with multiple offices, it is a state office with multiple locations within the state.

Policy & Guidance

PSVF funding is insufficient to allow students to limit their job searches to ideally and perfectly desirable positions. In general, no organization may serve as a host if, at the time of the student’s PSVF application, the organization has a position for which the student is eligible to apply, even if the open position is not in the student’s preferred geographic location.  The student should apply for the open position and, if that application is successful, excel in the resulting job so as to persuade the organization to allow him to transfer into the desired office when there is an opening.

In determining whether a national organization is one organization with multiple offices or, in fact, multiple separate organizations, which share an “umbrella” organization’s name, OPIA will look to the employer’s 501(c)3 status. OPIA is using the organizational structure of the entity itself as a marker of each office’s independence when making decisions regarding hiring, use of funds, etc. Therefore, if there is a single national status for the organization, the organization will be treated as one employer with multiple geographic offices and the general rule above applies.  If the geographic offices are independently chartered, OPIA will treat each location as an independent employer.

Type of Work Examples

Situation 1

Organization has an opening in City A for an attorney to represent clients in its government benefits (direct client representation) practice.  Organization will consider immediate graduates; that is, Student is eligible for the government benefits position.  Organization has no openings in its housing (direct client representation) practice.  Student asks whether Organization can host her for a PSVF Fellowship in City A in Organization’s housing practice.  Student explains that she aspires to a career in housing, not government benefits, litigation.

Situation 2

Same as situation 1, except instead of government benefits, Organization’s opening is in its state court practice area, and the student aspires to a career in federal court litigation.

Situation 3

Organization has an opening in City A for an attorney in its Policy & Lobbying Group.  The Policy and Lobbying Group conducts policy analyses, issues briefing statements and public releases, drafts legislation, and lobbies legislatures and courts for policy changes.  Organization will consider immediate graduates; that is, Student is eligible for the Policy & Lobbying Group position.  Organization has no openings in its Litigation Group, which engages in a combination of direct client representation and issue advocacy litigation.  Student asks whether Organization can host her for a PSVF Fellowship in City A in Organization’s Litigation group.  Student explains that she wants to litigate, not do policy or lobbying work.

Policy & Guidance

PSVF funding is insufficient to allow students to limit their job searches to ideally and perfectly desirable positions. In general, no organization may serve as a host if, at the time of the student’s PSVF application, the organization has a position for which the student is eligible to apply, even if the open position does not involve the type of work, skill set, or practice area desirable to the student. The student should apply for the open position and, if that application is successful, excel in the resulting job so as to persuade the organization to allow her to transfer into the desired practice area or group.

The only exception to this general principle follows a distinction between positions that are primarily focused on litigation versus positions not primarily focused on litigation. This distinction reflects a distinction strongly perceived among legal employers, one with which OPIA does not necessarily agree, but one that OPIA is forced to acknowledge as a fact of life. Thus, an organization may serve as a host, even though at the time of the student’s PSVF application the organization has a non-litigation position for which the student is eligible to apply, if the student proposes to use the PSVF fellowship for a litigating position within that organization. Similarly, an organization may serve as a host, even though at the time of the student’s PSVF application the organization has a litigation position for which the student is eligible to apply, if the student proposes to use the PSVF fellowship for a non-litigating position within that organization. In deciding what is a litigating or a non-litigating position, the OPIA will look to how the majority of an attorney’s hours will be spent.

Situations 1 and 2 would fall within the general rule prohibiting an organization from serving as a host if, at the time of a student’s PSVF application, it has an open position for which a student is eligible to apply. Situation 3 would fall within the litigation/non-litigation exception, allowing the host and application to succeed.

  • Any nonprofit organization or government agency offering services intended for the benefit of the general public – ranging from everything to protecting the environment to aiding low-income populations – is considered a public service organization for the purposes of the fellowship.
  • Positions with judges and courts will not be funded with the exception of international war crimes and human rights courts.
  • The only positions at academic institutions that are eligible for funding are positions in HLS clinics where the applicant will be working as an attorney providing a law-related service or at international institutions where the applicant would be doing some form of advocacy work (i.e., administrative, pure teaching or research positions will not be eligible). As with all other applications, the appropriateness of the proposed work will be carefully reviewed even for eligible organizations.
  • Federal, state, and local government agencies that have their own honors programs, fellowships or entry-level hiring are not eligible host organizations even if a discrete office at one of those agencies does not have entry-level hiring. The relevant hiring entity will be eligible to host a PSVF fellowship so long as that entity has no entry level positions requiring a J.D.

    Congress

    The “hiring entity” will be determined by assessing the hiring authority. Thus, individual members of Congress and separate Congressional committees will be treated as separate hiring entities if they in fact do their hiring separately. So, for example, if one Congressperson has entry level positions requiring a J.D., that would not foreclose another Congressperson who does not have such positions from being a PSVF host.

    Federal Agencies

    Each agency will be deemed a separate hiring entity. This means that if the agency has entry level positions requiring a J.D., then the agency and all components within the agency will be disqualified from being a PSVF host. For example, if the Department of Justice offered honors positions only in the Criminal and Civil Divisions, other Divisions such as the Civil Rights Division would nonetheless be disqualified from being a PSVF host.

    State and Local Legislatures

    With respect to legislatures, the question will be whether the “hiring entity,” i.e. the particular legislator or legislative committee, has entry level positions requiring a J.D.  If yes, then that “hiring entity” is disqualified from being a PSVF host. If no, then the “hiring entity” can host a PSVF.

    State and Local Agencies

    Each agency will be deemed a separate hiring entity. If the agency has entry level positions requiring a J.D., then the agency and all components within the agency will be disqualified from being a PSVF host. For example, if the New York City Law Department had entry level positions requiring a J.D. in one division or unit, the entire agency would be disqualified from being a PSVF host.

  • An employer may not turn down an HLS applicant for an entry-level position (including the employer’s own fellowship) and then be a host organization for an HLS fellowship.
    • Exception: If the HLS candidate is facially unqualified for the entry-level position (e.g., the position requires Mandarin language skills that our candidate does not have), the organization may still host the candidate for an HLS fellowship.
  • An employer may not turn down an HLS candidate for hosting them for a third-party external fellowship (e.g., Skadden or Equal Justice Works) and then host that candidate for an HLS fellowship.
    • Exception: If the employer is not hosting anyone for a third-party external fellowship (including Skadden and Equal Justice Works), it may still host the HLS candidate for an HLS fellowship.

While HLS prefers that the host organization pay health care benefits for the fellow, host organizations are not required to do so. Note, however, that an organization’s willingness to pay for a fellow’s health care costs may be a factor when selecting among equally qualified fellowship applicants.

The fellow may do the traditional work of any staff attorney at the host organization, or he or she may work on a specialized project developed jointly by the host organization and the applicant. However, this choice must be delineated in the application materials.

Employers should know that, in order to maximize the number of students happily employed, we encourage our students to seek external jobs, including judicial clerkships, and fellowship in the fields of their interest throughout their 3L/LL.M./clerkship year, and even after they apply for the HLS fellowships. For this reason, if a student or clerk receives a public interest job offer or an external fellowship before the HLS process concludes, he or she might withdraw from the HLS fellowship application process even after having partnered with a host organization.

Host organizations that have a history of hiring fellows at the end of their fellowship year, particularly HLS fellows, will be viewed especially favorably.

Please review our PSVF Organization-Based Fellowship Host proposal letter sample. This letter seeks to provide host organizations guidance on their proposal letters to students, not to serve as a list of OPIA expectations for PSVF hosts.

The Role of a Host Organization

Once the host organization has selected a fellow sponsor, host organizations must submit a sponsorship/host organization letter delineating:

  1. Hosting/sponsoring by the organization is for a one-year fellowship.
  2. The name(s) of the proposed supervisor(s) for the fellow and information about the proposed supervisor(s)’ background (e.g. years of experience).
  3. That the organization would not be able to hire any entry-level attorneys in 2017 absent outside funding.
  4. That the organization has not turned down any HLS applicants for hosting them for external fellowships (unless they had multiple HLS applicants and hosted one of them).
  5. That the organization will sign and abide by the Memorandum of Understanding with Harvard Law School.
  6. Whether or not the organization will pay health care or any other benefits.

The Organization-Based Fellowships cover one year’s work, typically with a September start date and August end date. However, HLS will grant permission for a fellow to leave a month or two early if the fellow has secured a permanent public interest position that requires him or her to start before the end date of the Organization-Based Fellowship. In this case, funding will be prorated in accordance with the amount of time the fellow has spent working at the organization.

Host organizations agree that if they host a fellow they will treat him or her as an entry level attorney, (even though he or she may only be there for one year), and provide the fellow with substantive work, supervision and feedback, as well as opportunities for professional development.

Host organizations will be asked to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the fellow and HLS. Although we do not ask host organizations to guarantee employment at the end of the year, if the employer has found the fellow to be a good fit, HLS expects that the fellow will be given priority consideration for any entry-level position that opens up during the course of, or directly after, the fellowship year.

HLS has also created an Early Decision Fellowship for Underserved Jurisdictions with final bar deadlines that fall before the completion of the selection process for the normal HLS Organization-Based Fellowships. For more information on this option, contact Alexa Shabecoff, Assistant Dean for Public Service, at shabecof@law.harvard.edu.