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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 sponsorship by employers.

Learn more about the mission and goals of the PSVF.

Guidelines for Sponsorship:

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

  • Only nonprofits or government agencies may be sponsoring organizations, and only in the absence of their own entry-level positions or fellowships.
  • 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 Selection Committee may, in its discretion, make exceptions for committees in the U.S. Congress if the committee that is proposed as a sponsoring organization never does entry-level hiring.
  • An employer may not turn down an HLS applicant for an entry-level position (including the employer’s own fellowship) and then be a sponsoring 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 sponsor the candidate for an HLS fellowship.
  • An employer may not turn down an HLS candidate for sponsorship for a third-party external fellowship (e.g., Skadden or Equal Justice Works) and then sponsor that candidate for an HLS fellowship.
    • Exception: If the employer is not sponsoring anyone for a third-party external fellowship (including Skadden and Equal Justice Works), it may still sponsor the HLS candidate for an HLS fellowship.

While HLS prefers that the sponsoring organization pay health care benefits for the fellow, sponsoring 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 sponsoring 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 sponsoring organization.

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

The Role of a Sponsoring Organization:

Sponsoring organizations must submit a sponsoring organization letter delineating:

  1. Sponsorship 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 sponsorship for external fellowships (unless they had multiple HLS applicants and sponsored 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.

Sponsoring 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.

Sponsoring organizations will be asked to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the fellow and HLS. Although we do not ask sponsoring 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