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OPIA resources for alumni include general counseling, advice on networking, application material review (resumes and cover letters), mock interviews, and access to job postings. In addition, OPIA has a variety of publications and materials that will assist you in your job transition.

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Connect with OPIA

Please keep in touch with us and schedule an appointment with the alumni adviser for personalized attention to your job search needs!

If you have trouble accessing the form to schedule an appointment, please email us at opia@law.harvard.edu or call 617-495-3108.

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Working in the Public Interest


From community legal services, international human rights, government, and non-profits, the world of public interest legal work is large and varied and lawyers’ career paths are unique. To get insights into different fields and trajectories, start with these resources.

Self-Assessment

In order to determine the type of public interest work that is right for you, begin with a candid self- assessment. At a minimum, try to identify the key qualities you want in a job by considering the following:

  • What matters most to you in your professional work?
  • How can you best use your talents?
  • What do you love doing the most?
  • What skills has your current job demanded from you, and which do you most enjoy using?
  • To what type of work are you drawn?
  • At what do you feel most successful?
  • What kind of balance do you seek between work and family or personal time?

Job and Fellowship Search Timeframe and Tools

Job-seekers do not find jobs overnight, particularly in public interest law. Public interest hiring tends to be sporadic, usually occurring only when an attorney leaves or when funds exist to create a new position. Allow yourself at least six months to a year, know that some searches take several years, and try not to be discouraged when early leads do not pan out or employers tell you that they are not hiring. Give yourself the time to make an informed and strategic decision rather than leaping at the first job opportunity that presents itself. By taking the time to think carefully about your next step, you can increase the likelihood of finding work that is fulfilling on both a personal and professional level.

In addition to the job search databases below, there are many others that focus on particular types of industries, job environments, and regions of the country. For help identifying additional sources for job postings, make an alumni advising appointment.

Job and Fellowship Search Postings

  • OPIA’s Organization Database

    Helios is OPIA’s organization database. While limited, it can be very helpful to graduates as a way to find organizations and some contacts. You’ll need your HarvardKey to log in. If you have any trouble logging in or accessing your HarvardKey, contact HLS ITS.

  • OPIA’s Weekly Alumni Digest 

    OPIA’s Alumni Digest features the most recent fellowships, entry-level jobs, and more experienced jobs that have been received by OPIA and is sent out weekly via email. Email opia@law.harvard.edu to ask to join the Alumni mailing list.

  • Public Service Legal Postings
  • Cross-Industry Postings
    • Idealist – for positions in general (including non-legal) public interest and related organizations
    • ABA Legal Career Job Postings – for positions in a variety of industries
    • LinkedIn – for positions in a variety of industries
    • JACK – Jobs and Careers for the Kennedy School. Email opia@law.harvard.edu for login information.
  • Fellowships

    Fellowships can be a great option to bridge forward to your next position.  Alumni who garner a two-year public interest fellowship (especially from a private firm) are at a significant advantage for securing long term positions in public interest law. Learn more about Fellowships.

Networking and Informational Interview Tools

Networking is often the key component of a successful job search. While it may feel daunting at first, once job seekers start to talk to people in their field of interest, they often find the results so rewarding that it becomes much easier (and enjoyable) to continue. The goal of networking should not be to find out about a particular job opening. Rather, networking allows you to learn more about an area that you are considering so that you can make informed decisions about moving to that field. That said, since the public interest legal community is often small and close-knit, networking can sometimes lead to employment.

Once you have constructed a list of potential contacts, you should begin to set up informational interviews. Remember that, while networking can sometimes lead to hiring, that is not the primary purpose of these interviews. Rather, your objective is to gain a better sense of the field and learn about possible routes to a specific job opening. Make it known that you are looking to change jobs, and enlist others to help you. Learn more with our networking tips.

Networks

  • HLS Amicus

    HLS Amicus is a new community building tool. Featuring a new alumni directory and advanced search and messaging capabilities, HLS Amicus enables you to reconnect with friends and  classmates, forge new relationships across shared interests, and deepen your community.

  • Heyman Fellows

    Alumni can contact a current or past Heyman Fellow to learn more about careers in federal government.

  • LinkedIn

    LinkedIn can be a great tool to make connections. You can search for HLS under education, and filter by practice area, geography, etc. Be sure to join Harvard Law School Alumni – the only official HLS alumni group on LinkedIn that will enable you to connect with classmates and other HLS alumni as well as start discussions, see alumni news and highlights and find or share employment opportunities.  Finally, OCS – Creating Your LinkedIn Profile  can offer some great general tips on LinkedIn.

  • Harvard Law School Association

    The Harvard Law School Association hosts local and shared interest groups. Check to see if there is something in your geographic area or otherwise of interest to you and avail yourself of opportunities for educational seminars, social events, and networking.

Building Public Interest Experience

Public interest employers are especially interested in job applicants who have demonstrated some previous commitment to public interest work, and, ideally, have some experience in the particular area of law with which the organization is involved. Listed below are some helpful ways to begin developing experience in public interest practice.

  • Pursue Pro Bono Work

    You can take on pro bono cases or matters related to the type of legal work that you would like to pursue. For more information, read OPIA’s Pro Bono at Firms Guide

  • Join Organizations

    There are a wide range of membership organizations in areas where you might like to practice, ranging from environmental groups to civil rights organizations. These organizations need the help of experienced volunteers.

  • Write Articles

    Write articles on an area of interest for publication in anything ranging from a law review to the op-ed page of a newspaper. Such articles can be included with a cover letter and resume when you apply for employment, especially when the subject matter of the article is relevant to a particular position.

  • Develop Language Skills

    Certain types of public interest and government employers need attorneys who speak languages other than English. Brushing up old language skills or even tackling a new language will improve your ability to communicate with clients in certain types of practice and will demonstrate your interest in pursuing that field

  • Develop Facility with Technology

    This skill is becoming increasingly desirable as it provides additional evidence of abilities to research effectively, provide efficient access to justice for clients, and create persuasive presentations of important data.

  • Self-Education

    If you want to practice in a certain public interest field, read extensively in that area, both in case law and more general sources. This self-education will provide you with the confidence and knowledge to do well in an interview. Of course, it is also important to remember that an interviewer is usually looking for someone to practice law, not to give academic lectures or theorize.

Application Materials

  • Review Your Materials

    Take a critical look at your application materials. Ensure that your resume reflects the aspects of your current activities about which you care the most. Emphasize any experience that is relevant to your public interest job search. Your resume should illustrate how, in school, in previous and current jobs, and in outside activities, you have shown commitment to public service and/or to whatever area of the law you are now pursuing.

    Finally, to round out an application, you should identify a writing sample that does not breach client confidentiality and consider carefully who can serve as professional and personal references.

HLS alumni may submit their resumes and cover letters for review by an OPIA adviser. We will review one resume and one cover letter per alum per year. Please complete our resume and cover letter review request form, uploading your materials as Word docs only. Before submitting your materials, review our resume and cover letter guidance and format your materials accordingly.

Allow 10-14 business days for your materials to be returned with edits and comments.

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