Do I need to apply for post-graduate fellowships?
It’s not obligatory, but for certain kinds of public interest work, fellowships afford an excellent—and sometimes essential—way for new graduates to break into public interest employment. While many public interest employers welcome new talent, few can afford to do the sort of entry-level hiring that is common in the private sector. But they are often thrilled to have the benefit of a smart young attorney on someone else’s money from a fellowship. In many cases, a fellowship may lead to a permanent position with the host organization, but a fellowship can also provide critical experience and exposure to secure the next job. If you are interested in nonprofit advocacy or impact litigation organizations, direct legal services offices, capital defense work, and even some government offices, you should at least consider applying for fellowships and, depending on your preferences, fellowships may give you a chance to get a dream job right out of school or a clerkship.
When should I start the process of pursuing post-graduate fellowships?
Typically, the post-graduate fellowship application process begins in the spring of your 2L year and can extend well into your 3L year (for students with clerkships that start right after graduation, that would translate to the process beginning in the spring of your 3L year and extending well into your clerkship year.). However, there are so many different kinds of fellowships that it can be hard to generalize. To figure out what your own application calendar should look like, it’s best to spend some time reviewing our fellowship resources and to make an appointment with an OPIA fellowship advisor.
How many fellowships do I need to apply to?
This will vary based on both your interests and geographic flexibility, and on the popularity of the host organization you are aiming for. A 3L or clerk might submit 10-12 fellowship applications, although there is often overlap in the materials submitted, with each application ideally tailored to its audience. As with other job searches, if you have geographic constraints, it’s wise to be flexible and apply to fellowships in a broad range of issue areas; if your goal is to work on a very specific substantive issue, it’s wise to apply to fellowships across a wide geographic range. If you have other reliable job options and have a very narrow interest, practice setting, or geographic area that you can consider, you may choose to target fewer fellowships.
What kind of fellowships are out there?
The world of public interest fellowships is quite wide and diverse, and it’s hard to generalize. To learn more about the types of fellowships available to law students and young lawyers, we recommend you start by spending some time reviewing our fellowship resources.
With respect to HLS’s PSVF, what is the difference between an organization-based fellowship and a seed-grant fellowship? Do I need to apply to both?
The Public Service Venture Fund (PSVF) is an HLS-funded fellowship that has two components. The organization-based fellowships are for 3Ls and recent graduates to support a year of work with an eligible public interest organization. The seed grants support 3Ls and alumni usually, but not always, a bit more senior in their careers who are trying to develop a new public interest organization. As these two components do entirely different things, you should select the component that is right for you.
If I’m interested in working at a nonprofit through a fellowship, do I apply to that nonprofit for funding or to a different organization?
It depends; some organizations offer and fund their own internal fellowships, like the NRDC and certain ACLUs. But to work via a fellowship at most organizations, you need to both come to an agreement with your host organization and apply to a third-party funder for the financial support. The HLS Public Service Venture Fund (PSVF) Organization-Based Fellowships is a good example of such a third-party funder.
If I want to work at an organization through a fellowship, do I need to come up with my own project to do there, or can I simply be a new staff attorney?
It depends on the fellowship and the organization. While some fellowships require the development of a unique project, others happily fund fellows to work as entry-level staff attorneys. Some fellowships and host organizations are open to either.
Do I need to summer with my sponsoring or host organization?
No. It can be helpful to have spent a summer at an organization where you later hope to work as a fellow, because it’s easier to write a good fellowship application about an organization that already knows you and where you are already familiar with the office and their work. However, you are not obliged to have worked at your sponsoring or host organization, and plenty of successful applicants have not interned with their organizations. In either case, getting to know your organization is a plus. You can collaborate with your prospective supervisor at the sponsoring or host organization in the design of your project and/or expectations of your responsibilities. Even a brief week of volunteer work can make a difference. Some fellowships put more weight on applicants having interned at their organizations, but all selection committees, especially the HLS Public Service Venture Fund (PSVF) Organization-Based Fellowships, appreciate applicants who can show a close fit with their sponsoring or host organization.
Must I have a project in mind before I approach a potential sponsoring or host organization? What if I don’t have a project idea?
Not having a project idea should not bar you from thinking seriously about fellowships. First, not every fellowship or sponsoring/host organization requires that you have a special project in mind; many are happy to simply take you on as a staff attorney and allow you to join in the core work of the organization. Even where a project proposal is required in the application, potential sponsoring or host organizations differ in their expectations. Not all organizations will ask for a formal proposal. Many require just a cover letter and resume (often a two-pager) highlighting relevant information that reflects your interest in the work and population the organization serves. Learn more about choosing a host organization and designing a project.
Can I apply for a direct services fellowship without having done any direct service internships while in law school?
Yes! Direct services fellowships often welcome applicants with a wide range of experiences. Volunteer activities before law school, active involvement in an SPO, or a clinical experience can allow you to argue that you are motivated and prepared to engage in direct service after graduation. You should mention any relevant experiences, past or even future, in your application.
What are Traveling or International Fellowships?
Can I apply for both international and domestic fellowships?
Yes, though note that international and domestic fellowships operate on different timelines. While many international fellowships require you to submit a series of materials well in advance of your departure, they do not announce results until at least April, whereas domestic fellowships are often awarded sooner.
Can I apply for clerkships and fellowships simultaneously?
Yes. They’re both great experiences and credentials, and if you’re interested in both, there is no reason not to apply for both and see where you succeed first. It’s also possible to do clerkships and fellowships sequentially. It can prove especially helpful to have applied simultaneously if you end up with a clerkship a year or two out, and can take advantage of a fellowship to fill in the gap.
If I hope to do both a clerkship and a fellowship, does it matter which I do first?
For most clerkships, it doesn’t matter whether you are straight out of law school or are coming off of a fellowship. Some judges do prefer their clerks to have experience, though; in those cases, doing a fellowship first could prove an advantage. Eligibility criteria for fellowships vary, however. While most fellowships accept applications from clerks, there are some that will only accept them from, or strongly prefer, 3Ls. You should consult with an OPIA fellowships advisor on the eligibility rules for specific fellowships.
Who can review my fellowships materials?
An OPIA fellowships advisor can review your entire fellowship application, and getting this kind of feedback is a great idea. The goal is to bring out your personal strengths by assisting you with your written materials, preparing you for interviews, reviewing handouts for presentations and discussing budgets. Submit your application materials through our materials review portal, making sure to leave plenty of time before any fellowship advising appointment. Take advantage of other resources in drafting your materials as well. For example, you can collaborate with your host organization on your application essays, or ask former fellows to share their application materials with you. Review our list of previous HLS fellowship awardees. The Skadden Foundation also maintains a list of all former and current Skadden Fellows regardless of the law school they attended, and these can be a resource for you as well.