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Private public interest law firms (PPILFs) are involved in many of the same issues addressed by not-for-profit public interest legal organizations and government agencies – but in a law firm setting. There is no official test for what establishes a firm as a PPILF. It is an elastic term used to describe private, for-profit firms that dedicate a significant portion of their caseload to serving underrepresented populations or causes with some broad social, political, or economic impact. While most are small, PPILFs come in a variety of sizes – from a solo practitioner to a multi-city, 100+ lawyer operation – and work in a wide range of issue areas.

Interested in learning more about PPILFs?

Deciding whether a particular law firm fits within the definition of a “public interest law firm” is not always a simple task. An individual firm’s classification will require additional research into the firm’s overall philosophy, clients, and cases.

Generally, a private firm can be SPIF-eligible if it meets most of these qualifications: it is small, public interest-oriented, pays relatively low starting salaries to attorneys, hires a small number of summer associates (or none), has an equitable summer associate salary structure, and/or has qualified for summer funding in the past. Please note that even if a private firm is listed in the public service section of Helios or may have been approved in the past, it is not guaranteed that the employer is SPIF-eligible. Changing circumstances within the firm can affect eligibility, so students should always seek pre-approval for these types of positions with the Office of Student Financial Services.