Best Public Interest Law Schools in the U.S.

Public interest law, which focuses on representing the disadvantaged, is a vast field encompassing numerous areas of law (e.g., family law, labor law, immigration law). Public interest law careers follow many different paths. Some public interest law graduates work in legal services, non-profit organizations, or government agencies. However, public interest law can also be found in educational institutions and private law firms where public interest work is performed.

Law schools with robust public interest programs prepare their students to hit the ground running in their chosen fields. In addition to rigorous coursework, students at these law schools learn through clinics, externship programs, and co-operative agreements with public interest employers.

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New York University School of Law

NYU Law School
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The New York University School of Law has one of the most comprehensive public interest law programs in the United States. Through the Public Interest Law Center, NYU Law offers forty clinics and guarantees summer funding for students who work in government and nonprofit organizations. The school also provides a housing discount to students in the summer funding program.

NYU Law lives up to its mission of being a “private university in the public service” with approximately half of its first-year class working in public interest internships during their 1L summer. A significant number of students also participate in the school’s student-run pro bono organizations. Every year, the Public Interest Law Center at NYU Law hosts the Public Interest Legal Career Fair, the largest of its kind in the U.S.

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Boston University School of Law

Boston University law school complex

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Boston University School of Law is committed to public interest law, as evidenced by their graduate employment results: 17% of the class of 2018 took jobs in government or public interest after graduation. BU Law law offers a full-tuition public interest scholarship as well as a one-year public interest fellowship. Students are encouraged to participate in the school's pro bono program. Those who work a designated number of pro bono hours receive a special designation on their transcripts.

BU Law helps students gain practical experience in public interest law through pro bono service trips offered during spring break. In addition, students can participate in the Public Interest Project (PIP), which organizes networking events, discussions and panels on public interest opportunities, and community service activities. Boston University also jointly operates Lawyers for Affordable Justice, a residency program that trains recent law school graduates to represent the underserved.

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Northeastern University School of Law

Northeastern University School of Law

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Northeastern University School of Law was one of the first law schools to institute a public interest requirement, which students fulfill through one of the school’s 1,500 co-op employers. NU Law offers dozens of courses in public interest and advocacy, plus several more in public regulation. Recent courses include Juvenile Courts: Delinquency, Abuse and Neglect; Human Rights in the United States; and Race, Justice, and Reform.

Law students at Northeastern gain practical public service experience through the school's clinics and institutes. Opportunities are available at the nationally recognized Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, which investigates civil rights cold cases, and the Center for Public Interest Advocacy and Collaboration, which helps drive the school’s mission through initiatives and interactive student experiences.

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Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Case Western Reserve University

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Case Western Reserve University School of Law, which is recognized for its public interest law program, considers social justice central to its mission. The school offers clinics focused on criminal justice, immigration, and human trafficking, as well as several externships tailored to the public interest. The school’s Social Justice Law Center provides stipends for summer and semester-long public interest law internships and externships.

One unique public interest opportunity is the Street Law program, through which students instruct juvenile detainees to help them understand legal issues such as discrimination, crime, and domestic law. Through a credit-sharing program with the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, CWRU law students can earn a joint degree, obtaining either a J.D. and Master of Nonprofit Organizations or Master of Science in Social Administration.

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City University of New York School of Law

CUNY School of Law

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CUNY School of Law, New York City's only publicly funded law school, is a leader in the area of public interest law. The school community is comprised of activists, organizers, scholars, and advocates working to eradicate justice. To that end, CUNY Law provides numerous opportunities for pro bono public service, including the Courtroom Advocates Project, through which students advocate for domestic violence victims in family court. The school also operates three justice centers in the public interest and nearly a dozen clinical programs. Notable clinics include the Human Rights & Gender Justice Clinic, Family Law Practice Clinic, and the Economic Justice Project.

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Yale Law School

Yale Law School
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Yale Law School has a proud tradition of educating students in the public interest. The Ivy League school boasts a robust public interest program, which includes reading groups, student organizations, and legal research centers, and centers as well as specialized public interest career services within its Career Development Office.

Approximately 80% of Yale Law School students assist the underserved through the school’s clinical programs. Yale Law offers a staggering number of clinics—over two dozen—including the Housing Clinic, International Refugee Assistance Project, Veterans Legal Services Clinic, and more.

Yale Law’s Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law provides year-long fellowships to graduates who enter public service after graduation. The Center also funds and supports student activities and public interest organizations.

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UCLA Law School

UCLA School of Law South Entrance

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At UCLA Law School, students can choose to specialize in public interest through the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. The program trains students to represent society’s most vulnerable. In the first year of the program, students get an overview of the practice of public interest law. Subsequent courses further prepare students to work as advocates in the public interest.

Students can get involved with UCLA Law's public interest centers, including the Native Nations Law & Policy Center and the International Law & Human Rights Center. UCLA Law also allows students to pursue joint degrees in their chosen areas of focus, from Social Welfare to Urban Planning.

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Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School

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Stanford Law School offers many courses and clinics designed to support students interested in pursuing public interest careers. The John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law at Stanford Law School offers students a robust public interest law education.

Stanford’s culture of public interest is strong. The school hosts a public interest welcoming reception for new students every September. It also operates a public interest mentoring program, which matches incoming students with upper-class students and faculty members with similar public interest goals. The school provides numerous other opportunities for students to connect with others in the field. The school also offers a strong public interest curriculum as well as opportunities for research.

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Alnaji, Candace. "Best Public Interest Law Schools in the U.S." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Alnaji, Candace. (2020, August 28). Best Public Interest Law Schools in the U.S. Retrieved from Alnaji, Candace. "Best Public Interest Law Schools in the U.S." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).