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Thinking About a Public Service Legal Career?

Personal Management

Brett has come up with a cool group writing idea at The Frugal Law Student called Blog Scouts. Each month he’ll encourage us to write a blog post around an actual Boy Scout merit badge. This is my entry for the personal management merit badge.

As an aside, I was in Boy Scouts, what seems like an eternity ago. I only earned one merit badge (in 5 years!). It was for first aid. In my opinion, that’s a good one to earn. 🙂

For the personal management merit badge, I’m analyzing my chosen career path, per the 10th requirement on Brett’s post.

I’m going public service

I’ll be graduating from law school in May (41 days!!). After passing the bar, I’ll be the general counsel for American Life League, a great non-profit organization.

My duties are not entirely clear at this point, but I’ll be doing lots of legislative analysis, lobbying, and possibly some litigation. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Pros of public service

The best part of not being with a firm is that I don’t have to bill hours. Tracking billable time is probably THE biggest complaint among practicing attorneys. Most public service jobs get to bypass this horrid annoyance. 😀

Another cool thing is that I’ll get to attend conferences, be a speaker at different events, and do some grassroots work with supporters and volunteers. In that way, public service lends itself to keeping your feet on the ground better.

Loan forgiveness is the last thing I want to highlight. Not all schools have a solid program, but if you can get it, loan forgiveness is worth it’s weight in gold (literally). You won’t come out rich, but this can help you actually afford to take a lower public service salary.

The downside

The first issue with public service careers that people think of is the salary. It’s no surprise that I won’t be earning $150,000 per year. But that isn’t the whole picture.

I won’t be working 80 hour weeks. I won’t be on-call practically 24/7. My future won’t hinge upon bringing in new business.

My job will be roughly 8-5. There will be some traveling, and I’m sure I’ll have to work more sometimes, but nothing compared to Big Law.

Another downside might be a future career limitation. There is a fear that it’s hard to get into a law firm if you don’t start out with one right from law school.

If you really want to be in a firm, public service might not be for you in the first place. But if you want to keep your options open, public service isn’t really a dead-end.

One reason is the networking opportunities through public service. I envision connecting with lots of people, including:

  • Volunteers, donors, supporters
  • Politicians, legislators
  • Business people
  • Religious leaders

The big key will be making these connections count. I’m not talking about using people, but creating real relationships. If I someday want to leave public service, I can tap this network to help locate a suitable position.

What downside?

Maybe I’m missing something vital, but I don’t see a real downside here. I’m pumped about my job, and I’m not sorry that I won’t be lining the pockets of Big Law partners.

Have you considered public service? Why, or why not? Hit up the comments, or drop me a line.

[tags]public service, law firm, brett mckay, the frugal law student[/tags]

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7 Responses to “Thinking About a Public Service Legal Career?”

  1. chuck Newton
    April 10th, 2007

    I was always of the opinion that this would be such a comfortable way to practice law. Granted you would not get rich, but you would hopefully make enough that your basic needs are covered. You are not put in that eat what you kill environment. Also, you get to concentrate your work, your thoughts, your purpose along a certain set of ideals and law. You can become familiar with the practical arguments as well as the legal. It is more closely akin to philosophy of the law.

    In this same light, I have often thought that law schools really need to move out of their purely legal clinic environment and form what are truly public interest law firms. They could, by and large, be self supporting. It would allow them, at some point, to actually employ some law students, and this would be helpful toward education. They could actually work students who wished through most stages of law school, and even employee some for a year or two after law school. It could be more like the incubator that it needs to be.

    South Texas College of Law, for example, does this with their extensive appellate advocacy program, that has one it some many awards. How about actual advocacy programs? How about actual cases?

  2. Nick Kasoff
    April 10th, 2007

    Only one merit badge in five years? You sucked, dude! I was one of the most pitiful scouts in history, and if I remember right, I earned a couple of dozen before getting booted.

    Nick Kasoff
    The Thug Report

  3. Andrew Flusche
    April 10th, 2007


    Thank you for the great comment. You’re absolutely right that law schools should have full fledged public service firms. I believe UVA is doing something along those lines now, but I could be wrong.

    What disturbs me is the surprisingly low number of my fellow UVA grads who will be entering full-time public service. I believe the number is at 18 (out of ~350).

    Take care,

  4. Andrew Flusche
    April 10th, 2007


    Hey, I just wasn’t too into the merit-badge earning. I was Quartermaster and Librarian (not at the same time). I was crucial to the troop. Well, when I didn’t forget the Scout Master’s tent. 🙂