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Unable to Find Public Interest Jobs, Some Harvard Law Students Settle for BigLaw

Posted Oct 29, 2012 9:32 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Harvard law student Adelaide Pagano turned down a summer associate position at a Boston law firm because she wanted a job in the public sector.

She is still looking. The Harvard Crimson profiles Pagano’s plight and the difficulties Harvard law students face as they pursue public interest jobs. “Public service law opportunities—particularly for newly minted attorneys—are limited,” the story says, “a discouraging reality for which the law school has tried to prepare its students. Under pressure to secure employment and pay off loans, some students accept positions at top law firms instead of pursuing careers in government or the non-profit world.”

Pagano told the Harvard Crimson she decided to participate in the school’s on-campus interview program for law firms after giving in to the “herd mentality.” But she decided to pursue her passion for a public interest job, even though she realizes summer jobs in the sector rarely result in full-time positions after graduation.

Harvard is trying to accommodate its students seeking public interest jobs through a variety of programs. About 30 public interest organizations visit the campus for a week of interviewing with second- and third-year students. Other programs include public interest fellowships and a program to help low-income grads repay student loans.

Assistant dean for public service Alexa Shabecoff told the Crimson that students who persevere can find public interest jobs, but it’s not easy. “One of the ironies in life that I joke about with students is you work four times as hard to get a quarter of the money in public interest,” she said.

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