The law school timeline for choosing between a public service and a law firm career path is in reality much shorter than it originally appears. As a bright-eyed and idealistic 1L, it seemed like I had all the time in the world to decide where I wanted to start my legal career after graduation; after all, three years is a long time, right? Especially when you already know that you want to work in the public sector.
But then, almost as soon as you begin that public service internship for the first summer, you start receiving e-mails from career services about the process for bidding on and interviewing with law firms that coming fall. In fact, many of your fellow interns will narrow the scope of their conversations to their applications for firms. And then one day you might start to question whether you too should stress over that process instead of continuing to follow what had previously seemed like an easy choice: any form of public service rather than a law firm. At that point, the clock counting down the days to make this personal decision starts to tick…tick…tick.
For me, this panic of reevaluating career options was the result of several factors: my family’s concerns over my future financial stability; my own financial concerns due to the strain of school loans and the expense of living in New York for the summer; the strong recommendations from my summer attorney mentors to work at a firm for at least 1-2 years in order to increase my professional value; and the general encouragement of other interns to keep my options open a little longer by participating in the on-grounds interview (OGI) process. And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had come to law school to serve the public without compromise, despite my financial situation. Ultimately, I decided not to participate in the OGI process and I haven’t looked back since.
My advice to those who want to pursue a public service career is simply to think about what you want and why you want it; you can’t follow your own internal compass until you know where it is pointing. Let me be clear that there is nothing inherently right or wrong about making this choice one way or the other – each option comes with its own costs and benefits – but be sure you are making the choice that is right for you personally. To that end, I think it is extremely important to figure out what will make you want to get up and go to work each morning. For me, that means helping people and trying to make my community a better, safer, and more just environment. From that perspective, choosing public service means that I will be fully invested in my work and willing to adapt to the financial costs of that choice because they are certainly worth what I perceive as the many intangible benefits.
Julia Schast is a 2L from Elkins Park, Pennsylvania (that’s about 30 minutes outside Philadelphia). She graduated from Elon University in 2014 and hopes to become a state prosecutor after graduating from law school, location TBD. Julia is torn between living the big city life and the rolling mountains of Charlottesville, but wherever she ends up will be her platform for change, especially relating to issues of criminal justice reform and women’s rights.