How Can Anyone Afford to Do Public Interest Work? Equal Justice Works Explains Some Options

Equal Justice Works logoLots of people start law school thinking they’d eventually like to do public interest work. Unfortunately, many of them soon encounter the harsh financial realities of such a path.

Today’s guest post, from Susan K. Gurley, Deputy Director of Equal Justice Works, outlines what Equal Justice Works is doing to help young lawyers stay on the public interest path, despite the obstacles.

Equal Justice Works: Helping the Next Generation of Lawyers Help Communities

Equal Justice Works was founded more than 25 years ago by a passionate group of law students who shared the belief that the poorest and most vulnerable among us deserve the same access to justice and quality legal representation as those who are more fortunate.

We are committed to making legal assistance available to those who need it most by expanding public interest law opportunities for students and lawyers.

To do this, we offer a variety of opportunities for those in the legal field to learn about and work in public interest law before, during and after law school.


The Equal Justice Works Guide to Law Schools is a free, online tool that helps prospective law students navigate the difficult process of choosing a law school.

The Guide allows pre-law students to explore the practical clinical courses and hands-on experience offered at a school as well as the professional resources, such as career guidance centers, career fairs and post-graduate employment rates.

It also helps students understand the affordability of schools by examining not only the costs of attending a school, such as tuition and fees, but also look at a school’s financial aid offerings, available grants and scholarships as well as loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) that help repay loans after graduation.

The Guide can also be used to create customized, side-by-side comparisons of the school a student is interested in, providing the information in an easy-to-read format.

Law School

Each summer Equal Justice Works engages hundreds of law students to serve communities across the country and help thousands of individuals through the AmeriCorps-funded Summer Corps program.

In exchange for 300 hours of service, students receive an education voucher as well as invaluable training and experience working with practicing attorneys, having direct contact with clients, and learning about legal writing and research.

Last year, the Summer Corps program placed nearly 700 law students in 44 states and the District of Columbia.

The annual Equal Justice Works Conference & Career Fair, the largest national gathering of public interest-minded law students, employers and law school professionals, is hosted each fall and provides students with the opportunity to meet with potential public interest employers, and gain insight on obtaining coveted public interest positions.

The two-day event explores creative ways to build a stronger, more informed and vibrant public interest community on law school campuses across the country.

In addition to providing essential advice to attorneys entering the job market, workshops also discuss overcoming the justice gap in America and effective organizing strategies — essential tools for any student hoping to pursue a career in public service.


Equal Justice Works may best be known for its post-graduate fellowship opportunities.

Over the last 25 years, the programs have placed thousands of lawyers in the field to help those in need. The Equal Justice Works Fellowship program provides attorneys the opportunity to create their own innovative legal project to meet the specific needs in the community they plan to serve.

The two-year fellowship allows applicants to design their ‘dream job’ and implement their project to create tangible and sustainable changes in the community.

Fellows work in issues ranging from economic community development and foreclosure, to medical legal partnerships and domestic violence, to special education and civil rights.

The Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellowship program is one of the most productive and highly regarded national service programs in the country.

AmeriCorps Legal Fellows have a lasting impact on the communities they serve, facilitating pro bono opportunities and expanding legal resource for low-income individuals and communities.

There are currently 80 AmeriCorps Legal Fellows serving across the country, helping survivors of the Joplin tornado, victims of the BP oil spill, families facing foreclosure, and at-risk veterans suffering with a myriad of issues.

Most recently, Equal Justice Works launched the Public Defender Corps program. This three-year fellowship, created in partnership with the Southern Public Defender Training Center, combats the public defense crisis in America by providing intensive training and mentoring to new attorneys with the goal of supporting the public defender community and raising the standard of representation across the country.

Educational Debt Relief

The burden of educational debt for law students has been a growing concern for some time, particularly for those interested in pursuing public interest law. Equal Justice Works is dedicated to advocating for educational debt relief and informing those with educational debt about their options for overcoming this financial hurdle.

Through webinars, in-person presentations and literature on student debt, our educational debt relief team provides information on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which offers Income-Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness on qualifying federal loans.

They also consult with law schools, bar associations and other entities to help improve existing and create new Loan Repayment Assistance Programs.

Equal Justice Works is working to ensure that a person’s path to public interest law is not deterred based on the high cost of an education.

Get Involved!

Equal Justice Works is focused on promoting public interest law amongst the next generation of lawyers. Because of this mission, it is essential for us to remain connected to students.

Equal Justice Works is proud to have a constant connection to current law students, having them serve on our Board of Directors as well as our National Advisory Committee.

Not only do our law student members keep the organization in tune with the needs of law students, but also keep us connected to what’s happening and changing on campuses with regard to public interest law, and what students need to succeed.

We hope you take the time to learn more about Equal Justice Works, become part of our community, and help us work toward equal justice for all.

Susan K. Gurley is the Deputy Director of Equal Justice Works. She graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law and has extensive experience in executive management, international development, advocacy and higher education. In addition, Ms. Gurley has experience in managing international organizations, creating new organizations and helping to develop public-private partnerships.

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Thanks so much! You can follow @EJW_org on Twitter and use #studentdebthelp to get the latest news about educational debt relief. You’ve got questions? They’ve got answers!

Read On:

Want more tips on finding a public interest job? Check out this interview with Gráinne O’Neill, who’s living the dream.

If debt’s your main concern, we’ve got an interview with debt guru Anna Newell Jones for your reading pleasure.

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