Public Interest Lawyer
Attorney types that serve the public’s interest may practice law in several capacities. They offer individualized legal services to clients, as well as work on legal reformation. They are found in many nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Public lawyers work with charitable organizations, educational institutions and international organizations. They will often perform services for clients for reduced fees or at no cost to an individual.
You need to earn a juris doctorate degree from an institution accredited by the American Bar Association. The student must obtain a license from their state in order to practice law. Continuing education is often required due to the fact that the law is fluid and changes often, especially as new public policies are set.
Pick from the links below, depending on your education level that best describes your situation
Job Description & Skills Required
The primary characteristic of a public attorney that separates them from a private attorney is their clientele. They serve the public interest in some fashion. They may become a public defender taking on clients who are unable to afford an attorney, upholding the rights of all citizens to have legal representation. Or they may work for a large branch of government on international law. In both cases a public attorney’s efforts benefit the public. Some of the cases a public lawyer may get involved with are:
- Administrative advocacy
- Class action lawsuits
- Community service and outreach
- Legal writing
- Professor of Law
- Training workshops
- Advice and help line
The best candidates will be able to write well. They also must have the ability to work with agency officials on all levels. Any lawyer needs to be well organized and analytical. As with any attorney, good communications skills are vital. They also must have a strong understanding of any particular regulations or rules unique to their area of practice. For instance, if an attorney works in patents, they will want to have a good understanding of patent law.
Cases for Public Lawyers
Because the public lawyer will be an advocate for legal matters that affect private citizens or public policy, their caseloads reflect this fact. They may work with an individual or group. Here are just a few examples:
- Criminal Representation– a public defender will represent a client who is accused of a crime and cannot afford an attorney. When a suspect is arrested, this fact is stated in what is known as their Miranda Rights. The suspect has the right to legal representation even if they can’t afford it.
- Class action lawsuit– a public attorney may represent a group of people who were affected by the wrongful actions of a corporation. In these cases, the attorney works for a private law firm that is representing public interest.
- Nonprofit work– a lawyer who works with a nonprofit organization may spend time creating handbooks and writing policy papers. While they may represent that organization in a court case, much of their work will be related to how the law affects the actions and duties of the organizations day-to-day activities.
Public Lawyer Salary & Job Outlook
The salary for a public lawyer will largely depend on the employer. Public defenders salaries are regulated by U.S. circuit courts of appeals. They stipulate that a public defender’s salary does not exceed the U.S. attorney who makes $163,770 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other public lawyers’ salaries are not as well defined. A New York public attorney may start out at $80,850 a year, less than the reported national median salary of $135,740.
The jobs available for public lawyers will continue to grow at about 10% a year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This figure covers all attorneys; therefore, the need for public attorneys may vary–especially as the economy continues to change.
2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Lawyers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2023.