Institute for Justice Attorney Describes How to Begin a Public-Interest Career

Author: Lauren Love

What should you do if you’re a law student and you know you want to work as a public-interest lawyer? According to Robert McNamara, senior attorney with the libertarian, public interest law firm, Institute for Justice, it’s simple:

Identify the group you want to work with and get to know them,” he said to a room full of first-year law students. “Public-interest organizations want to work with true believers and you want to differentiate yourself from third- and fourth-year lawyers who are looking to escape their firm jobs.

“We need people who breath fire. The way to signal you’re a fire breather is to get to know people as early as possible.”

It’s not enough, he said, just to hand people a business card.

“You want to impress people. You want them to remember you as having done something for them,” he said. “The best way to do that is to write. The common way to write for a public interest group is to spend your 1L summer working for a public-interest group.”

With countless options of organizations to work for, McNamara told students not to limit their interest and to research the causes of several different groups.

“Communicate with people,” he said. In addition to making sure they know you’re interested and making sure they like you, make sure you like them.”

McNamara’s talk was a part of Notre Dame Law School’s Public Interest Month programing. IJ has litigated five cases considered by the United States Supreme Court dealing with topics that included eminent domain, interstate commerce, public financing for elections, school vouchers, and tax credits for private-school tuition.

The next scheduled Public Interest Month program takes place Monday, Oct. 10, at 12:30 p.m. in 1130 Eck Hall of Law. John Storino, partner at Jenner & Block and Sara Gilloon, staff attorney for the Family Defense Center, will discuss how to integrate public-interest work into life at a law firm and how to transition into public interest work after starting at a law firm.