Public Interest Careers
Public Interest at Notre Dame Law School
"In our nation, there is such a desperate need to provide legal services for the poor, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized, and through the Shaffer Fellowship and other public interest opportunities, Notre Dame continues to feed fresh blood into that fight.”
- Michael Hagerty, '13 J.D.
Notre Dame has a long tradition of encouraging graduates to use their talents and education to serve the greater good. It's a responsibility that flows directly from the University's Catholic mission.
As such, Notre Dame Law School places a high priority on supporting students who are called to pursue careers in public interest law.
The Law School offers numerous courses, externships, and extracurricular activities to prepare students to work in this important area of the law. In addition, the Law School offers a multitude of programs to ensure that financial concerns do not prevent students from entering careers in the nonprofit sector, government, policy advocacy, human rights, and other fields where lawyers make valuable contributions but are often paid lower salaries.
Every staff member in the Law School's Career Development Office is knowledgeable about public interest law and eager to assist students. The CDO even has a designated staff member – Katelynn McBride Barbosa, Program Director for Public Interest and Chicago Initiatives – who specializes in working with students who aspire to enter the public interest field.
Loan Repayment Assistance Program
Notre Dame Law School established its Loan Repayment Assistance Program in 2001 to provide financial assistance to graduates starting careers in public interest law.
Under LRAP, the Law School loans its J.D. graduates money to help them repay qualifying educational loans from law school. The program then forgives those loans over a period of time. Since its creation, LRAP has disbursed more than $2 million to Notre Dame Lawyers who have worked in a wide variety of public interest and public service positions in the United States and abroad. Click here for more detailed information.
The Career Development Office maintains an extensive database of fellowship information, and Notre Dame Law students have earned public interest fellowships from numerous organizations. The following three programs, however, are available exclusively for Notre Dame Law students.
- Thomas L. Shaffer Public Interest Fellowship: Covers the cost of salary and benefits for two members of each graduating class to work for two years at a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to low-income or other underrepresented populations. Fellows select the organizations where they want to work and design the projects they will complete at those organizations.
- Bank of America Foundation Fellowship: Covers the cost of salary and benefits for two members of each graduating class to work for two years at a city agency or nonprofit organization of their choice. The fellows' work must advance community sustainability and provide legal services to low-income or other underrepresented populations.
- Bridge-to-Practice Program: Provides stipends for graduates to work with a government or nonprofit employer in the graduate's preferred city. Participating employers have included judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and public service organizations. The program enables graduates to gain practical experience and develop professional contacts while providing a valuable public service.
Federal Work Study and Law School Funding Program
The Career Development Office at Notre Dame Law School administers the Federal Work Study and Law School Funding Program, which provides students with stipends for unfunded public interest law positions. These funds can be matched with Federal Work Study funding on an eligibility basis individualized for each student.