Public Interest

Summer Public Interest Funding (SPIF)

The Summer Public Interest Funding (SPIF) program at UC Law provides limited funding to students who work summer jobs in public interest law.  These jobs are typically unpaid, and the SPIF program helps keep this type of work accessible to the many UC Law students who wish to pursue careers in this important area of legal practice.  This unique program awards Federal Work Study funding, and is supplemented with College of Law funding from private donations.

Public Interest Employment

Providing legal services to government and public interest organizations is the foundation of the legal profession. A broad definition of public interest work includes public service and government sector work as well as traditional public interest jobs. Typically, public interest lawyers represent people and issues that might otherwise lack meaningful representation in the legal system. The efforts of public interest lawyers address social change through individual cases as well as on a policy level. The public interest bar is composed of experts in differing types of advocacy as well as substantive areas of law. Some public interest lawyers engage in direct service work for individual clients, others in policy-oriented impact litigation or community organizing. Regardless of the setting, lawyers in this field agree that using their law degrees to make a difference in the community is personally fulfilling.

The term Fellowship covers a broad expanse of programs, including programs that are specifically for lawyers and law students. There are also several types of fellowships regularly sought by lawyers and law students. The basic types are: Organization-based, Project-based and Firm-sponsored. Post-graduate fellowships are highly competitive and provide invaluable experience. The application process for fellowships begins as early as the summer after the 2L year.

A nonprofit group administers an organization-based fellowship, and the fellow receives a stipend while working for the organization. All aspects of the fellowship, from scope of work to duration and salary are determined by the organization. Applications are made directly to the organization sponsoring the fellowship and choices are made by that organization without any outside influences. These are basically temporary jobs for law graduates or attorneys with little experience in a practice area.

Project-based fellowships are usually set up by foundations to develop a specific project that serves the purposes of a sponsoring nonprofit organization. The funding organization will put limitations on the projects they will fund, or the particular issues or types of projects they back. The fellowship will have a finite term and the fellow will be responsible for finding continuing funding for the project. Suitability and qualifications for this type of fellowship are linked to the sponsoring organization’s ability to support and house the project, project feasibility and the purported benefit.

Firm-sponsored fellowships have been developed by firms to fulfill the needs of public interest law. The firm pays the fellow for a period of time spent doing public interest work. This can work in a variety of ways: with the fellow working for a public interest organization for a fixed period of time without any further commitment to work for the firm; a fellow works only on pro bono matters, but exclusively at the sponsoring firm; a fellow may be hired by a "private public interest firm" as an entry level associate for a specific period of time, often without a promise for full time work.