(We originally posted this last October but felt it appropriate to revisit what is possibly the best source for public service legal career information.)
Welcome to week two of Progressive Lawyer’s weekly focus on organizations that help law students and lawyers practice the type of Progressive Law they want to practice. This week we speak to Christina Jackson from PSJD.org, the Public Service Jobs Directory where she brings us up to speed on what PSJD is all about and how it can help you find your place in a public service legal career.
Progressive Lawyer: Thank you for taking the time to talk to Progressive Lawyer. Please introduce yourself and describe your role with PSJD.org.
Christina Jackson: My name is Christina Jackson. I am the Director of Public Service Initiatives and Fellowships at NALP. I have been with NALP for more than a year. Prior to coming to NALP, I served as a law school public interest career counselor for many years after practicing public interest law. As part of my duties at NALP, I manage PSJD, a NALP initiative. PSJD is a comprehensive public interest career resource and job search tool.
My role is to bring together law school professionals, employers and law students and alumni through professional development resources, recruitment and retention strategies, and job search tools.
PL: Why was your organization started?
CJ: Both NALP and PSJD were created to serve an identified need. Details on each follow.
NALP: NALP is an association of over 2,500 legal career professionals who advise law students, lawyers, law offices, and law schools in North America and beyond.
What brings NALP members together is a common belief in three fundamental things. First, all law students and lawyers should benefit from a fair and ethical hiring process. Second, law students and lawyers are more successful when supported by professional development and legal career professionals. Third, a diverse and inclusive legal profession best serves clients and our communities. That’s why NALP members work together every day to collect and publish accurate legal employment data and information, and champion education and standards for recruiting, professional and career development, and diversity and inclusion. For more than forty years, NALP has played an essential role in the success of our members and the lawyers and law students they serve.
NALP believes in fairness, facts and the power of a diverse community. We work every day to be the best career services, recruitment, and professional development organization in the world because we want the lawyers and law students we serve to have an ethical recruiting system, employment data they can trust, and expert advisers to guide and support them in every stage of their careers.
PSJD: PSJD – formerly PSLawNet – has come a long way since its founding in 1989 at New York University School of Law as “Pro Bono Students.” The idea behind PBS was simple: to create a database of organizations serving under-represented communities that could be searched by law students interested in volunteering. Prior to this time, no easy way existed for law students to identify law-related volunteer opportunities. The program was an instant success, and within a few years, PBS expanded first to law schools throughout the state of New York and then eventually to law schools all across the country. By 1995, Pro Bono Students had become Pro Bono Students America (PBSA) and was collectively run by seven “regional centers.” Each center represented member law schools in its designated geographic area by developing academic-year pro bono opportunities and helping ‘match’ students with those opportunities. The regional centers were also expected to ‘upload’ their regional listings to the PBSA national database so that students from all member schools could search the database for summer legal internships.
PBSA’s innovative technology allowing students to search for academic year and summer internships by geographic location and subject matter was markedly different than any previous public interest resource, and it quickly became the primary research tool for students exploring public interest and government career options. Eventually, the database was expanded to include post-graduate fellowship opportunities and full-time public interest job listings as well. In 1998, PBSA’s name was changed to Public Service Law Network – PSLawNet – to reflect its broader scope as a comprehensive, public interest career resource and job search tool.
By 2000, PSLawNet’s membership had grown to more than 180 U.S. law schools and seven Canadian law schools. This evolution from its inception at just one law school led NYU in 2003 to decide that it was time for PSLawNet to be housed with an organization serving a more national audience. Many organizations were interested in acquiring PSLawNet, and NYU and PSLawNet’s Executive Council deliberated at some length before unanimously selecting NALP as its new home. The strong consensus was that NALP had the unique resources and energy necessary to sustain the tradition of excellence embodied by PSLawNet.
Since that time, PSLawNet has continued to grow and improve. Indeed, in August 2012 PSLawNet underwent not only its latest upgrade, but also a ground-up redesign and a name change: to PSJD, or Public Service Jobs Directory. This latest evolution includes enhanced search functionality, a clearinghouse for pro bono opportunities and information, a redesigned career resource database, and more.
PL: What services does your organization offer? Who are its primary audience?
CJ: See answer to number 2.
The primary audience for NALP & PSJD would be law school professionals, employers, law students and alumni.
PL: What do you feel motivates someone to pursue public interest law?
CJ: In a word passion. At least I hope that’s what motivates someone to pursue public interest law. Strong conviction and a sense of duty to their community are also key attributes in someone seeking a career in the public interest. It has been my experience that to both be good at what you do and enjoy what you do is the greatest employment reward. The most successful public interest lawyers I have known are committed to the idea that being a lawyer is to provide a service to the community that no other professional can provide and that is vital to righting the wrong or solving the problem they seek to remedy. A burning desire to make a difference is what I hear consistently from those who pursue this life.
PL: One of the major issues confronting law students and young legal professionals is student debt. Often a graduating law student will feel they cannot afford to practice public interest law because of this debt. What resources does PSJD.Org have to help with this issue?
CJ: In our Resource Center, there is a section on Funding & Debt. Once our planned redesign is launched in October, there will be a separate section for Funding and for Student Loan Repayment. There users will find information and tools from us as well as other brilliant contributors to the discussions around law school debt such as Equal Justice Works, Heather Jarvis, Student Debt Expert, and the US Department of Education.
PL: What advice would you give to a law student or legal professional who would be interested in pursuing public interest law?
CJ: Identify what your passion is and go for it with all your heart and soul. In the legal industry as a whole, you’ll hear about the large number of applications you must put out in order to get a good number of interviews that will lead to a few offers of employment. The search for a position in the public sector has much different considerations. A job seeker may only send out a small number of applications because those are the organizations that do what they want to do. Since that is the case, you want to make sure any written materials draw direct correlations between your experience and the work you seek to do with that organization. If possible, being geographically flexible is a huge advantage. Identifying what region of the country has a large concentration of what you want to do is a smart move to make for internships, but for long-term employment, also think about areas with a similarly great need, but not as many servicers.
Lastly, get as much hands-on experience you can get with either the type of law or practice you want to pursue or with the population or issue group you wish to serve. Employers are looking for people who have a commitment to their issues or client population, and they need to know you share that commitment. An easy and direct way to demonstrate that commitment is to seek out experiences (volunteer, internships, externships, spring break trips, etc.) that directly connect you to the issue or population.
PL: Public interest law can certainly be all consuming. How can a lawyer properly balance their work life with their private life?
CJ: You’re right. Practicing in the public sector can be both physically and emotionally draining. It is important to take care of yourself so that you can continue to take care of others in the long-term. Put in the time to discover what makes you relax. Downtime for everyone will look different, but think about the one or two things in your day or week that if skipped would impact your mental or physical health. Make sure those things get routinely scheduled, and make them as firm as your work commitments. It is also helpful to cultivate relationships with people either completely outside the practice of law or who practice in different areas. Those folks will help you keep a broad perspective on the world and can turn you on to events and activities outside your norm.
PL: What do you think the role of law and lawyers should be in society?
CJ: To give a voice to the voiceless. I think as lawyers we have an obligation to use our skills and training for the greater good and to use the law (or fight against it as the case may be) to resolve societal conflicts. I believe the rule of law is a major factor in an ordered society.
You can find more information on the Public Service Jobs Directory and all the services they offer at PSJD.Org.
A sincere thank you to Christina who took the time to speak to us about this vital service. Please check back next week when we will be featuring another progressive and innovative legal organization that will help you in your quest to answer that eternal question, “Why did I go to law school?”