The Reward of Working in Public Interest

I was recently asked by my law school alma mater (University of Nebraska College of Law) to reflect on my choice to pursue public interest law in Nebraska and how law school had prepared me for that task.  As I wrote out my answers, I realized how lucky I was to stumble upon Nebraska Appleseed almost nine years ago.  I left law school with no idea that an opportunity like Appleseed was right in my backyard.

Over the last decade, we have worked to raise the profile of public interest work so that those with passions to pursue social justice know that there are meaningful career opportunities in Nebraska.  Part of our work has been to build an internship and law clerk program that exposes over 25 bright and energetic students a year to public interest work in Nebraska with the hope that many of them will consider staying in Nebraska and joining us in this work.  As we are about to have a new round of students join us for the summer, I thought I would share with you some of the reflections on Appleseed and public interest legal work in Nebraska that I submitted to my law school.

The reward of working in public interest:

Although I didn’t know it going into law school, public interest work has turned out to be the right fit for me.  When I first encountered Nebraska Appleseed, I was drawn to the mission of working to help improve the laws and policies that are designed to help low-income families move out of poverty.  I went to law school because I wanted to be involved in a profession where I could really help people and make a difference in my community.  I think a lot of people go to law school with that same idea in mind.  What I have found in public interest law is my ideal expression of that goal.

Nebraska Appleseed’s focus on fixing laws and policies allows for the needs of hundreds or thousands of people to be addressed at one time, which I find both an efficient use of resources and an extremely rewarding result.  Appleseed’s work is focused on the most pressing and challenging issues of our time, poverty, Nebraska’s broken foster care system, health care reform, and immigration reform.  On a daily basis I get to be on the front lines of some of the most significant legal challenges and public policy decisions that will play out in my community.  It is hard not to be drawn to and energized by that reality.  I am also fortunate to work with a group of really fantastic co-workers who every day bring their talents to these challenging issues and find new ways to work to make our state a strong and vibrant place for all members of our community.

One of the other things I enjoy about public interest work at Appleseed is that I get to do something different each day.  We might be doing oral argument at the Nebraska Supreme Court one day, organizing a press conference the next, and meeting with federal or state agency heads the next.  This kind of variety keeps the work interesting.

A piece of advice for those about to start law school:

My advice to people about to start law school is to keep the issues that you are most passionate about at the front of your mind.  For those who are driven by social justice issues like I am, know that there are great legal careers that allow you work on the issues that get you out of bed in the morning and that those opportunities are easier to find than you might think.  As you move through law school proactively ask about public interest opportunities and as you read the landmark cases that have shaped the history of our country and our legal system, know that may of those cases were brought by “public interest” lawyers seeking justice and fairness for marginalized members of their community.  That work is still necessary today and it needs people like you as we continue to confront the persistent challenges that keep our state and country from reaching its full potential.

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