New certificate helps students get head start on public interest careers

July 12, 2017Duke Law News

Duke Law students can now get a head start on careers in public interest law through a new certificate program, the first the Law School has offered to JDs.

The Public Interest and Public Service Law Certificate is open to students who demonstrate through their coursework and service an interest in working in a nonprofit or government setting after graduation. In addition to working with a dedicated law school career counselor, students in the program will be assigned both a peer and a faculty mentor who will assist in planning courses to take and navigating opportunities during law school.

Applications are now being accepted, with an early deadline of Aug. 18 to receive notice of acceptance into the program before the end of the drop/add period. Rising second-year students who commit to completing certain academic and service requirements and rising 3Ls whose coursework is on track to fulfill the certificate’s requirements before graduation may apply. The application will open for 1Ls in the spring.

Identifying such public interest-oriented students early in their legal education enables the Law School to provide focused academic and career counseling and prepare them for the highly competitive job market, said Clinical Professor Brenda Berlin T’86, supervising attorney of the Children’s Law Clinic and chair of the certificate’s advisory board.

“The primary purpose of the certificate is to enhance the student experience and available support for students interested in going into public interest and public sector law,” Berlin said.

“We have a lot of amazing students who already are doing exceptional, exciting things at Duke Law to serve their communities. The certificate will provide a structured but flexible pathway to further prepare them for careers in public interest or public sector law as well as a credential that will identify them to public interest employers as competent and committed future lawyers.”

For Olivia Cole ’17, the recipient of a two-year Skadden Fellowship to work on challenges faced by women veterans at Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco, the introduction of the certificate program signifies the Law School’s understanding of the needs of public interest students and a commitment to fostering an academic community that supports and provides opportunities for all students.

“This certificate will not only provide service-minded students guidance in choosing coursework, but will also serve as recognition of their hard work and dedication,” she said. “Being able to show a lasting commitment to service is one of the most important aspects of the public interest job search.”

To qualify for the certificate, students must commit to complete one upper-level course in their subject matter of interest, such as Environmental Law or Poverty Law, and one upper-level course in the specific adjudicatory, regulatory, or decision-making institution where they expect to be advocates, such as Administrative Law, Federal Courts, or Criminal Procedure. An upper-level writing course in a public interest field, or an approved public interest topic completed in another upper-level writing course, is also required.

The certificate program also requires eight credits from a broad range of public interest-oriented electives. Berlin said almost 70 courses already fulfill the elective requirement and are noted as such in the online course browser, and students can propose that others be added.

Six experiential learning credits, which can be satisfied with clinics and/or externships, including Duke in D.C., are also required.

Students are also strongly encouraged, but not required, to fulfill their ethics requirement with either Ethics of Social Justice Lawyering or Criminal Justice Ethics. Social Justice Lawyering, a new two-credit survey course that will expose students to the different ways in which lawyers engage with communities, individual clients, social and political causes, and legal systems to help effect social change, is also recommended for certificate students.

In addition to the curricular requirements, students must work in a full-time summer job with a public interest employer lasting at least eight weeks. The certificate also requires students complete 75 hours of public service during law school, which can include service in PILF or a pro bono student organization.

“To be able to show that you have taken the time and have prioritized all the requirements to get the certificate will help demonstrate to public interest employers a student’s commitment to doing this kind of work,” said Marjorie Mulhall ’08, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice in Washington. “I imagine for some employers it really will be a positive thing to see on a resume. It’s something I would have been very eager to pursue if it had existed when I was at Duke Law.”

Students wanting to learn more about the Public Interest and Public Service Law Certificate are invited to an information session about the program on Aug. 31 at 12:30 p.m. in room 4055.

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