Heading Into Public Interest

BY ALEXA SHABECOF

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At OPIA, we believe that practicing law is about more than making a living or representing clients competently and ethically. We believe that what makes law a profession, rather than simply an occupation, is a fundamental commitment to an equitable and fair legal system. A just system should be made accessible to both rich and poor, to those holding political power and to those profoundly marginalized; it should consider those issues embraced and those rejected by the majority. We also believe that different jobs satisfy different people depending on their unique values, personalities and work styles. We have found that no matter what your ideals are, if you are not in the right job, you will not be happy.

These beliefs imbue our work at OPIA with a deep sense of mission. These ideals make it extremely gratifying to work with those of you who will be the public interest leaders of your generation, as well as those of you who will apply your public service ethos to making a difference by doing pro bono work in the private sector. We strive to help you articulate and pursue a professional sense of self that will enable you to achieve a confluence between your professional and personal lives. Most importantly, we hope that we can help you find the kind of work you will find both enjoyable and fulfilling.

We know that some of you have come here with a good idea of what you want to do with your law degree. But, after thousands of conversations with HLS students, we have realized that many of you may have ended up in law school because you lack a strong sense of what you want to do for a living. Having left college without specific training, and knowing that further education is highly valued, you find comfort in a place that will not only give you more time to prepare for the “real world” but will also give you skills that can be applied in numerous settings.

Yet, despite the many doors that a law degree from HLS is supposed to open, many start to see only one option: going into large law firms. There are some reasons that many of you start to narrow your vision of what you can do with a law degree: * huge debt loads which make you wonder if you can afford to live on anything less than what the big firms pay* the somewhat more challenging nature of pursuing other paths, including but not limited to the public market * the pressure of watching your classmates gravitate to big firms * the added pressure of family or the expectations of others* the perceived prestige of large law firms

All of these factors can create a sense of conflict about the type of work you want to pursue with your law degree. Caught up in the “fall insanity” at HLS, some of you do not manage to find the time to reflect about whether you should go to a small firm, a business, a plaintiff’s firm, government work or the nonprofit sector or if you choose a large law firm — how to evaluate their pro bono practices. We urge you to think about your aspirations more carefully and find a job you love.

Clarify a Vision Behind Your Work

Take time to reflect thoughtfully on what you want to achieve professionally. One alum shared this advice: “Think first about what you like to do

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