A Healing Approach to the Public Interest Pledge

We all want the HLS community to have a big impact on the world.

This is an uncontroversial view as far as it goes, but—as you’ve probably already thought to yourself—that statement doesn’t go very far in the way of defining “big,” “impact,” or “world.” Our community is rife with disagreement as to the meaning of these terms. This is healthy. Conceptions of justice are inherently controversial.

Here’s something uncontroversial: students going into BigLaw will immediately join the top 0.1% of the global income distribution, earning 131 times the global median. That means 1% of your income will be more than the average human makes in a year. Those of us pursuing public interest work won’t do too badly either, falling just outside the global 1% and earning 36 times the global median.

“Privilege” is another word we frequently butt heads on. These numbers cast it in a new light, but the fundamental question remains: what are we to do with our privilege? The four of us have chosen, as the first and lightest step on a long journey, to pledge at least 1% of our future incomes to the world’s most impactful charities.

One for the World, the organization through which we’ll donate, makes this easy. They’ve collaborated with the most rigorous charity evaluators to identify the places where additional dollars will make the most difference for people most in need. Consider what just 1% of a first-year associate’s salary — $1,800 — can accomplish:

The mind boggles at how easily any one of us can meaningfully touch so many lives.

Yet we choose not to. We so often prefer to focus on domestic politics because there are powerful people making concerted efforts to undermine our values in that sphere. While we can’t ignore that threat, we can’t allow it to so consume us that we forget the values we almost universally share. We all agree that children should live to see their fifth birthdays, and each one of us can make that a reality for a child right now. So let’s continue fighting our political battles, but let’s not let discussing our values become an impediment to realizing them.

We write to start this conversation and ask that students, whether liberal or conservative, bound for the public or private sector, step back and consider your potential and the scale of your opportunities to change the world for the better. Take this first step by joining the students who have already signed up for One for the World or publicly committed to donate to one of the charities they recommend through the HLS Public Interest Pledge.  

As our school and our country continue to reel from recent strife; we hope you’ll consider taking a step towards healing by joining those students in bolstering our common humanity.

Adam Savitt, Matt Reardon, and Vivian Dong are 2Ls. Cullen O’Keefe is a 1L. They comprise the executive board of the HLS Effective Altruists.