How to prepare for a career in civil litigation

Internships and Summer Jobs

The PILC Intern Reports database includes end-of-internship reports submitted by all students who received PILC funding between summers 2006 to 2012.  (This summer’s reports will be available in the fall.)  The database allows one to search by practice area and two of the most applicable categories may include civil rights/civil liberties and government – federal.  Some organizations that are representative of where our students spend their summers include: the ACLU; Brennan Center for Justice; Center for Constitutional Rights; LatinoJustice PRLDEF; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; US Attorney – Civil Division; DOJ – Civil Rights Division – Special Litigation Section; and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The PILC website also includes data on recent graduate placement for the classes of 2010, 2011, and 2012. Some placements that are representative of where our recent graduates have worked immediately, or very soon, after graduation include U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit Staff Attorney’s Office; ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project (NYU Fellowship); Brennan Center for Justice (Katz Fellowship); Shute Mihaly & Weinberger (Environmental Fellowship); U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Attorney Honors Program); ACLU (Karpatkin Racial Justice Fellowship); Disability Rights Advocates; Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (Kirkland & Ellis Public Service Fellowship); U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Solicitor (Honors Program); and New York Civil Liberties Union (Bickel and Brewer Fellowship).

Sometimes students interested in federal litigation in the public interest will ask whether they should first work at a firm.  That is certainly one pathway to obtaining a job like those listed above but it is not the only one.  Many organizations such as the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights offer fellowships (usually one- to two-year paid positions) to new attorneys, though there is usually a preference given to candidates with federal clerkship experience.  Thus, if a student’s future career plans include federal litigation, a clerkship is often advisable.  Graduates can also litigate very early in their careers through the DOJ Honors Program.  Other graduates will secure project fellowships (such as Skadden, Equal Justice Works, or Kirkland and Ellis) to create impact litigation focused projects at organizations such as the ACLU of Southern California.  Other graduates will, for example, start their careers with gaining litigation experience as a public defender before transitioning to a position with the ACLU.