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Public Interest and Public Service at Columbia

Columbia Law School prepares students for careers serving society by providing extensive curricular support, robust extracurricular programs, and individualized career counseling.

Public interest lawyers work on behalf of individuals, groups, and governments to ensure justice and advance the general welfare. To pursue this path, you need passion, commitment, support, and the right training. Develop your knowledge and gain hands-on lawyering skills through the Law School’s extensive opportunities tailored to public interest/public service work.

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Curricular Options

Choose from lecture courses, seminars, and other opportunities to develop your knowledge and train for a career in public interest/public service. Faculty—leaders in their fields—provide instruction, guidance, and mentoring in and outside of the classroom.  

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Experiential Learning

Choose from a range of clinics and work with clients on real-life cases; get on-the-job training through externships with judges, public defenders, federal government law offices, and others; combine theory and practice in our innovative policy labs; tackle hypothetical yet realistic legal challenges in more than a dozen simulation courses; and gain experience outside the class room by participating in moot courts.

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Summer and Term-Time Internships

Build your network and jumpstart your career by interning with public interest and government employers. Columbia provides funding for summer internships through the Guaranteed Summer Funding program and Human Rights Internship Program. You can also receive academic credit or pro bono credit for term-time internships.

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Pro Bono Requirement

Each student must complete at least 40 hours of lawyering for the public good prior to graduation to meet the Law School’s pro bono requirement. The program, administered by Social Justice Initiatives, offers a multitude of volunteer opportunities in the United States and abroad.

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Related Experiential Learning

Public Interest/Public Service Council: This group of senior Law School alumni are past or present leaders in the public interest and government sectors and provide professional advice and support to current students or recent alumni.

Related Centers and Programs

Center for Constitutional Governance

The Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG) is a nonpartisan legal and policy organization devoted to the study of constitutional structure and authority. CCG invites academics, students, government officials, practitioners, and community members to engage with major constitutional and governance issues of the day, from health care to civil rights, immigration, financial regulation, and national security. 


Center for Gender and Sexuality Law

Columbia Law School established the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law as an incubator for bold new approaches to complex issues facing gender and sexual justice movements. The center is home to research projects and initiatives focused on gender, sexuality, reproductive rights, bodily autonomy, and gender identity and expression across law, policy, and professional practice. Students can supplement coursework with lectures, panel discussions, conferences, and guest speaker series on contemporary issues.


Center for Institutional and Social Change

The Center for Institutional and Social Change facilitates collaboration between scholars, practitioners, and students striving to address structural inequality through institutional transformation. Participants use brainstorming, strategic analysis, and empirical and field research to develop new frameworks, strategies, and roles for effective institutional and social change.


Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies

The Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies examines how social structures and related identity categories, such as gender, race, and class, interact to create social inequality. Its interdisciplinary and innovative research projects and initiatives unite a diverse group of academics and advocates interested in developing effective solutions to institutional inequality.


Center for Public Research and Leadership

The Center for Public Research and Leadership (CPRL) aims to revitalize public education while filling substantial gaps in professional education. CPRL’s rigorous coursework, skills training, and research and consulting projects prepare graduate students in law, business, and public policy for careers in the education sector. With an eye toward improving outcomes for all children, CPRL utilizes the latest techniques in education, such as organizational design, democratic accountability, team-based problem-solving skills, and socio-emotional learning.


Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity

The Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) improves the capacity of public offices and practitioners to deter, identify, and combat corruption at the municipal level of government. CAPI supports a vibrant community of leaders in the public integrity field, develops tools and resources to help governments and practitioners fight corruption, and promotes research and scholarship on important public integrity issues.


Center for the Study of Law and Culture

The Center for the Study of Law and Culture at Columbia University (CSLC) is an intellectual home for the study, research, and scholarship on the intersection of law and culture. In addition to hosting fellowships, events, and workshops, CSLC supports projects that explore dual interpretations of the law—as both a strict institutional doctrine and as a regime for ordering social life, constructing cultural meaning, and shaping group and individual identities. 


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Related Student Groups and Journals

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