Information on Applying to Fellowships
Postgraduate Public Interest Fellowships: Background Information and Tips
Postgraduate public interest fellowships enable recent graduates to secure entry-level positions with nonprofit organizations, government entities, and educational institutions. A small number of law firms offer public interest fellowships as well. The PSJD website includes well over 300 fellowship listings. The website is continuously updated as new fellowships become available, so the online Comprehensive Fellowship Guide is always up to date.
Fellowship Background Information
What distinguishes fellowships from permanent positions? Typically, fellowships are term-limited opportunities (one to two years) designed to give a recent law graduate or junior attorney experience in public interest practice.
How are fellowships funded? Broadly speaking, fellowships are funded in one of two ways:
- An organization-based fellowship is funded by the organization for which the fellow is working. The American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, hosts several fellows working on various issues. To the extent that the organization employing the fellow is also funding the fellowship, this is similar to a staff attorney job where the employer is paying the employee's salary. Most research/academic fellowships are also funded in this manner. Contrast this with…
- A project-based fellowship is funded by a third-party organization, allowing the fellow to work – usually on a specific project – with a host organization. For example, a graduating law student may wish to establish a project assisting homeless veterans. A legal services organization may desire to host the student to set up and run this project, but may not have the funding to do so. With the legal services organization’s cooperation, the law student would apply to a fellowship funding organization to fund the project. There are several such funding organizations. In the public interest legal arena, Equal Justice Works and the Skadden Fellowship Foundation are the largest funders and among the most sought-after fellowships.
What are the benefits of a fellowship? Foremost, fellows are able to use their legal skills to effect positive change for disadvantaged populations and/or society in general. They generally receive top-rate training and supervision. Also, many organizations use fellowships as a point of entry to continued employment. And because application processes are so competitive, a fellowship is an impressive credential. So even if continued employment with a host organization does not materialize, a fellow has a strong professional foundation on which to build.
How do I apply for fellowships? Where are the resources? There is a great deal of independent research that you should do. Whether you are considering organization- or project-based fellowships, you must think about issues that make you passionate and goals that you would like to achieve during a fellowship. You should also think about the type of organization with which you would like to work.
If you are considering a project-based fellowship, note that public interest organizations that would like to host fellows post on PSJD as “Legal: Project-based.” If you are considering an organization-based fellowship, those postings are on PSJD as “Legal: Organizational.”
Two Tips for Project-based Fellowship Applicants
If you are considering a project-based fellowship, here are two important tips to keep in mind:
First, the most important step you can take in preparing a fellowship application is to consult with your law school public interest career counselor (even if you have already graduated) and alumni of the fellowship programs you are interested in.
Fellowship applications are as much science as they are art. As compelling as your project idea may be, it will compete with dozens or hundreds of other compelling ideas. Well-organized applications — focused on providing the information requested — go a long way. You should consult with individuals who have prepared and reviewed applications in the past. This outreach will pay enormous dividends in producing the strongest application possible.
Second, you will ideally have built a strong, trusting relationship with your would-be host organization by the time you apply for fellowship funding. This does not have to be the case, but your fellowship application is stronger when you can show that you have worked closely with your would-be host. If you are looking to connect with a host organization, search PSJD for opportunities by entering "Legal: Project-based" in the Job Type field. This will connect you to organizations interested in hosting fellows. If you have an idea for a project and don’t know who to partner with, you can also search “Employer Profiles” on PSJD for employer organizations located in specific geographic regions and/or focusing on specific practice areas.
For more helpful tips, check out PSJD's Fellowship (Project-Based) Applications: Tips From Those Who Know.
What about government fellowships? Government entities host fellows as well. A prime example is the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program. PMF is a competitive program that recruits law grads and those from other disciplines to work in executive branch agencies. Honors programs and other government programs that act as fellowships can be found on USAJobs.
What about academic/research fellowships? Law schools and other academic/research institutions are popular hosts for postgraduate fellows. Many teaching-oriented fellowships are similar to organizational fellowships in that the hosting academic institution funds the Fellow. Some research-based fellowships, however, may require the fellowship applicant to secure funding from a third party funder. The PSJD website contain jobs listings for both types of fellowships.