Summer Funding Primer (USA)
Feb 14, 2023
Funding a Public Interest Summer
For students committed to careers in public service, summer public interest internships can be the most rewarding experiences. However, the financial realities may be intimidating to some students. Most public interest employers don’t pay summer interns and those that do tend to pay less than other sectors. However, the value of these internships cannot be underestimated – in fact, in some areas of public service, a public interest summer internship is the best or only way to set yourself up for a public interest career after you graduate.
Fortunately, there are a number of resources available that may help you financially as you pursue your public interest summer. This guide provides an overview of how you can pursue paid internships or funding as a summer public interest intern.
Finding Paid Public Interest Summer Internships
The most direct way to fund a summer public interest internship is to find a paid internship. Unfortunately, many government agencies and non-profit organizations do not have funding available to pay summer interns. Thus, although plenty of paid opportunities exist, finding these positions may require a little leg work.
Some helpful resources will allow you to search specifically for paid summer public interest internships:
When using the PSJD Advanced Search for Job Postings, you can select “Internship (Summer)” under Job Schedule and “Stipend”, “$15k-$40k/per year” and “Dependent on Experience” under Salary. This will return jobs with employers that offer paid internships.
Government Honors & Internship Guide (Produced Annually by Arizona Handbooks, L.L.C.)
This guide to mostly federal, but some state, government internships allows you to look up internships by deadline for your class year. Then you can view whether a position is paid or unpaid. Contact your school’s Career Services or Public Interest Advising office for log-in information.
Look for “Pathways” summer internships, which are paid internships which also earn you time-in-grade for the Federal Government pay grades.
Some types of employers more regularly pay summer interns:
Labor Unions—A number of large labor unions (SEIU, Teamsters, etc.) hire paid legal interns. Additionally, there are larger programs that provide funding for a number of students every year, for example:
The Peggy Browning Fund provides stipends to law students who dedicate their summer to advancing the cause of workers' rights by working for labor unions, worker centers, labor-related not-for-profit organizations, union-side law firms and other nonprofit organizations. The Fund helps to match students with positions.
The AFL-CIO Law Student Union Summer 2016 offers stipends to work at AFL-CIO affiliates across the country.
Government—While many government agencies don’t have the funding to pay interns, a number do.
Examples: U.S. DOJ Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP); Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Pathways Internship; New York County District Attorney’s Office Law School Summer Internship Program; New York City Law Department Summer Honors Program; Oregon Department of Justice.
Public Interest Law Firms—Private public interest law firms can handle a variety of issues such as civil rights, employment law, immigration, and consumer protection. You can look for their job postings on psjd.org and reach out to firms directly.
Some non-profit organizations have established relationships with funders, combining the process so that you are applying for the position and the funding simultaneously:
Examples: Public Interest Law Initiatives Law Student Internship Program (placements primarily in Chicago); Rural Summer Legal Corps Program.
Lastly, once you have an offer in hand, even if it’s an unpaid internship, it doesn’t hurt to ask if there is any funding available! Although some public interest employers post their internships as “volunteer” opportunities, they may have limited funds available to help if your summer funding from your school or other sources does not cover all of your expenses. Some employers also will provide a transportation subsidy. Don’t be afraid to ask if an organization can provide a small stipend. Talk to your Career Services or Public Interest Advising office about how best to have this conversation.
A word on timing: You should not limit your search to paid public interest internships; you should be applying for those internships concurrently with unpaid internships. As you will see below, there are a number of other options for funding your public interest summer, and you don’t want a deadline for an unpaid internship to slip by while you are waiting to hear about a paid opportunity.
Finding Funding for Volunteer Summer Public Interest Internships
If you secure an unpaid summer internship, there are plenty of potential sources of external funding, including but not limited to:
Example: Janet D. Steiger Fellowship offered by American Bar Association’s Section of Antitrust Law.
Foundations and nonprofit organizations
Example: Equal Justice America fellowships in civil legal services.
Law schools, whether through fundraising by student groups, federal work-study money, money provided by donors, or other sources.
When looking for potential sources, think about the following, all of which may qualify you for certain funding sources:
Your geographic location—consider where you are in school, where you are from and where you’ll be working over the summer.
The practice area of your internship.
Any affinity groups with which you identify.
Important factors considered by summer funding resources when reviewing applications include: overall commitment to public interest; commitment to the work of your summer placement (particularly where funding is tied to a particular practice area); other factors relevant to the particular award (e.g., geographic connection, affinity group association). You should treat these applications with the seriousness of a job application. Your law school’s career services and/or public interest professionals can be of tremendous assistance here.
For an extensive list of summer public interest funding opportunities, see PSJD's Summer Funding Resources page. You may also find opportunities through your law school.
There are other ways to earn extra money as a public interest law student besides getting funding for your summer internship. Consider:
Entering a public interest writing competition—not only can these offer monetary awards but they may also involve publication of your writing, or at least a great writing sample and a prestigious award for your resume!
Example: Hogan/Smoger Access to Justice Essay Competition through Public Citizen.
A language grant to allow you to intern abroad while studying a language—particularly useful for aspiring immigration lawyers or international human rights advocates!
Example: Boren Fellowships.
Academic-year funding opportunities and scholarships.