Careers Career Paths Public Interest Law Career Skills and Characteristics A Guide to Legal Public Service Careers Share PINTEREST Email Print Rich Legg / Getty Images Career Paths Legal Careers Technology Careers Sports Careers Sales Project Management Professional Writer Music Careers Media US Military Careers Government Careers Finance Careers Fiction Writing Careers Entertainment Careers Criminology Careers Book Publishing Aviation Animal Careers Advertising Learn More By Sally Kane Sally Kane Sally A. Kane, JD. is an attorney, editor, and writer who has two decades of experience in the legal services industry and has published hundreds of career-related articles. Learn about our Editorial Process Updated on 01/22/20 Public interest lawyers, paralegals, law students, and legal professionals provide legal services free of charge or for a substantially lower fee to underserved segments of the public such as the indigent, the elderly and others who cannot afford legal services. Who They Represent Public interest lawyers and non-lawyers provide legal services to individuals, groups, and organizations that are historically unrepresented in society. Studies show that about 80% of the legal needs of the poor in the United States remain unmet, despite existing federal, state and volunteer programs that provide legal services to low-income people. Public interest law professionals also fight for the underdog. They seek to enact policy change and advocate for civil liberties. These professionals fight for environmental protection, consumer rights and other causes for the betterment of society. Pro bono work is a form of public interest work; law firm and corporate legal employees volunteer their time to offer free legal services for the greater good. Types of Public Interest Cases Public interest lawyers, paralegals, law students, and other workers handle matters that reflect broad areas of public concern—from housing discrimination to immigration to child welfare—and work on a variety of cases and causes. For example, a public interest lawyer might: Help clients file domestic violence protective ordersAssist unemployed workers to obtain unemployment benefits or file for consumer bankruptcyRepresent tenants in eviction casesDraft letters and prepare case memos regarding inmates claiming wrongful convictionDefend against a financial institution's predatory lending practicesPerform legal intake and case follow-up with patient families being treated at children's hospitals or clinicsRepresent migrant farm-workers in labor disputesHelp legislators achieve regulatory reformInterview clients and give Know-Your-Rights presentations at juvenile detention facilities and regional jailsPrepare wills and advance directives for seniorsPerform legal research in cases for clients with asylum or other immigration law issues.Advocate in court for the best interests of abused or neglected childrenHelp the homeless obtain public benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid or Social Security disability benefits Skills and Characteristics A career in public interest law is not for everyone. You must be empathetic and have a strong passion for helping others. Below are a few key skills and characteristics necessary for public service work. Interpersonal communication skills Organizational skills Listening skills Oral advocacy skills Public relations skills Negotiation skills Ability to cope with a crisis Ability to work with limited funds and resources Personal Characteristics: Strong passion for public serviceSelf-motivation and initiativePatienceEmpathySincerityFlexibility Advantages and Disadvantages of Public Service Work Public interest work offers many advantages over private practice – from valuable experience and personal satisfaction to a better work-life balance. The primary disadvantage of public interest work is compensation: jobs in the public interest sector generally pay less than a law firm and corporate positions. Types of Public Interest Law Jobs Public interest professionals work in a variety of practice settings. These include law firms that offer pro bono programs, government agencies, non-profits, and legal service agencies, prosecutor and public defender offices and international organizations.