Let’s talk about PIP for a minute. It’s just such a cheery sounding organization. Some law schools have a Public Interest Group (PIG), or Pitt Law’s Pitt Legal Income Sharing Foundation (PLISF, which is just a tad clunky sounding and tricky to pronounce). But the Public Interest Project (PIP!) is more than an adorable acronym. Now in it’s 30th year, the student-run organization helps fill a critical gap: funding for students working in unpaid positions with non-profits, public interest organizations, government, and pro bono work. Some of the best summer work opportunities are unfortunately sometimes the ones least able to compensate their interns and clerks. These organizations do important work and benefit from the free legal assistance from their interns, and the students get invaluable work experience. It’s a win for everyone.
Receiving a grant from PIP enables students to work 40 paid hours a week for 10 weeks. My experience the summer of my 1L year drives home how important that can be: of the four interns working in my division of the Office of the Attorney General, I was the only one who was able to be there for a full work day, every day: the other students in the unfunded internship program had to take jobs outside the legal industry to make ends meet. While I wasn’t necessarily making much money I was definitely able to pay rent on my PIP grant alone.
This isn’t to say that you can’t have a terrific experience if you need to work part time for financial or other reasons (or work in two different legal positions part time, which is a separate matter entirely), but I believe I got a much richer experience by being there more, from getting to know my supervisors better to getting more assignments (The first few weeks were like It has to be done by tomorrow and the other intern won’t be in until Friday? Give it to Sarah. and It’s going to need several dozen hours devoted to it? Give it to Sarah. Which mean that later on it was Oh, Sarah has already written a brief like that, Sarah has experience with affidavits, Sarah already has a rapport with the Alabama Department of Corrections Prison Ministry*… give it to Sarah. It was awesome.)
Some students enter law school set on the goal of practicing public interest, and obviously PIP is ideal for supporting them in their career paths, but the program isn’t necessarily just for them. Even if the public sector isn’t your end game, either of two things could happen if you work in a PIP grant-sponsored position: you could build skills that will be tremendously useful when you go to the private sector or wherever you envision yourself, OR you could fall in love with work you wouldn’t have had a chance to do otherwise and end up seeing yourself somewhere different than you had originally.
How does it work? Each applicant must fulfill a quota of service hours (some to the organization itself through activities like tabling for the highly anticipated Cupcake Wars fundraiser or helping with administrative tasks, others to the larger community either through Boston Cares or other volunteer projects), write an essay expressing their interest and qualifications and, perhaps most importantly, help find auction items for the annual PIP Auction Gala, a fundraising event that helps fund the grants. Trust me, it’s not as labor-intensive as it might sound, and it is entirely well worth it.