Temple Law is known for its longstanding commitment to public service and equal access to justice. This reputation is well deserved. Our faculty – many of whom came to the law school from successful careers as public interest lawyers – are strongly supportive of Temple’s public interest program and the students who make it come to life. The curriculum, which draws on the collective experience of the faculty, has been thoughtfully designed to both instruct students in the areas of law most likely to arise in the context of a civil public interest practice and to prepare them for the unique challenges of practice in this setting.
Temple offers several courses that explore the foundation of public interest law. Introduction to Public Interest Law, for example, offers an exploration of major lawyering issues confronting public interest lawyers in a variety of practice areas, while other public interest-specific courses focus on poverty law and policy and access to justice for those with low or moderate income. Temple also offers a rich diversity of upper-level courses that explore how law and policy impact several vulnerable populations. Courses such as Political & Civil Rights, Legislation & Public Policy, and Administrative Law explore the various avenues through which public interest lawyers typically work to effect change on behalf of their clients.
Public interest practice is both exciting and challenging because new lawyers are often thrown into litigation at the deep end. It is common for new lawyers to handle simple litigation matters alone, with a minimum of post-law school training. Temple’s stellar experiential and clinical course offerings are unmatched at preparing public interest lawyers to meet these challenges head-on. In addition to Temple’s outstanding trial advocacy program, our in-house clinical offerings at the Temple Legal Aid Office and the Sheller Center for Social Justice and our rich variety of external clinics and practicums offer students a wealth of opportunities to develop the skills, knowledge base, and professional judgment that will become the foundation of a rewarding career in public interest law.
Financial Support for Public Interest
The Rubin-Presser Social Justice Fellows Program annually awards substantial scholarships to three or four entering law students who exhibit leadership potential and demonstrate exceptional ability and a longstanding commitment to public interest work. Scholars also benefit from one-on-one mentoring and specialized coursework. Admitted students are invited to apply for these scholarships in the spring preceding their matriculation to the law school.
Summer internships are crucial to every law student’s professional development. Since public sector employers can rarely afford to pay summer interns, students pursuing public interest work often require financial support. Each year, Temple Law provides summer funding to nearly 100 students through a combination of work study, funding from the Temple Law Foundation and money raised by The Student Public Interest Network (SPIN). SPIN, a student group dedicated to promotion public interest law at Temple, holds an annual auction to raise funds for summer internships.
The loan repayment assistance program (LRAP), which was created in 1990 and renamed the Barrack Fellows program in 1994, provides post-graduate financial assistance to young public service lawyers. Through the Barrack Fellows program, recent law school graduates are assisted in meeting their financial obligations while working at a chosen career in public interest or the public sector. Already, the Barrack Fellowships have provided funding to nearly 200 graduates.
At Temple, students find an atmosphere where the ideals of service and equal justice are supported by an administration, faculty, and their peers.
Several student groups keep Temple’s public interest community strong, including:
School Discipline Advocacy Service (SDAS)
SDAS is a coalition of law students, housed at Temple University Beasley School of Law, working to stem the school-to-prison pipeline by advocating on behalf of students and parents at Philadelphia public and charter school disciplinary hearings.
Student Public Interest Network (SPIN)
SPIN provides peer support and raises essential funds for students working in summer public interest internships. SPIN benefits from a broad membership that includes students seeking opportunities in public interest and those more oriented toward private opportunities, who all agree on the importance of fundraising for and supporting student public interest work as a community. The annual SPIN Auction is a key component to this fundraising and involves the dedicated work of students, faculty and administrators. SPIN also organizes and hosts an annual public interest forum centered on topics of importance to the Temple and Philadelphia community.
Temple Law Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG)
NLG boasts a lively variety of student-run committees that provide programming and pro bono and advocacy opportunities related to social justice causes and lawyering. Committees have included but are not limited to an Expungement Pro Bono Project, Immigration & Human Rights, Juvenile Justice & Youth Empowerment, Labor & Employment, and Prisoner Outreach.
Temple Alternative Break (TAB)
TAB was formed to provide students with the opportunity to spend spring break performing service to a community in need. In recent years, a group of Temple law students have traveled to New Orleans to assist with rebuilding efforts in the region.
The Temple faculty is strongly supportive of public interest law. The faculty also has an unparalleled depth of experience in public interest practice, introducing our students to how law can be used as a vehicle for social change. Many of our faculty came to the law school from successful careers as public interest lawyers in diverse practice areas and settings. These include experiences in direct civil legal services to low-income clients at agencies such as the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Education Law Center, and Mazzoni Center Legal Services; issue advocacy at non-profits like Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund or the American Civil Liberties Union; federal government agencies including the Department of Justice; and criminal prosecution and public defender offices, among others.
The Office of Public Interest Programs
Staffed by an experienced former public interest attorney, the Office of Public Interest Programs serves as an administrative hub that offers career counseling and networking assistance, public interest programming, support for student public interest initiatives, and pro bono opportunities. In addition to summer or semester internships, clinicals and practicums, Temple Law students can take advantage of our partnerships with several local and regional agencies to do shorter-term volunteer public interest work across a wide range of community needs.
Temple leads the region in public interest placement by placing more graduates in public interest jobs than any other law school in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Temple also typically exceeds the national average for public interest placement each year. Temple’s emphasis on helping others allows students to feel supported and nurtured in their desire to provide service to their communities. Among other support for those seeking public interest careers, the Office of Public Interest Programs partners with faculty to ensure that students are assisted throughout the process for seeking post-graduate public interest fellowship positions.
Clinicals and Experiential Learning Programs
Temple’s clinical program, established in 1953 with the opening of the Temple Legal Aid Office, is one of the most popular programs at the Law School. Clinicals and practica offer students the opportunity to receive academic credit for supervised work in diverse professional settings.
Approximately 250 clinical opportunities are offered each year and include public interest and public sector experiences ranging from family law to criminal defense to environmental law to transactional law. Many graduates report that a clinical course was the highlight of their law school experience and for some, a clinical changed the direction of their legal career.
Commitment to Service
Temple Law students can take advantage of our partnerships with several local and regional agencies to do public interest work across a wide range of community needs in areas including domestic violence, homelessness, wrongful conviction, and school-to-prison pipeline issues.