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The legal job market is dismal for third-year law students — even those at Harvard Law School. And so administrators at the school have created something of a job safety net in the form of a fellowship program for students who have exhausted other job options. The Holmes Public Service Fellowship program, named for Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., will provide as many as one dozen 2010 graduates with stipends of up to $35,000 to work in public interest law for one year. The fellowships will be available only to students who have proven that their attempts to land a job or fellowship have failed, said assistant dean for public service Alexa Shabecoff. Students who have offers from firms but have deferred start dates will not qualify. “This targets those students who have tried and tried and tried to get a job or fellowship and just weren’t able to,” Shabecoff said. “In the past year, the job market has been particularly difficult.” Applicants will have to document their attempts to land a job, and the fellowships won’t be awarded until April or May to allow them plenty of time to exhaust their options, Shabecoff said. The law school will contribute as much as $400,000 to the program. The fellowships will be available both to students on the public interest law track and to those who intend to work at law firms but have been unable to secure an offer. Law firm-track students must demonstrate that they have experience in the public interest area in which they intend to work. Applicants must be sponsored by a public interest organization, which can include a government agency, a designated Harvard clinical program or a non-profit group. Applicants must explain how they will spend the stipend. As with most of the public interest deferral programs offer by law firms, the idea is to provide public interest organizations with a additional lawyers without the burden of their salaries. “We’re hoping that the organizations will provide health care, because the amount we can provide won’t be enough to cover everything,” Shabecoff said. It’s not yet clear how much competition there will be for graduates seeking the fellowships, because most public interest organizations have yet to do their regular hiring, she said. “These fellowships will make it possible for more students to offer direct legal assistance to people in communities around the world and at the same time addresses the fact that funding for public service and public interest work jobs is especially in short supply right now,” Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow in a written statement. “I am proud that with this program, we can support our soon-to-be-graduates in their efforts to help others.”

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