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The extraordinary growth of large companies and the concentration of capital in recent years have influenced every part of society, including the number of lawyers practicing corporate law and the size of their salaries. Not surprisingly, many of the best and brightest law school graduates are pursuing these jobs like never before. But, as those of us who work in law schools are often reminded, students’ interest in the law is about much more than following the money. While in law school, many students get involved in clinical work. Some defend juveniles, while others might help men and women with claims of wrongful convictions or asylum-seekers. And, whether they become corporate, public interest or sole practitioners, we have ample evidence that their interest in helping continues. The private-public interest dichotomy of the public servant versus the “money-grubbing” lawyer is especially false today. The irony of the fast and fluid world of law and business is that there are now more opportunities than ever for graduates who go on to become corporate lawyers to get involved in public interest law. Firm-bound law graduates who worry about “selling out” will find an increasing number of their employers, too, put a premium on voluntary or pro bono work. Part of what has been going on has to do with a recent emphasis on volunteerism by national and corporate leaders. More and more corporations are devoting resources to community service projects. Corporate motives, of course, are mixed. Such volunteerism work can burnish corporate images and strengthen employees’ team-building skills. But corporations also recognize the value of supporting employees’ genuine desires to do good for good’s sake. The corporate embrace of volunteerism also affects law firms. Some corporations are actually considering the amount of pro bono work that law firms have done when they’re in the market for legal services. So firms who are already strongly committed to pro bono work suddenly have added value. These firms understand the pragmatic value of their pro bono work, which provides excellent training for young associates, who are sometimes a bit too green to play hefty roles in the firms’ large and increasingly more complex cases. Law schools also feel the effects of this push toward volunteerism. An organization called Equal Justice Works is surveying law schools across the country about their pro bono or community service work. Administrators are paying close attention to the specifics of what they’re doing, well aware that what they report will be examined and compared by prospective students. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. Law graduates consistently offer feedback about how profoundly they’ve been affected by their clinical experiences, whether they’ve been writing and arguing motions for murder cases, gaining asylum for victims fleeing their home countries, or advocating for electronic recordings of juvenile confessions. Students are getting a peek into how justice plays out for clients with little money in a legal system whose resources are stretched to the limit. These real-world experiences with real clients in real court rooms engage their hearts as well as minds in ways that boost legal skills and deepen insights about how law can make a difference. The same is true for first-year law students who do public interest work during the summer. Many first-years work at public interest or government entities over the summer because they are much more likely to get hired at those jobs than at large law firms. But these students often come back energized from the experience and in love with the law. That enthusiasm and experience counts a lot when the students interview in the fall with large law firms. Growing public-private partnerships enable law schools to have a greater impact by serving those in need, or in pushing for reform. Through clinical work, high-powered lawyers, who primarily serve large corporate or commercial clients, may lead students in filing amicus briefs in U.S. Supreme Court cases or in providing defense for indigent clients. Not only do the lawyers’ expertise and their firms’ resources have a great impact on the clinical work of law schools. Firms benefit from the expertise of law school faculty in dealing with issues outside of their usual areas of business. Law students come to see that serving the public and working for corporate or commercial clients are not competing interests as they begin to formulate their career paths. Our job is to make sure that our law schools are doing everything possible to support a lifetime commitment to public service. Donald L. Rebstock is an Associate Dean of Enrollment, Management and Career Strategy at Northwestern University School of Law.

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