Want to Influence Public Policy? 5 Law School Admissions Tips To Make It Happen
If you are interested in attending law school because you hope to shape or influence public policy, there are many options for you. According to this US News article, a law degree is a terrific pathway to government work.
Start with the substance – always.
“Policy” can be a broad term, so begin by identifying what type of policy you are most interested in working on. If you want to influence public or industry policy, or both, it is probably because you care about a particular topic, industry or issue. Identify what those are.
Perhaps becoming active in a particular industry (oil, health care, technology) is appealing to you. Alternatively, you may be interested in advocating for social justice issues (environmental policy, health care access, civil rights). Identifying the values, ideas and goals underlying your interest in policy is the best place to start.
Attend law school in the nation’s capital or New York City.
If you want to work on federal policy or global policy, this is probably the place for you. George Washington School of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, American University Washington College of Law, Howard University School of Law — all of these schools could enable access to policymakers on Capitol Hill.
If you are interested in working at the United Nations or otherwise influencing international policy, New York City may be the right place for you. New York University has a human rights program that focuses on the United Nations and other international organizations. Proximity is a critical component: being in New York could enable you to engage with international policymakers, their staff, and key stakeholders.
Attend law school in a state capital.
If you want to influence state or local policy, attend law school in or near a state capital. This will enable you to develop relationships with the state legislature, and could also generate internship opportunities in the state capital or city or county councils. This also gets to the question of where in the country you want to work and live. Particular industries or issues are more relevant in some parts of the country than others. It is a good idea to plant yourself in the place where a lot is happening in the policy area you wish to work in. For example, Texas is a key location if you want to be for the oil industry; California or the Midwest are important places for our agriculture industry.
Seek out legislative clinics, journals, and joint programs:
Some law schools have especially strong clinics that train you in policy work. For example, University of Pennsylvania Legislative Clinic is devoted to legislative lawyering. NYU Law has a journal dedicated to legislation and policy. Many law schools offer joint programs in law and policy; for example, Harvard Law School offers a joint program in law and government.
Intern for a lobbying firm or a lobbyist.
Spend the summers following your 1L and 2L year interning with lobbying firms, lobbyists or think tanks doing the kind of policy work you are interested in. Interning with a member of Congress, a state legislator or local council member can provide similar experience. The opportunities in this area are so broad that again, it is a good idea to narrow down the areas that interest you most. This also ties into where you will be attending law school. Proximity to local, state or federal government can open doors that you may not even be aware of.
A law degree is an excellent tool to lead you to a career in policy. Consider first the “what” – what issues you want to work on, and follow that up with “where” – where in the country you want to be, and whether you are interested in federal, state or local policy. Many opportunities await you — as long as you do the hard work of self-reflection and research programs that are the best fit for you!
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