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Release: June 19, 2000

Significant percentage of UI law graduates opt for public interest careers

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Despite salaries in the mid-20s and demanding work days, a small but significant percentage of University of Iowa College of Law graduates are opting for careers in public interest law.

At the UI, 7.43 percent of the UI law school's 1998 graduating class accepted jobs in the public interest areas, according to the National Association of Law School's (NALP) national directory of law school's self-reported placement results. The class of 1998 is the most recent class to be officially reported.

Class of 2000 University of Iowa College of Law graduate Erica Clinton and third-year student Todd Kline are among several recent and current students who have chosen to practice public interest law.

"My commitment stems from wanting to give back to the community," says Clinton, who last year interned at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and will begin a federal clerkship in Wyoming this fall.

She says as many as 36 recent UI law graduates agreed to donate 1 percent of their salaries to a special fund of the Equal Justice Foundation (EJF), which helps to provide legal assistance to the underprivileged. Money from the fund helps students who otherwise would receive no pay for their summer work at non-profit or legal aid organizations, Clinton says.

In 1998 a higher percentage of law graduates from the University of Iowa opted for careers in which the public's interest is served than did those earning a juris doctorate from other top law schools ranked by U.S. News and World Report's most recent annual graduate schools guide. At top-ranked Yale University law school, 4 percent of its students took public interest jobs. At No. 2-ranked Stanford University, 2 percent of its graduates took similar jobs, and at No. 3-ranked Harvard, 2.3 percent accepted public interest jobs.

Clinton and Kline each say being able to give counsel to indigent groups means more to them than high salaries being paid in the private sector.

Kline is among six current law students who are able to work in public interest areas across the country this summer, thanks to money raised by law students for the EJF fund. He and others debunk the myth that students with lower grades go to work in public interest areas. The main reason so few law graduates go into public interest law is because of the much lower salaries, he says.

"A variety of public interest positions, such as environmental and disability law, are very competitive," says Kline, who this summer is working at the Juvenile Division for the District

Attorney of Denver. He says many public interest organizations, when making hiring decisions, weigh more heavily an applicant's demonstrated commitment than their grade point average.

A 25-year perspective of six employer types published by the NALP shows that, nationally, the number of attorneys working in public interest fields hasn't been higher than 5.8 percent since 1978. The percentage traditionally hovers just above 2 percent. In 1998, the percentage stood at 2.6 percent compared to 55 percent for the number of law graduates who went into private practice.

"The reality is that there aren't enough openings across the public interest field," he said.

Jill Gringer, UI Law Career Services Office, says a number of UI law students are interested in public causes and careers, and still others choose to sit on boards as a way of contributing to the greater good of society. Students like Clinton and Kline, she says, "are the quiet heroes."

The students' commitment to serving underrepresented people is commendable, says Karen Klouda, career services director at the Iowa law school.