Create Your Public-Interest Dream Job Through the Shaffer Fellowship

Notre Dame Law has two guaranteed public-interest jobs for 3Ls and the best part is you literally create your own dream job. You choose the organization. You choose the project. You are only limited by your own imagination.

How is this possible? Through the Thomas L. Shaffer Fellowship, Notre Dame awards two-year fellowships to two 3Ls and only Notre Dame Law students are eligible to apply.

Applications are due to me on September 15, 2016. If you are interested in applying, schedule an appointment with me on symplicity as soon as possible to discuss your application plan. 

The first key step to preparing your Shaffer application is finding a host organization, where you will work, to support your project. Your project is yours to create and you can do just about anything. Past fellows have created projects addressed barriers to re-entry for ex-felons, fighting for immigrant women facing gender-based violence, defending the water rights of citizens in rural New Mexico, representing African clients applying for asylum, defending youths who are suspended or expelled from public schools, and many more.

You can go anywhere and do anything.

Fellows earn $46,000 per year plus full benefits and work at their organizations for two-years.

The Shaffer Fellowship has proven to be a tremendous launching pad for public interest careers.

Since its creation in 2011, 13 Shaffer Fellows have been selected to complete projects at 10 different organizations from across the country, including in organizations in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Denver, New Mexico, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C, Philadelphia, and Houston. Of the 9 fellows that have completed their projects, six remain at the organizations at which they completed their Shaffer projects, two are continuing their careers in public interest, doing work similar to what did they in their projects, and one is a faculty member at a law school, pursuing research interests consistent with the work he completed as a Shaffer fellow.

A complete application is composed of seven pieces, the most arduous of which is preparing three essays describing your project and why you are the best person to complete the project. The piece requiring the most advanced timing is letters of recommendation and it is best to give those writing letters of recommendation for you at least one month to write them. For all of these reasons and because it is ideal to go through multiple drafts of your essays with me before submitting them, it is best to get started with the process as soon as possible.

Successful applicants will apply for fellowships beyond just Shaffer, including at least the Equal Justice Works Fellowship, and ideally several additional fellowships, which are listed in the Public Interest Database and on PSJD.

You can read about the Shaffer application process through the eyes of one of last year’s successful fellowship applicants’ here.

Here are the seven pieces of the application: 

1. Thomas L. Shaffer Public Interest Fellowship 2016 Application
Note that the application requires the applicant to answer three questions asking the candidate to explain their project and host organization, demonstrate their commitment to public service, and show why their project will advance Notre Dame’s mission. Candidates wishing to view examples of past successful essays can email the Career Development Office and it will provide them.

2. Official Law School transcript
3. A Letter of Recommendation from a professor
Note to recommenders: please draft letters of recommendation on Notre Dame letterhead and address the letter to the “Thomas L. Shaffer Public Interest Fellowship Committee.”

4. A Letter of Recommendation from a former employer
5. Resume (including Undergraduate GPA)
6. Signed Fellow Agreement, with explanation of the type of work the applicant anticipates performing and the name and address of the host agency
7. Signed Host Agency Agreement, identifying the work the applicant would be engaged to perform, and accompanied by documentation that confirms the host agency’s 501( c )(3) status

For more information, visit the Shaffer Fellowship website.

If you need help identifying a host organization, coming up with a project, deciding which fellowships to apply to, or just need to talk about fellowships more, email me at

I look forward to learning more about your projects!

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