How to approach the non-essay components of the Shaffer application

As you fill out the Shaffer and Bank of America Foundation Fellowship applications, the essays are likely taking up most of your thoughts and time but I do get questions about the application itself and will clarify the most common points of confusion in this blog post, starting with the top of the application and then going down.

You can access the 2019/2020 Shaffer and Bank of America Fellowship applications on the fellowships website.

First, the fellowship application asks applicants to list “graduate education.”

Below this section, the application also asks applicants to list “legal education.” Of course, in the “legal education” section, list Notre Dame Law School. Do not repeat Notre Dame Law School in the “graduate education” section. That section exists so applicants who earned a masters or PhD before attending law school can list that education. If you did not earn masters or PhD before attending law school, you can leave that section blank.

Every year, applicants ask me how heavily the committee weighs GPA. The answer is “not much.” The committee consistently awards both the Shaffer and Bank of America Foundation fellowships to the applicants with the strongest projects, regardless of GPA. Still, the committee is composed of humans and humans like numbers and metrics. If you are concerned about your GPA, you can ask the faculty member writing your letter of recommendation to discuss your performance in their class and to state their confidence that you will make a great fellow. 

Next, the Shaffer application asks the applicant to list their legal education, which I address above. 

Under “Relevant law school activities,” do not list every single club you are a member of in law school. Instead, really focus in on the word “relevant.” Obviously, Public Interest Law Forum membership is relevant for any Shaffer application. If you have an environmental law project, listing your Environmental Law Society participation is useful. If you did a great deal of pro bono work in law school outside of your work experiences, this is a great place to list that.

Read #4 in this blog post for a longer discussion about how to assess whether a particular activity is relevant.

Next up is the “Other Fellowships Applied for” section

Fortunately, The Equal Justice Works Fellowship application is due on September 20 the same as the Shaffer and Bank of America Foundation fellowships, and is largely made up of the same components of a Shaffer application but with some extra essay questions. (See a sample EJW application here.) If you’re applying for Shaffer or BOAF, at a minimum, plan to apply for EJW if possible. Not all organizations are willing to sponsor candidates for both EJW and NDLS fellowships but if your organization is, try and apply for EJW as well.  By virtue of applying to Shaffer and BOAF, you will have the important bones of the application in place; host organization, letters of recommendation, and a project. Just answer the extra questions, particularly pertaining to metrics and you have another job application out there and can feel more confident about your Shaffer and BOAF applications because you will be able to say you’re applying to other fellowships instead of just relying on the Notre Dame specific opportunities.

The Skadden fellowship is due on September 16. If you can complete the components of that application in time, try to do so. Again, you have the bones in place so you might as well.

As far as “Other Fellowships Applied For,” there are tons of opportunities and it behooves you to take advantage of them. Read the Notre Dame Public Interest Fellowship Database “paid fellowships” tab. There are over 200 distinct fellowship opportunities, spanning a very wide variety of practice and geographic areas. To name 3 out of the 200, the California Capitol Fellows Program places fellows at the highest level of California state government, the Georgetown University Law Center: Harrison Institute for Public Law Fellowship  has fellows work for Georgetown’s legal clinic for either the health team or trade team while receiving an LLM degree, and the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship awards fellows $90,000 to participate in a year-long training program, where they learn how to open a charter school in one of BES’ designated areas and then work to start a charter school after the program.

PSJD’s Postgraduate Fellowship Resource will also point you to tons of unique fellowship opportunities and give you ideas for host organizations.

You should review these and apply to ones that interest you not just to bolster your Shaffer and BOAF applications but to give yourself a shot at some really great job opportunities.

Next, the Shaffer and BOAF applications ask applicants to list their “Sponsoring Organization”

Your “sponsoring organization” is your host organization where you will be completing your two-year fellowship. Before you start writing your Shaffer and BOAF essays, fill out this application, or take any further step to apply for fellowships, you must secure a host organization. It is the very first step in applying for Notre Dame fellowships. You can find potential host organizations in the Public Interest Fellowship Database in the “Unpaid fellowships & host orgs” tab or by searching PSJD. If you want to talk through potential host organizations, contact me ASAP.

You must be supervised by an attorney. The committee will not fund projects taking place in an organization without an attorney on-site. The committee takes supervision very seriously because they want you to be successful in your fellowship so be sure to engage in conversations about who your supervisor will be very early in the process.

The next section is “Project Synopsis”

You can copy and paste from your first essay if you wish. You will want to list the organization again, state who you are serving, the problem you’re trying to solve, and how you plan to solve it. This does not need to be incredibly long or involved. The committee will rely mostly on your essays to understand the details of your project. This section provides a quick look.

Example #1:Here are some examples of project synopses that past successful Shaffer applicants provided:

“I will be working with survivors of human trafficking and advocating on their behalf to eliminate legal barriers that prevent them from integrating into society. Example engagements include parking and traffic ticket disputes, custody and family law matters, and educational access issues.”

Example #2:

“Supporting the Asylum Project by representing individuals seeking asylum in the United States.”

Example #3:

“The purpose of my project is to provide legal aid to homeless families in Illinois to make sure that children have access to education. My project has two components. The main focus is expanding the work of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) geographically by providing legal services in the suburbs of Chicago where there is a lack of legal resources for homeless families. Second, my project is expanding the substantive work of CCH in Chicago by focusing on eliminating barriers for homeless families to access preschools and selective enrollment schools including charter and magnet schools, under the recently reauthorized McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.”

“Previous Public Service Employment”

This section encompasses any public service employment, including summer work experiences during law school, externships, and non-legal public service employment performed during or before law school. I encourage you to take a broad view of “public service.” If you worked for a judge your 1L summer, include that. If you worked for the City of Chicago through the Chicago program, include that.

Next, the application calls for “Other Relevant Public Service Experience”

This is where you should list any public service experience you have outside of the employment context, both legal and non-legal. If you worked with the Innocence Project at Notre Dame to represent clients, put that here. If you did client intake for Indiana Legal Services in your spare time, put that here. If you volunteer at a cancer walk in your hometown every year, put that down. If you volunteered to help immigrants at O’Hare airport last year, include that. You get the point. It doesn’t have to be legal work although if it is, definitely include it. The committee is looking to see if you have consistently been committed to public service throughout your life so any experience that shows that commitment, legal or not, will help.

I hope this breakdown answers some questions and makes filling out the application relatively painless. I am happy to review your application with you.

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