Reaching out to host organizations for Public Interest Fellowships

In a previous blog post, I covered how to identify possible host organizations for public interest fellowships. If you haven’t made your list of organizations that you’re interested in yet, please go back, read that blog post, make your list, and then come back to this blog post. In order to apply for a public interest fellowship, you must first have an organization agree to serve as your host organization. You cannot even begin the application process until you get that agreement from an organization. So..

Once you have identified organizations you’re interested in, the next question is how do you go about reaching out to them to ask if they are willing to be your host organization for fellowship applications?

(1) The first step is doing a deep dive into the organization’s website to see if they have a clear application process for fellowship applicants. Organizations that regularly get EJW, Skadden, and other outside fellows very frequently do. The reason is that for these organizations, the internal process for selecting who they are going to put up as their applicant is itself competitive.

In the best case scenario, organizations make this process very clear on their website. You will need to do some digging to find the section of the website that describes fellowships but it is almost always located in the careers section. Often times, organizations will have a separate “careers” heading on their website. If they don’t, the careers section is usually located in the “about” section.

Organizations vary in the level of detail that they will provide in these postings. Some will be incredibly detailed, leaving no questions left. The best postings will state deadlines for submitting materials, will state all of the materials applicants need to submit and even what those materials should focus on, and will state potential projects that they want fellows to work on. So you don’t even need to come up with your own project idea. Other organizations will state the deadline and application materials they want without telling you what to write in those materials and without giving you a sense of project ideas. And others will simply state the deadline and leave it at that.

Let’s look at specific examples of what some of these postings look like starting with an example of the most detailed:

The Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia posted the following posting in 2019 for fellowship applicants. I found it by going to “about” then “careers” then looking to the right side of the screen where “fellowships” were listed. I then clicked on “Sponsored Fellowship Opportunities.” Here is the JLC posting: 

Project-Based Fellow Opportunity

Juvenile Law Center will sponsor attorney candidates for post-graduate public interest fellowships provided by the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, Equal Justice Works Fellowship, Soros Justice Fellowship, Law school sponsored fellowships, or other outside fellowship funding organizations.

In 2019, Juvenile Law Center and selected candidate(s) will propose fellowship(s) on one or more of the following project topics: 

  • Juvenile Sex Offender Registration (SORNA):  The fellow will target 3-5 jurisdictions to provide intensive policy reform technical assistance with the goal of eliminating sex offender registration for young people in the state.
  • Solitary Confinement & Harsh Conditions:  The fellow will engage in research and develop legal strategies to eliminate strip searches and protect bodily privacy and dignity in youth facilities, with a particular focus on reducing harm to youth of color, girls, and LGBTQIA youth.
  • Economic Justice:  The fellow will focus on developing legal strategies to identify and address racial inequities in the youth justice system and their connection with juvenile fines and fees.

Essential Functions will vary by chosen project, and may include, but not be limited to:  

  • Thinking strategically about opportunities to advocate for child welfare and justice systems that are developmentally appropriate, racially equitable, and supportive of youth, families and communities
  • Engaging in impact litigation and/or appellate advocacy to shape the field of youth law, including drafting memoranda, motions, and briefs as well as oral advocacy and trial participation as needed
  • Engaging in policy reform efforts, including analyzing statutes and regulations, drafting fact sheets and publications, and convening key stakeholders
  • Providing public education to various stakeholders
  • Working with Juvenile Law Center’s communications team on media and other strategic communications
  • Collaborating with and building coalitions with directly-impacted populations and other stakeholders

The fellowship will require some travel in Pennsylvania and nationally.

Essential Skills

  • Commitment to Juvenile Law Center’s mission and vision
  • Strong foundation in research, writing, and oral communication
  • Highly collaborative, including ability to work effectively with external partners and internal colleagues; ability to build strong rapport and relationships; ability to work collaboratively alongside youth
  • Strong sense of professionalism, including ability to manage multiple deadlines; strong work ethic and commitment to see assignments completed thoroughly and timely; flexibility to pitch in when needed; willingness to learn new skills and improve existing skills
  • A commitment to racial equity, including: a dedication to expanding analysis and knowledge about the role that racial inequity plays in our society and a commitment to building or deepening commitment to racial justice work.

Additional Skills and Experiences Preferred: 

  • Demonstrated ability to think strategically about child welfare and justice systems that are developmentally appropriate, racially equitable, and supportive of youth, families and communities.
  • Previous internship, clinical, or class experience in impact litigation, appellate advocacy or policy analysis and advocacy.
  • Demonstrated skills in racial justice advocacy, including: a demonstrated understanding of the role of racial inequity in movement-building, a demonstrated ability to effectively manage across difference, an ability to integrate understanding of racial equity concepts into work projects by addressing structural implications and disproportionate impacts of laws, policies, and practices.
  • Insights into the justice and child welfare systems that bring a new perspective to Juvenile Law Center, which may be based on personal experience in the system; personal experience as a member of a marginalized group; prior experience working with youth, families or communities impacted by the child welfare or justice systems; and/or deep knowledge of a relevant body of law.

Responsibility Level

The Project-Based Fellow is supervised by a Staff or Senior Attorney.

Eligibility

Candidates must be eligible for the outside Fellowship for which they want to apply. Eligibility requirements will vary. Candidates are expected to carefully review the eligibility, application, benefits, and other information about the outside Fellowships for which they seek sponsorship.

An offer to sponsor a candidate for an outside fellowship is not an offer of employment. Juvenile Law Center makes no promise to hire candidates who are not selected for a fellowship by the outside organization.

If Juvenile Law Center and candidate agree to pursue outside fellowships together, that candidate will be ineligible for the Zubrow Fellowship. A candidate who applies for sponsorship and is not selected by Juvenile Law Center may still apply for the Zubrow Fellowship.

Application Instructions

Send cover letter describing interests and experience, a resume, list of three references and a writing sample in a single PDF to hr@jlc.org. In your cover letter, please let us know how you heard of this position. Applications will be accepted until July 19, 2019.

The cover letter should include the following information: 

  • Which project topic(s) listed above (second chances, conditions, or economic justice) are you most interested in?
  • Explain why you are passionate about this project topic(s). Please highlight any personal, volunteer, professional or other experiences relevant to the project topic, and/or to your interest in the child welfare or justice systems generally. As much as possible, give specific examples that demonstrate your interest, commitment, and understanding of the issues.
  • Are there legal strategies that you are most interested in? E.g. are you hoping to do impact litigation?  Appellate advocacy? Policy work?  Public education? Coalition building?  All of the above?

If selected, the candidate and Juvenile Law Center staff will work together to craft the fellowship project and application to be submitted to outside Fellowships.

Candidates may apply for more than one project, using the same cover letter.

Applications will be reviewed by a hiring team, which will select certain candidates for interviews. Interviews will take place by video or phone in the end of July or early August. Candidates will be notified no later than August 16, 2019 if selected for sponsorship.

Salary

The base compensation for this position is $62,000, which may be comprised of both salary and student loan reimbursement, depending on the fellowship sponsor.  Juvenile Law Center offers excellent health care benefits, disability insurance and life insurance. Some Fellowships may offer additional benefits, subject to sponsor’s discretion.

As you can see from the posting, JLC makes their application process and deadline incredibly clear. If you want them to be your host organization, you needed to have sent all of the required documents, including a cover letter that listed potential project areas by July 19. JLC takes all of the guesswork out of what they want from a project. They make it clear that they are looking for fellows to complete projects in three potential areas and applicants need to ultimately choose one.

Let’s take a look at a posting that provides very little detail:

Public Counsel in Los Angeles (“about us,” “employment and internships,” scroll down to “fellowship opportunities” simply states the following on their website:

Fellowship Opportunities

Public Counsel welcomes fellowship applications from law school graduates interested in doing work that will further the mission of one or more of our many law projects. We do not have an application form separate from those used by the organizations that fund the fellowships, and students who are interested in a fellowship at Public Counsel should communicate directly with the Directing Attorneys of the Public Counsel project you wish to work with. Make sure to get started well before the fellowship program deadline. If you have a problem reaching the directing attorney or other questions, email Pro Bono Director David Daniels.

As you can see, Public Counsel’s posting is significantly less detailed than the Juvenile Law Center and expects the applicant to do a lot more research and take a lot more initiative in order to secure them as their host organization. They don’t list a deadline for applicants, they don’t specify what materials they are looking for, and they certainly don’t list project ideas. If you want Public Counsel to be your host organization, you need to do more work; namely look up the various projects they focus on, identify the relevant Directing Attorney of that project, and reach out with your own email introducing yourself and asking if they are open to starting a conversation about serving as your host organization for fellowships.

For this email, I would suggest a clear subject line with a question mark such as “Speak with law student about Public Interest Fellowships?” Then, in the email introduce yourself, say you are interested in having the organization serve as your host organization for fellowships, and specify the fellowships you’re applying for. Include a brief description of ND’s fellowships. “I am interested in applying for public interest fellowships such as EJW, Skadden, and Notre Dame’s own internal fellowships. Notre Dame has two internal fellowship with two slots each devoted exclusively to Notre Dame students. These fellowships are modeled after Skadden, run for two years, and Notre Dame pays the fellows’ salary and benefits.” Close by asking if they have time to speak with you next week about fellowship opportunities at their organization.

I am happy to review drafts of your emails to organizations.

Let’s take a look at a posting that is in between JLC and Public Counsel in terms of the detailed provided:

Legal Aid Chicago (“Get Involved,” “Work With Us,” “Current Opportunities,” “Skadden or EJW Fellows” states the following for their fellowship application process:

Calling All Potential Skadden or EJW Fellows!

Do you want Legal Aid Chicago to be the host organization for your Skadden or EJW application? In the fall of 2019, will you be a 3L, recent law grad, or judicial clerk? If so, consider one of these postgraduate fellowships.

As a first step, Legal Aid Chicago must agree to serve as your host organization. We will accept fellowship proposals through Monday, July 15, 2019. We encourage applications from candidates with diverse cultural backgrounds and/or oral proficiency in languages other than English.

QUALIFICATIONS Applicants should have:

· Experience with or demonstrated commitment to civil legal services.

· Dedication to working with and on behalf of members of low-income and other vulnerable communities.

· Excellent research, writing, and court advocacy skills.

· Strong communication and interpersonal skills, as well as the ability to work collaboratively in an interdisciplinary setting.

Applicants must have: ·

An Illinois law license or the ability to become licensed in Illinois, or · Completed at least two years of law school at an ABA accredited school.

APPLICATION PROCESS

Interested candidates should submit the following:

· Resume

· Cover letter addressing your interest and experience in public interest and describing any ideas for a fellowship proposal. Although we ask that you describe any ideas you have regarding a fellowship proposal please note that it is not necessary to have a proposal at this stage of the application process.

· Brief legal writing sample (2-4 pages)

· Law school transcript

· Contact information for two professional references

These materials should be sent via email no later than Monday, July 15, 2019 to resume@legalaidchicago.org. Please put “2020 Fellowships” in the subject line of the email.

Please note that Legal Aid Chicago may sponsor more than one individual for each Fellowship opportunity and that Fellowship awards are not guarantees of employment with Legal Aid Chicago once the fellowship expires.

As you can see from this posting, Legal Aid Chicago provides more detail about what they are looking for in an applicant than Public Counsel but less detail than the Juvenile Law Center. They provide a clear deadline and state what application materials they are looking for but do not give specific project ideas.

So when reaching out to host organizations, first do a deep dig into the website to see if the fellowship application process is made clear. If it is, then follow that process, submit the requested materials by the deadline, and wait for a response.

(2) If there is no mention of fellowships on the organization’s website, you’ll have to independently reach out and ask to speak with someone about fellowship opportunities. Email an attorney at the organization to get the conversation started. I would start by emailing the person who is listed as the contact for internships. If no such person is listed, email an attorney that does work in a project area that interests you. I would follow the email template I wrote above for Public Counsel, mention that you noted the organization does not reference applicants for fellowships on their website, and ask if they are interested in exploring the possibility of serving as your host organization for fellowships.

Keep in mind that organizations that don’t state the application process on their website can still be a great place to complete your fellowship. They may not be in the practice of regularly hosting fellows or they may just want to see you take initiative and email them.

If you have any questions along the way or want your outreach email drafts reviewed, email me at katelynn.mcbride@nd.edu.

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