What’s public interest law?

We are wary of choosing one definition of public interest law and we believe the most important thing is to ask the right questions about how lawyers can be of service to others. Public interest law is not defined categorically by the kind of work that one pursues. Rather, it is defined by the attitude one takes to life generally. At the heart of public interest law lies a commitment to furthering the interests of others and serving the broader public – be that in your work, in your involvement outside work, or in the way in which you conduct yourself as you go about your daily affairs.

If we had to choose a definition, public interest law can be defined broadly as legal practice in the service of otherwise unrepresented or under-represented persons or interests. (This definition comes from a paper by Professor Philip Schrag at Georgetown University.)

It may include work through internships, short-term work, jobs, or volunteer work. It spans many areas, including: access to justice, environmental issues, work for Crown Law, criminal defence work, human rights, law and social policy, legal education, volunteer legal services and pro bono work, international law, work in development organisations, Community Law work, government work drawing on legal skills, other roles such as community organising or involvement in political issues.

If you’d like a better idea about what public interest law involves, our New Zealand Public Interest Law Handbook could be a good place to start.

Recruiting for a public-interest law campaign.

Recruiting for a public interest law campaign.