What is a Fellowship?
The term fellowship covers a broad range of programs. Yale Law School's "Fellowship Application Tips" describes a fellowship as "a specified sum awarded after law school graduation for a fixed time period (usually one or two years) to fulfill a fairly specific purpose." Postgraduate fellowships enable graduating law students to secure entry-level positions in public interest and other non-profit organizations that may not otherwise be hiring full-time entry level attorneys. Most fellowships are short term, usually one to two years, although it is not uncommon for some agencies or public interest organizations to keep the fellow on as a paid staff attorney after the fellowship term concludes.
Reasons for Participating in a Fellowship
As many public interest organizations are unable to hire new law school graduates, fellowships provide a special entry into the world of public interest law. Fellowships offer opportunities to develop expertise in a particular area of law or public service, make future contacts for employment following the fellowship, and work in fields and in organizations that often only hire more experienced lawyers and professionals. In addition, a fellow will receive notable recognition of accomplishments for future employment.
Types of Fellowships (examples noted in bullets):
1. Organization-Based Fellowships - A number of nonprofit organizations administer their own fellowships. These fellows receive a stipend for working within the organization. In addition to the fellowship salary and duration, the organization determines the scope of the fellow's work. Candidates apply directly to the organization and the organization usually chooses the fellow without outside assistance.
- BPI Polikoff-Gautreaux Fellowship, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI), Chicago, IL
- Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Fellowship, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (CA)
- Racial Justice Project Fellowship, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, San Francisco, CA
2. Project-Based Fellowships - Some foundations fund fellowships for applicants who develop a specific project in conjunction with a sponsoring non-profit organization. The funders usually have limitations on the projects they will fund or have particular issues or types of projects they prefer. The funders consider not just the applicant's qualifications but also the qualification of the sponsoring organization to house and supervise the project as well as the feasibility and benefit of the project itself.
- Skadden Foundation Fellowships - Program funds approximately 25 fellowships every year to provide civil legal services to underserved groups in the U.S. Applicants submit a project proposal with a commitment letter from the sponsoring organization.
- Equal Justice Works Fellowships - Program funds several dozen fellowships annually for legal services to underserved groups in the U.S.
3. Firm-Sponsored Fellowships - Many law firms have developed a variety of public interest fellowship models. All of them involve being paid by the firm for a period of time while doing public interest work. In some cases, the fellow is placed with a designated public interest organization for a fixed period of time with or without a commitment to work with the sponsoring law firm. In others, the fellow works at the sponsoring law firm exclusively on pro bono matters.
- Holland & Knight Chesterfield Smith Fellowship - Fellow is placed for two years with a designated organization in one of the cities in which the law firm has an office. It is expected that the fellow will join the firm as a third-year associate at the end of the fellowship.
4. Academic Fellowships - Stipends that assist candidates seeking graduate degrees or pursuing different types of scholarly research projects. Legal education has added some variations to the traditional fellowship model, specifically to support law teaching and public interest work. One type of fellowship provides a stipend and tuition for the fellow to obtain an LL.M. degree while teaching J.D. students, often in a clinical setting. The second type allows a fellow to research or teach in an academic setting, but does not link this work to obtaining an LL.M. degree.
- Georgetown University Law Center: Women's Law and Public Policy Fellowship - Fellows work in D.C. for 1 year with participating agencies on legal and policy issues affecting the status of women. Georgetown offers a dozen of other fellowships in conjunction with its clinics and policy centers. Most offer clinical teaching experience within an LL.M. program; some offer research and advocacy opportunities without a degree.
- University of Chicago Law School: Harry A. Bigelow Teaching Fellowships - Fellows supervise the first-year legal research and writing program.
5. Entrepreneurial Grants - Foundation grants for individually designed public interest projects.
- Echoing Green Foundation Public Interest Fellowship - Program offers two-year fellowships to "social entrepreneurs" who develop an independent and autonomous project that creatively addresses community needs.
6. Non-Legal Fellowships
- Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs - Sixty-eight fellows are selected annually to work for nine months to expose them to public affairs.
- White House Fellowships - Eleven to nineteen fellows are selected per year to work full-time as special assistant to a Cabinet member or senior presidential advisor and participates in an education program designed to nurture his or her development as a leader.
How Do I Find Out About Fellowship Opportunities?
The most comprehensive source of fellowship opportunities and fellowship information is available on the PSJD site, of which Chicago-Kent is a subscribing member. Students and alumni from participating member law schools can perform customized searches for fellowship opportunities or can search by location or practice area for public interest and non-profit organizations. For fellowship information and resources, see PSJD's Postgraduate Fellowship page.
Another excellent resource is Harvard Law School's Serving the Public: Job Search Guide available in the career services office. Finally, all legal and law-related fellowship opportunities provided to Kent's career services office are posted in the job posting system. These opportunities may also be highlighted in the fellowship section of the career services Record page.
The Fellowship Application Process
Each fellowship has its own specific application form and distinct selection criteria. Many of the popular full-time fellowships have early fall deadlines around mid-October and early November, though other deadlines extend into the spring or on a rolling basis.
The key is to leave yourself plenty of time to prepare your application. Most fellowship programs require personal statements/ essays by the applicant (including one or more essays describing your project and your background), recommendations from professors and/or former employers, and transcripts. Some require a statement from the sponsoring organization and others require a legal writing sample.
Fellowships are often awarded on how well the applicant conveys the goals of the project, the concrete and specific strategies to accomplish these goals and the particular skills and experience the applicant has to make the project succeed.
Yale Law School Career Development Office's Fellowship Application Tips is a comprehensive handbook containing fellowship application tips and is a must read for any law student considering applying for a fellowship.