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NIU Law makes top 20 for public interest law

January 25, 2012
Jennifer L. Rosato

Jennifer L. Rosato

New rankings released by the National Jurist recognize the NIU College of Law as one of the best schools in the nation for students interested in pursuing careers in public service or public sector jobs.

According to the magazine, 16.6 percent of NIU law graduates pursue careers practicing law in government, placing it in the top 20 in that category. The government classification includes lawyers who practice in areas such as zoning and taxes, or who handle legal affairs for public agencies.

“It’s wonderful to receive such national recognition,” said Jennifer L. Rosato, dean of the NIU College of Law. “It’s a tremendous honor for the college, for our alumni and for our students who are exploring this avenue, which has been an area of strength for the college since its inception.”

Nearly a quarter of NIU law graduates choose to start their careers pursuing some aspect of public interest law, said Greg Anderson, director of career opportunities and development for the college.

“While this particular ranking focuses on the number of graduates working in government, there are many others who go on to work as prosecutors, public defenders and for public interest agencies.”

Educating lawyers for those jobs is something the college is proud of, Rosato said.

“Serving the public good is an important role for every public law school, and as the only public law school in northern Illinois, we have always embraced that mission,” Rosato said. “It is important for public law schools to serve the needs of the community, and that includes not only government, but also those who need access to legal assistance.”

That history of graduates entering public service has helped to perpetuate that dedication to public interest.

Alumni, many of whom retain close ties to the law school, often provide students with opportunities for internships and frequently are in position to hire new graduates who in turn follow that path.

NIU College of Law students stand outside the doors of the Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic in downtown Rockford.

NIU College of Law students stand outside the doors of the Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic in downtown Rockford.

In addition, while the college does not have a formal program designed to prepare students for work in the public sector, many faculty have a background in that area and there are student organizations, internships and externships that allow students opportunities to explore the field. Included on that list is the Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic in Rockford, which specializes in serving individuals who otherwise cannot afford legal assistance.

Another factor that makes NIU a popular destination for those interested in careers in public law is its affordability.

Law students at NIU graduate with less than half as much debt as typical law students, allowing them to pursue careers in public interest law where the financial rewards are typically lower than in private practice.

“It’s an important consideration for students,” Anderson said. “Students who graduate with tremendous debt, and who want to work in the public sector, often have to pursue different paths because they need higher salaries to pay back their loans.”

While public service and public interest law jobs pay less and place lawyers in the trenches of the legal profession, they can also be a launching pad to much bigger things, said Anderson, who points out that a background in public interest law has helped many NIU law graduates go on to become judges.

In its brief 34 year history, the NIU College of Law already boasts 77 sitting and retired judges among its alumni.

For more information about the NIU College of Law, call (815) 753-8595 or email [email protected].