by Eliza Schafler
Eliza Schafler is an MHAS Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP.
Most law students will agree that career fairs – even public interest ones – are stressful. It wasn’t long ago that I experienced them in law school, and I know how overwhelming and competitive they can be. This past Saturday at UCLA School of Law, the Annual Southern California Public Interest/Public Sector Career Day, which I attended with MHAS attorneys Aurora Thome and Sylvia Pham, was no exception.
Of course, students endure these fairs for one big reason: they are an efficient, if grueling, way to jump-start legal and pro bono careers. However, now that I have begun to attend career fairs as an employer, I see some additional benefits to spending a day in a small space filled with suits and resumes.
First, career fairs are a chance for students with ‘niche’ interests to connect with the small organizations, such as MHAS, that address underrepresented issues or populations in the public interest world. At Saturday’s fair, MHAS was able to identify bright, passionate students interested not only in serving low-income people generally, but also in serving the mental health community in particular. Across the table from MHAS, for instance, the LA Waterkeeper, another specialized agency, was attracting a small cadre of students dedicated to achieving clean water in our region.
Career fairs are also an opportunity for public interest organizations to get together under one roof. We can see each other in person, share updates on our services and capacity, and exchange information that could benefit our clients. For instance, at the event I learned that Peace Over Violence offers useful services for our clients who have survived domestic violence. And I discussed how to further health care enrollment for recipients of immigration relief with the National Immigration Law Center, at the table next to ours.
At the end of a Saturday spent interviewing and networking, employers and students alike have reason to groan. Yet we should also rejoice in the strength and diversity of our public interest legal community.