Chicago Law Grads Choose to Stay in Public Service

Young Lawyers Turn to Public Service
Lisa Faye Petak
New York Times
August 19, 2010

In August 2008, Nathan Richardson ['09] committed to following in the footsteps of so many young lawyers before him: a summer position with a big law firm, followed by a job offer before he ever cracked open a third-year textbook. And then everything changed.

Nathan Richardson worked at Resources for the Future, a nonprofit group, during his deferral year, and decided to stay.

With offers of employment made in August 2008 and the full force of the recession hitting in October, many big law firms — like Latham & Watkins, where Mr. Richardson was a summer associate — had to re-evaluate the job offers made to members of the class of 2009. As a way to keep their costs down while holding on to promising associates, many offered the graduates the chance to take up to a year off before starting as associates, complete with a stipend of $60,000 to $75,000. They could travel, do research, or choose — as many did — to work in the public sector.

With the deferral year ending, some of these newly minted lawyers are surprised to find themselves reconsidering their career goals and thinking about staying with public interest law. When Latham & Watkins asked Mr. Richardson to defer his start date until at least October 2010, he took his interest in environmental issues to Resources for the Future, a nonprofit policy group based in Washington, where he did legal research on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and climate change.

Now, despite heavy student-loan debt and a family to support, he has decided to say no to Latham and stay with public interest law, even though it pays far less.

“This is an amazing work environment,” said Mr. Richardson, who graduated from the University of Chicago Law School. “I’m working with a lot of really smart people and getting published. I’m not sure if there’s anywhere else I could do this, at least at this point in my career.”