Characteristics of preparedness for public interest law
McBride, Paula Elrod
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The foundation of public interest law is social action in which legal professionals work in service to society (Davis, 2007). Previous research has examined the current state of legal education but has not yet identified or defined what preparedness entails or looks like for public interest lawyering. The purpose of this study was to identify and describe characteristics of preparedness needed to educate law students for the practice of social action. This qualitative multicase study addressed the problem of preparedness for public interest lawyers framed by the theories of learning from experience, social action, and reflection in action. The study was conducted with seven public interest lawyers working full-time for a non-profit public interest organization. Data from interviews, observations, and documents were analyzed using the constant comparative method. A detailed description of each case, the public interest lawyer, was provided in the case study report. In response to the first goal of the study to identify and define the characteristics for public interest lawyers, three findings emerged: 1) a predisposition to social action, 2) the relationship between the public interest lawyer and the client, and 3) the skillful representation of the client. The second goal of the study was to identify how these characteristics are integrated in legal education and intentionally enacted in the legal pedagogy for public interest law, which was found to be through the fostering of preparedness in legal education. Two conclusions emerged from the study: 1) preparedness is a multilayered process involving continuous learning fostered through real-life practice and legal pedagogy that includes the development of both analytic and reflective capacities; and 2) legal education best prepares public interest law students when there is a fit between a mission-oriented public interest law school and a social action-oriented law student. This study presents the best means for legal education to foster preparedness in public interest lawyers practicing for social action within the current structure of legal education.