March 5, 2020 - The Black Law Students Association presented a panel of three public interest lawyers who provided personal anecdotes and challenged misconceptions about the field recently at the University of Houston Law Center.
Panelists were Labor & Employment Staff Attorney Kourtney Collins ‘18 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Assistant County Attorney Sarah Ibrahim from Harris County Attorney’s Office, and Assistant County Attorney Tamecia Glover ‘12 from Fort Bend County Attorney’s Office.
The trio shared that public interest law requires assisting the community, but also involves a certain level of bureaucratic work.
“There’s this whole web of things that happen behind the scene that have absolutely nothing to do with law school or your job,” Ibrahim said. “But then they become part of your job and you kind of learn it as you go through it.”
Each woman noted that a prominent mistruth is that public interest attorneys are not compensated as highly as their colleagues who practice in other areas.
“You make a very livable salary,” Glover said. “Imagine having a job that you enjoy, because I am truly in a position that I enjoy. I’m making an impact on people’s lives daily and I still get paid well to do it, so it’s kind of the best of all worlds.”
The public interest industry fosters flexibility, free time and traditional hours, which gives people in that sector opportunities to focus on family and hobbies.
“I do think it is very conducive to achieving a good work-life balance,” Collins said. “I am very satisfied with my work-life balance. I am not expected, nor do I need to, take work home every night or stay in the office late every night.”
Panelists discussed that another benefit to public interest work is not having to keep track of billable hours.
“It allows you the space and the time to talk to your co-workers, but not only that, but learn from your co-workers,” Ibrahim said. “I can go up and spend time talking to someone who’s been in the field much longer than myself and be relaxed and truly understand and have that capacity to be mentored and trained without feeling pressed that I’m losing billable hours.”
Some of the toughest parts of public interest work for Collins, Ibrahim and Glover were navigating the provision of reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, taking people’s land due to imminent domain, and committing people to mental health facilities for temporary periods.