Public Interest Practice

Public interest attorneys work to advance public causes, such as environmental protection or criminal justice reform, or to provide vital access to justice through representation of individuals who otherwise cannot afford a lawyer. Public interest work spans various areas of civil and criminal legal practice, including health law, family law, consumer protection, employment law and criminal defense, among many others. Attorneys practicing in the field may provide direct litigation or transactional-based representation to individuals or community groups; engage in research or policy work; or participate in legislative advocacy.

The focus of study to prepare for a career in public interest depends on one’s area of interest.  For example, someone interested in pursuing a career representing indigent clients seeking government health care benefits might take courses in health law and administrative law in addition to coursework generally oriented toward public interest practice.  Many public interest attorneys end up playing a leadership role in a nonprofit organization, for which business law courses can be helpful.

Key to Villanova Law’s public interest offerings is a robust clinical program that focuses on assisting poor, disadvantaged and underrepresented populations. The six on-campus clinics—Civil Justice Clinic, Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services, Clinic for Law and Entrepreneurship; Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic, Federal Tax Clinic and Interdisciplinary Mental and Physical Health Law Clinic—provide students with vital practical experience while furthering the University’s mission as an Augustinian Catholic institution. Students directly represent clients under the supervision of full-time faculty members, negotiating with government agencies or private parties, litigating in court and in administrative hearings on their clients’ behalf, or representing entrepreneurs in transactional matters.

Students interested in public interest practice may also pursue an externship in the field. A hallmark of Villanova’s educational experience, our externship program offers placements in a variety of settings that are relevant to a public interest practice, including federal, state and local government and nonprofit organizations (see below for a list of recent placements). Externships are supervised by both an on-site field instructor and a full-time faculty member who works closely with each student to monitor progress and to ensure overall professional development.


The below list highlights Villanova Law courses that are fundamentally associated with this practice area.

Of the courses listed below, the foundational doctrinal courses—Civil Procedure, Contracts, Criminal Law, Property, Constitutional Law and Torts—and an upper level Legal Writing (Transactional or Litigation) are required. The remaining courses are helpful but not required for those interested in the field.

  • Administrative Law
  • Administrative Rulemaking: The Regulatory Process
  • Civil Rights Litigation: Enforcing the Constitution
  • Constitutional Law
  • Public Interest Lawyering
  • Race and the Law

The below list highlights Villanova Law courses that are related, but not necessarily essential to this practice area. Students interested in this field may consider enrolling in these courses to supplement their studies. 

  • Bankruptcy
  • Because of Sex: Sex Discrimination
  • Death Penalty: Theory and Practice
  • Police Conduct Seminar
  • Education Law
  • Elder Law
  • Employment Discrimination
  • Environmental Law
  • Environmental Lawyering
  • Family Law
  • Gender and the Law
  • Health Care and the Law
  • Human Trafficking
  • Immigration and Crime
  • Immigration Law
  • Interviewing/Counseling
  • Leader and Manager Skills
  • Race and the Law
  • Sentencing and Punishment
  • Villanova Sentencing Workshop
  • Civil Justice Clinic
  • Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES)
  • Clinics for Law and Entrepreneurship
  • Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic
  • Federal Tax Clinic
  • Interdisciplinary Mental & Physical Health Law Clinic
  • ACLU of Pennsylvania
  • Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition
  • Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
  • Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project
  • Defender Association of Philadelphia
  • Earthjustice
  • Education Law Center Externship
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Homeless Advocacy Project
  • Juvenile Law Center
  • Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania 
  • Military Assistance Project
  • National Immigrant Justice Center
  • Pennsylvania Innocence Project
  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
  • Philadelphia District Attorney's Office
  • Philadelphia Legal Assistance
  • Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts
  • Senior Law Center
  • Supervision to Aid Reentry (STAR) Program (also known as Reentry Court)
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project