Public Interest Law Initiative

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the PILI Graduate Fellowship Program?

Through the PILI Graduate Fellowship Program, new associates at Chicago law firms spend 300 hours between graduation and joining their firm working at legal aid organizations in Illinois. Fellows are sponsored by their firms, with PILI ensuring quality supervision by experienced legal aid attorneys and providing supplemental educational and networking opportunities. New associates who participate in PILI’s Fellowship Program are connected to pro bono from the very beginning of their careers, and after joining their firms, they often continue to work with their agency on pro bono matters.

What are the benefits of being a PILI Fellow?

PILI Fellows gain lawyering skills, build their professional networks and engage in meaningful work while studying for the bar. PILI Fellows at agencies that provide direct services can gain valuable hands-on experience working with clients, while Fellows at agencies that focus on advocacy or impact litigation can hone their research and writing skills while working in fascinating legal areas that promote the public welfare.

What type of work would I be doing as a PILI Fellow?

PILI Fellows work on a wide and diverse range of issues depending on their agency. There are currently 56 Participating Agencies in Illinois that are approved for PILI’s Graduate Fellowship Program. These agencies cover the gamut in terms of the clients they serve, the legal issues they address and impact they have. Recent examples of the work performed by PILI Fellows include:

  • Assisting clients in starting a business
  • Resolving tax disputes for low-income taxpayers
  • Assisting in mediation for eviction cases
  • Participating in depositions in impact class action cases
  • Obtaining monetary settlements for clients living in uninhabitable conditions

Does my firm sponsor PILI Fellows?

You will need to talk to your hiring firm to discuss their current PILI Graduate Fellowship policy.

See the full list of law firms that have previously offered the PILI Graduate Fellowship Program »

What is the expected time commitment?

PILI Fellows are required to work 300 hours between graduation and joining their firm. Traditionally, the PILI Graduate Fellowship has been completed during the summer after graduation prior to joining the firm in the fall. Under this model, PILI Fellows generally work five weeks part-time while studying for the bar exam (mornings at the agency, afternoons at the review course), and five weeks full-time after the exam. Most Fellows take a break of two weeks immediately before the exam for undivided study.

Many Fellows follow different schedules. For example, sometimes Fellows from firms with later start dates work their entire 300 hours after the bar exam. You should indicate in your cover letter to the agencies what your desired schedule would be for your Fellowship. As long as your agency and law firm agree, alternate schedules can be good option for Fellows.

What about the bar exam?

PILI Fellows report that they have adequate time to study. In fact, many say that they find the experience adds a welcome structure to the bar study period. Most agencies are located downtown, within a short distance of the bar review course, and are flexible with their Fellows’ schedules to ensure ample bar study time.

Which bar review class should PILI Fellows register for?

PILI recommends that Fellows register for either the afternoon or evening bar review class. PILI offers a weekly lunchtime Educational Seminar Series, starting in June and running through early August, and we encourage Fellows to attend as many of these seminars as possible. Fellows can then work mornings at their agencies, attend weekly PILI seminars at lunchtime and still have plenty of time to go to bar review classes.

Are Fellows paid?

Yes. In addition to the regular summer stipend that firms pay to their incoming associates who are studying for the bar exam, participating law firms also offer incoming associates who choose to do a PILI Fellowship an additional stipend for the summer. Each firm makes its own decisions regarding the stipend amount and the number of Fellows it will sponsor. Fellows are paid directly by their firms, not through PILI or the agency. Check with your firm for more details.

What is the process for applying for a PILI Fellowship?

  1. Confirm that your law firm participates in the PILI Graduate Fellowship Program.
  2. Visit this web page to read about the agencies participating in our Fellowship Program and to see position descriptions for each agency.
  3. Apply to up to 10 agencies through our online application system, which opens on October 15th at 10 a.m. CST.
  4. Interview with the agencies. Agencies select from among their applicants who they want to interview and ultimately hire.
  5. Notify your hiring firm and PILI of your placement details.

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Can I work at an agency that is not one of PILI’s Participating Agencies?

PILI approves placements outside of our 56 Participating Agencies on a case-by-case basis, when a Fellow is planning to live outside of Illinois during the summer of bar study or when a Fellow’s interests are in a particular area not represented among our Participating Agencies. To be approved, the agency must meet the following criteria: (1) the hiring law firm has approved the placement; (2) the Fellow will be performing 300 hours of legal work; (3) the Fellow will work under the supervision of an attorney who is licensed for the jurisdiction in which they will be performing the legal work; and (4) the Fellow’s work is for the benefit of low-income and/or underrepresented individuals, families and/or communities. You cannot apply through the online application system for placements outside of PILI’s Participating Agencies. Contact PILI Program Associate Brent Page by email or by phone at 312-832-5128 to discuss this option.

Can mid-year graduates begin Fellowships in the spring semester?

Yes, so long as Fellows work 300 hours and both the sponsoring firm and the agency approve of the arrangement.

How will PILI support me as a Fellow?

Using ongoing feedback from our Fellows, PILI ensures quality supervision and a valuable educational experience. In addition to screening and evaluating placement agencies and facilitating the application process, PILI also provides educational, networking and advising opportunities for Fellows. Our weekly Educational Seminar Series in the summer covers substantive law topics and career development issues relating to pro bono and public interest law. Our advising program pairs Fellows with PILI Board Members or Alumni for a personal introduction to the Illinois legal community. We also offer a range of social and networking opportunities throughout the summer.

Who can I contact to find out more?

Contact PILI Program Associate Brent Page by email or by phone at 312-832-5128 with any questions about the PILI Graduate Fellowship Program.

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