Service detour

Nathan Richardson, JD'09, was on track to work at a major law firm, but the recession changed his plans: now he works for a nonprofit environmental group in Washington.

In the world of law, it sometimes feels as if there aren't quite enough Atticus Finches around, fighting the good fight against injustice. Taking posts at multimillion- (and, in some cases, multibillion) dollar law firms is clearly the more lucrative route. But, perhaps in the footsteps of our Community-Organizer-in-Chief, more law students are taking the public-interest path.

A New York Times article last Thursday chronicled the trend of law firms that, because of the recession, deferred prospective hires, such as Chicago grad Nathan Richardson, JD'09, for as long as a year. With the extra time, and a stipend of $60,000-$75,000, many young lawyers decided to work in the public interest—in Richardson's case with Resources for the Future, a nonprofit policy group in Washington. Doing legal research on climate change and the Gulf oil spill, Richardson experienced a compelling alternative to his prospective work with Latham & Watkins. Many of his peers felt more at home with public defenders and nonprofits than with high-stakes megafirms. So when the time came for the lawyers in the Class of '09 to take their offers, recent graduates like Richardson decided to stay with public service in spite of the significantly lower pay.

“I’m working with a lot of really smart people and getting published," Richardson told the Times. "I’m not sure if there’s anywhere else I could do this, at least at this point in my career.”

Burke Frank, '11

September 2, 2010