J.D. Specialization in Public Interest Law & Policy

The David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law & Policy Specialization allows J.D. students to learn alongside top scholars and practitioners.

Students who specialize in public interest law and policy pursue an innovative and rigorous curriculum that trains them to engage in sophisticated representation of traditionally under-served individuals, communities and interests while enabling them to refine their own career goals. Beyond the specialization’s formal coursework requirements, the Epstein Program provides an array of opportunities for students to hear from and engage leading public interest practitioners and scholars, work on current policy problems and become involved in public interest activities.

Centers of Excellence

David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law & Policy

This program is of the nation’s most innovative and successful law school public interest programs.

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Areas of Focus

Public Interest Law & Policy

Our robust program provides the training and opportunities for students to become leaders in public service.

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The Program seeks to admit students based on their demonstrated commitment to and competence in public interest work, as well as their academic achievement, and is highly selective in its admissions process. Each year, the Program enrolls 25 first-year students (typically from more than 700 applicants). The Program also allows a select number of students to transfer into the Program after the completion of their first year of law school.

  • Admission Criteria

    Both when considering applicants for admission as first-year students and when considering transfer applicants, as well as when considering LL.M. applicants, the program seeks to admit those students most likely to achieve academic success who also satisfy one or more of three admission criteria related to the public interest orientation of the program, as described below:

    1. Commitment to public interest, which is evaluated in two ways:
      • Activities in high school, college, graduate school (including the first year of law school) or career. For this purpose, "public interest" is broadly defined to encompass any and all interests underrepresented by the private market, including the interests of the poor, ethnic minorities, unpopular social causes across the political spectrum, and broad-ranging interests such as the environment, peace, and the welfare of future generations.
      • Evidence that the applicant demonstrated, in the conduct of these activities, the personal qualities of tenacity, idealism, and initiative that are particularly important for public interest lawyers who may forgo material incentives in their careers.
    2. Special abilities enabling the applicant to serve or represent groups or interests lacking adequate access to law and lawyers. While this criterion overlaps somewhat with the first one, this criterion would be evidenced by such things as language skills, cultural familiarity, insight into such groups, or other special skills.
    3. Intellectual strengths and acquired expertise relevant to problem solving and policy analysis. This includes expertise in quantitative methods, social science, policy analysis, ethnographic and historical research, or similar skills, acquired through formal education or work experience.
  • If Applying for Admission as a First-Year Student

    If you are interested in applying to the Program as a first-year student, you must follow the J.D. application procedures and complete and submit the specific Program application. The Epstein Program application is included in the general J.D. application.

  • If Applying for Admission as a Transfer Student

    If you are interested in applying to the program as a transfer student from another law school, you must follow the J.D. transfer application procedures and complete and submit the specific program application. The Epstein Program application is included in the general J.D. application.

    If you are a first-year student at UCLA School of Law, you also may seek to transfer into the program. The program holds a Transfer Information Session for current first-year students during the spring semester, and the application deadline typically falls before finals during the spring semester.

  • If Applying for Admission as an LL.M. Student

    The School of Law’s LL.M. Program itself allows students to pursue a specialized LLM degree, including one in public interest. If you are interested in applying to the Program as an LL.M., you must follow the LL.M. application procedures and complete and submit the specific Program application.

Financial Support

UCLA School of Law public interest-minded students and graduates have access to financial support through the School and the larger university. Support is available for incoming students, students working in unpaid (or partially paid) public interest summer positions, graduating students, and graduates engaged in public interest work.

  • Financial Assistance for Incoming Students

    The School of Law’s Office of Financial Aid and the Office of Admissions administer financial assistance programs for incoming law students, including need-based aid and merit-based scholarships, as well as provides information on external sources of scholarships, grants, and other financial assistance.  

    Summer Public Service Fellowship Program

    UCLA School of Law maintains one of the most generous law school programs to support students who engage in otherwise unpaid public interest work during the summer. The School of Law’s Summer Public Service Fellowship Program provides stipends to eligible students engaged in substantive, law-related public interest summer employment under the supervision of a legal professional in a nonprofit or government setting domestically or abroad. In summer 2019, more than 200 students received stipends to work with more than 100 diverse organizations and agencies.  The Program is administered by the School of Law’s Office of Public Interest Programs.

    Additional School of Law Affiliated Funding Programs

    The Office of Public Interest Programs also administers a number of additional funding sources supported by donors. An example is the Justice John Paul Stevens Public Interest Fellowship, which honors United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and supports two students engaged in otherwise unpaid summer work that promotes the public interest and social justice values that have characterized the work and career of Justice Stevens.

    Independently or in coordination with the Office of Public Interest Programs, various School of Law Centers, Institutes and Programs also provide financial support to students engaged in summer public interest work in a substantive area of practice aligned with the mission of the specific Center, Institute or Program.

    External Fellowships and Grants

    There also exists an array of external fellowships and grants to support students working in a public interest capacity during the summer. The Office of Public Interest Programs provides guidance on how to research and apply for these external opportunities.  

  • Funding for Graduating Students

    Post-Graduate Public Service Fellowships

    The School of Law’s Post-Graduate Public Service Fellowships provide one-year stipends for graduating students who have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to public service, enabling them to work with a variety of nonprofit organizations and government agencies, both domestically and abroad.

    Community Economic Development Fellowship

    The School of Law’s Community Economic Development Fellowship provides an opportunity for a graduate to pursue transactional legal work that advances the goals of community economic development in Los Angeles. The fellowship term is one year.

    Gideon Fellowship

    The School of Law’s Gideon Fellowship, the first fellowship of its kind in the country, is a partnership between the School of Law, Gideon’s Promise – a trailblazing organization that trains and places new law graduates and law students in southern public defender offices, and six public defender offices in the South. Beginning with the graduating class of 2014, one School of Law graduate has been selected as the Gideon Fellow, serving as a public defender with one of the School’s many public defender partner organizations and receiving training and mentorship from Gideon’s Promise. At the end of the one-year Fellowship term, the Fellow will move into a full-time permanent position as a staff public defender with the partner public defender office and continue to receive training and mentorship from Gideon’s Promise.

    School of Law New Graduate Opportunity Fellowships

    Administered by the Office of Career Services, the New Graduate Opportunity Fellowship funds part-time, temporary work with nonprofit organizations and government agencies after recent graduates have taken the bar exam. Participating graduates have a unique opportunity to further build their resume and to enhance their legal skills while awaiting Bar results.

    External Fellowships

    Working closely with the Office of Public Interest Programs, UCLA Law students have successfully developed innovative post-graduate projects addressing the legal needs of underrepresented and impoverished communities, and a number of UCLA Law graduates have secured competitive public interest fellowships including those awarded by the Skadden Foundation, Justice Catalyst, and Equal Justice Works.  Students also consult with OPIP to compete for public service opportunities, including government honors programs.

  • Funding for Alumni in Public Interest

    The School of Law maintains a competitive Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) for graduates working in the public interest. Under the School’s LRAP, administered by the Office of Financial Aid, graduates can apply to have a portion – and in some cases all – of the debt service on loans they incurred while at the School of Law subject to a forgivable loan from the School.

    The School’s LRAP is coordinated with the federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and the Direct Loan Program’s income driven repayment options, enabling the School to enhance its LRAP benefits.


  • Overview

    The Program strives to provide an innovative and intellectually ambitious curriculum that trains students to engage in sophisticated representation of traditionally underrepresented individuals, communities and interests while utilizing a range of problem-solving tools. Thus, Program students are required to satisfy the general requirements for a J.D. degree while also satisfying the Program’s specific curricular requirements.

    The Program curriculum is intended both to address fundamental questions about public interest lawyering that affect all areas of practice and to allow students to pursue a curricular path tailored to their individual interests and career goals. The Program curricular requirements include a first-year seminar, a special section of the first-year Lawyering Skills course, a second-year “problem solving” seminar, an additional four advanced courses from a designated menu of courses, and a writing requirement.

    Program students also have ample opportunity to select from the general School of Law curriculum courses that relate to their public interest orientation and goals, as well as to enroll in other academic specializations and pursue joint degrees.

  • Core Curriculum Requirements


    The First Year Epstein Program Workshop is designed to provide students with an overview of public interest practice. Through readings, guest speakers, and class discussion, students gain familiarity with the different substantive areas of public interest law, organizational settings for public interest practice, and modes of public interest advocacy. In addition, students are introduced to the faculty of the Epstein Program as well as influential public interest practitioners, many of whom are Epstein Program alumni. Students participate in group activities to foster and build a strong sense of community and further strengthen our Epstein Program public interest network.


    The Legal Research and Writing course teaches students enrolled in the Epstein Program foundational lawyering skills necessary for success as a lawyer in a public interest setting. During this year-long course, students are introduced to the client-centered approach to lawyering, which teaches that the client’s perspective is front and center in the lawyering project. Students learn legal reasoning, basic legal research methods, the structure of persuasive arguments, the fundamentals of written analysis, and oral advocacy, all in the context of public interest practice. The course also supports the development of public interest leadership by fostering a safe and collaborative environment within the first-year curriculum to learn practice-oriented skills that will anchor and strengthen the public service careers of Epstein Program students. The class is taught by a Legal Research and Writing professor with training and background in public interest and social justice lawyering.


    This seminar focuses on public interest lawyering through a close analysis of case studies and the discussion of recurring issues in public interest practice. In this course, students explore social problems from a number of different perspectives, highlighting the many different ways of solving problems of the sort public interest lawyers confront. The seminar covers questions of how public interest problems come to be framed; how clients, lawyers and their allies think about problem-solving strategies; and how public interest lawyers use different modes of advocacy to address problems. Students in this seminar complete an individual paper project that addresses a real world problem and incorporates the modes of advocacy studied in the course.


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Upper Division Curriculum Requirements

In addition to the core Epstein Program courses, Upper-Division Epstein Program students are required to (1) take four additional upper-division courses and (2) complete the Epstein Program Writing Requirement.

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