Public Interest, Human Rights & Public Sector

Public interest law is a broad umbrella that describes legal work that shares a common feature: furthering interests shared by the public (or a significant group therein) or addressing public concerns. Its scope is so wide that it may include discrimination and equality issues, environmental protection concerns, constitutional rights, special interest clients such as women, children, refugees and immigrants, work for charities and nonprofits, legal aid work and more.

Human rights law is a focused practice area that includes advocacy, research and fact-finding, litigation in domestic and international forums, grass-roots mobilization, and media engagement, on basic human needs and rights issues. Lawyering roles in this venue often intertwine the provision of legal, procedural, strategic, and ethical advice.

Working in the public sector as a lawyer for a municipal, provincial or federal government department or agency is often considered to be public interest work. Professional experiences in this arena may touch upon areas of regulation or policy in: immigration, citizenship, environment, civil, criminal, finance, securities, and Indigenous issues, to name a few.


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What courses can I take?

Courses to consider in the upper years*

  • Administrative Law
  • Advanced Constitutional Law; Security and Remedial Issues
  • Canadian Migration Law
  • Constitutional Advocacy
  • Discrimination Law
  • Foreign Affairs and the Canadian Constitution
  • Human Rights and their Critics
  • International Human Rights Law
  • Public International Law
  • Refugee Law
  • Statutes and Statutory Interpretation
  • Women’s Rights in Transnational Perspective

*Not all courses are offered in each academic year. Please consult the Course Calendar and Upper Year Courses by Subject Area resources.


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How can I get hands-on experience?

Experiential opportunities

  • Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights Clinic
  • Downtown Legal Services Clinics (including refugee and immigration, housing, family, criminal, employment; for credit, paid summer positions or volunteer)
  • International Human Rights Clinic
  • International Human Rights Clinic practicum
  • Aboriginal Legal Services externship
  • Advocates for Injured Workers externship
  • Barbra Schlifer Clinic externship
  • City of Toronto Municipal Government Lawyer Externship
  • Pro Bono Ontario Litigation externship
  • Journal of Law and Equality
  • Gale competitive moot
  • Isaac Diversity competitive moot
  • Wilson competitive moot

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How else can I get involved?


  • Charity Law Interest Group
  • Environmental Law Club
  • Volunteer with Pro Bono Students Canada
  • Asper Centre Student Working Groups
  • International Human Rights Program Working Groups
  • SPINLAW (Student Public Interest Network Legal Action Workshop)
  • U of T Law Union

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How can I connect with employers?

Work and networking ideas

Networking opportunities

  • Informational interviews (go to UTLC > Resource Library > Interviews for guidance)
  • Events hosted by professional associations such as the Public Sector Lawyers or Constitutional and Human Rights Sections of the Canadian Bar Association
  • Lawyers Doing Cool Things

Fellowships & internships

  • Asper Centre Fellowship
  • Callwood Fellowship
  • Donner Fellowship
  • Lenczner Slaght LLP Public Interest Advocacy Internship
  • Students’ Law Society Fellowship
  • International Human Rights Program Fellowship
  • Debwewin Summer Law Program

Paid opportunities

Employers offering paid summer and articling opportunities in this area include:

  • Canadian Civil Liberties Association
  • Legal Aid Ontario
  • Ecojustice Canada
  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
  • The Ministry of the Attorney General, the Department of Justice, the City of Toronto and other municipalities offer summer and articling opportunities across a broad range of public sector departments

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What resources can I look at?

Online career resources and events

The following resources are available to current UofT Law students and alumni through UTLC:

  • 1L Summer Employment Guide
  • Guide: Charity Law Career Guide
  • Guide: International Human Rights Career Guide
  • Guide: Pathways to a Career in Immigration and Refugee Law
  • Guide: Public Interest and Legal Clinic Guide
  • Guide: Past Donner and Callwood Fellowship Placements
  • Guide: Summer Asper Fellowship Guide
  • Guide: IHRP Fellowship Guide
  • Tipsheet: Tips for Putting Together a Successful Internship Proposal
  • Government Interview and Information Guide
  • General Articling Guide
  • Upper Year Student Directory to connect with students who have worked with public interest, public sector, and human rights employers

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