Debating the Value of a Public Service Career

B. is a graduate student at a major American university studying humanitarian organizations in the Middle East. (She remains anonymous because she is considering leaving academia, but doesn’t want to tell the whole world yet.) In considering a possible change in professional direction, she wrote to me to ask about my work as a public defender, and a conversation about career choices in the realm of social justice ensued. We thought it might be interesting for other people considering the (never lucrative, sometimes rewarding) world of public interest work, so we are sharing it, lightly edited for clarity, with you: