Many non-profits struggle with finding good lawyers to help them complete the legal work necessary to keep a world-changing organization up and running and fighting the good fit. Lawyers, after all, are costly – often too costly for smaller organizations to have one on staff. And finding solid pro bono legal help can be a challenge.

But a recent New York Times article reported how the financial crisis may help to steer a class of emerging lawyers away from more traditional (and high paying) firm jobs, towards careers in public service.

In August 2008, Nathan Richardson committed to following in the footsteps of so many young lawyers before him: a summer position with a big law firm, followed by a job offer before he ever cracked open a third-year textbook. And then everything changed.

With offers of employment made in August 2008 and the full force of the recession hitting in October, many big law firms — like Latham & Watkins, where Mr. Richardson was a summer associate — had to re-evaluate the job offers made to members of the class of 2009. As a way to keep their costs down while holding on to promising associates, many offered the graduates the chance to take up to a year off before starting as associates, complete with a stipend of $60,000 to $75,000. They could travel, do research, or choose — as many did — to work in the public sector.

With the deferral year ending, some of these newly minted lawyers are surprised to find themselves reconsidering their career goals and thinking about staying with public interest law. When Latham & Watkins asked Mr. Richardson to defer his start date until at least October 2010, he took his interest in environmental issues to Resources for the Future, a nonprofit policy group based in Washington, where he did legal research on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and climate change. Now, despite heavy student-loan debt and a family to support, he has decided to say no to Latham and stay with public interest law, even though it pays far less.

In many ways, the deferral year has turned into a win-win for students and the organizations they work with. The organizations get a year of committed, high-quality legal service, while the students are opened up to a career path in public service they may not have previously considered. And in an economic climate where most of the career-related news making headlines is negative, an article about lawyers committing to a life of public service is quite refreshing.

For more, read the full article in the New York Times here.