Career Services Office

Federal Government Opportunties

Employment with the federal government is an excellent opportunity for students who seek early assignment of responsibility. Federal attorneys are immediately given a caseload and are expected to handle increasingly more complex assignments as soon as possible.

Government service is equally well suited to those who chose to study law to become an agent of social change. Although you won’t be developing a national energy policy in your second week on the job, you will be providing counsel and handling cases that shape social policy throughout your career.

Benefits of Federal Employment

Federal employment experience can be very marketable for later career changes, including a move to the private sector and small, medium, and large law firms. Graduates who join federal regulatory agencies directly out of law school can, within three to five years out, market themselves to private-sector firms representing the regulated organizations.

Additional advantages of government service include job security, absence of an annual billable hour expectation, and mobility. Because the federal government likes to promote from within, attorneys may move from position to position in the same or different agencies, thereby developing additional skills along the way.

Although initial starting salaries may not be as high as the private sector, attorneys frequently skip pay grades as they advance, so salaries increase quickly. In addition, government benefits are typically more comprehensive and generous than those found in the private sector.

How the Federal Government Hires

The federal government hires in one of two ways. The first is through college recruitment programs, such as Honors Programs conducted by individual agencies. Each agency hires independently but generally, applications are accepted from 2Ls and 3Ls in early September. Regional interviews are conducted in late October and offers are extended in February or later. A limited number of 1L positions are available; 1L deadlines for applications typically fall between December 1 and March 1. Summer positions frequently lead to permanent positions, but it is possible to join the federal government without previously clerking for an agency. Be sure to keep yourself informed of the various application deadlines by consulting resources such as the Government Honors and Internship Handbook (available in the Document Library in Symplicity) and the websites set forth later in this Guide.

The second route into the federal government is replacing an individual who is leaving. This can happen at any time throughout the year. Vacancies are posted on Symplicity and online at www.usajobs.gov. The closer you are to graduation, the more viable you become as a candidate given the immediacy of openings.

Absolute compliance with all deadlines and procedures is necessary in order to progress in the process. Research the agency extensively if offered an interview. Know the mission statement, what the agency does, and why you want to work there.

Job Search Tips

The following tips may help you to organize your job search:

Play the Odds
Know which agencies have the largest number of attorneys. The larger the agency, the greater the turnover. Concentrate your efforts on the agencies most likely to hire. Kimm Walton, author of America’s Greatest Places to Work with a Law Degree, ranked the U.S. Department of Justice the number one all-around best legal employer in America. With over 10,000 attorneys nationwide, the Department of Justice employs the most attorneys of all the federal agencies by a large margin. The defense agencies, including military agencies and personnel, as well as civilian agencies and personnel employ about 6,700 attorneys. The Department of Treasury, with six divisions, the largest being the IRS, employs about 1,800 attorneys. The Social Security Administration employs about 1,500 attorneys, while the Securities and Exchange Commission employs about 1,000 attorneys nationwide.

Follow the Money
Agencies hire when they have money, so look at budget projections. The federal fiscal year begins October 1, so agencies are most likely to hire during the first two quarters (October to March). Agencies use September to build up a reserve of qualified candidates for hiring after October 1.

Follow the Policy
Legislative initiatives turn into jobs. For example, tax reform means jobs at the IRS.

Timing is Everything
Apply early when the greatest number of vacancies exists. When the federal government publishes a deadline, it means the application has to be in the appropriate office prior to the date and time specified.

Demonstrate Flexibility
The majority of federal jobs are in regional offices located throughout the country. Indicate all the cities you will consider on the application and apply directly to regional offices.

In general, federal government employers are looking for a diverse workforce in geography and ethnicity as well as practical skills gained in law school and in life. Preference may be given to those who are well rounded and will be able to “hit the ground running” and take on caseloads quickly and effectively.