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Legal Career Options

Government Jobs

There are a number of excellent career opportunities for attorneys in all levels of government - federal, state, or local. In general, 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.

Reasons to Seek Government Jobs

  • Early assignment of responsibility. Attorneys are given a caseload immediately and are expected to handle increasingly more complex assignments as soon as possible.
  • Ability to provide counsel and handle cases and assignments that shape social policy throughout your career.
  • Marketable experience for later career changes, including a move to the private sector and small, medium, and large law firms. For example, graduates who join federal regulatory agencies directly out of law school can, within three to five years, market themselves to private-sector firms representing those organizations being regulated.
  • Job security, good benefits.
  • Opportunities for advancement within the government.

Jobs in the Federal Government

Honors Programs are law school recruitment programs which are conducted by individual agencies. Each agency hires independently, but generally, applications are accepted from 2Ls and 3Ls in early September for summer or permanent positions the following summer or fall. PSJD.org provides an excellent explanation of government jobs and is a good resource for public interest jobs as well.

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. Application deadlines are found in the Government Honors and Internship Handbook (Get Username and Password).  You should also consider the Federal Government's Pathways Program which includes internships, recent graduates programs, and the Presidential Management Fellows Program.  To research additional job opportunities, go to Useful Links, Federal Government.

Regardless of the hiring program, 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. The Moritz Law Library has three books available specifically for students preparing to apply for federal jobs. They are:

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

Play the Odds
Know which agencies have the most attorneys. The Department of Justice employs the most attorneys of all the federal agencies, around 8,500. The defense agencies, including military agencies and personnel, as well as civilian agencies and personnel, employ thousands of attorneys. The Department of Treasury with six divisions, the largest being the IRS, employs about 2,100 attorneys. The Social Security Administration employs about 1,700 attorneys, while the Securities and Exchange Commission employs about 1,500 attorneys nationwide.  For more information, go to http://data.wherethejobsare.org/wtja/home.

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.

Apply early when the greatest numbers of vacancies exist.

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.

A Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) is offered for numerous federal government jobs. According to the Office of Personnel Managements 2009 Report to Congress on The Student Loan Repayment Program, "...more attorneys received student loan repayment benefits than any other occupation, comprising nearly 10 percent of all recipients during CY 2009.  In total, 20 agencies used student loan repayments to encourage attorneys to recruit or retain employees in this occupation in the Federal Government.  The Department of Justice provided student loan repayment benefits to 193 attorneys.  The Securities and Exchange Commission also made attorneys a large focus of its program by providing student loan repayment benefits to 301 of them."

For more information and a list of federal agencies that participate in the loan repayment programs, please visit FY2009StudentLoanRepaymentReport.pdf.

Jobs in the State Government

The largest number of attorneys in state government in Ohio work for the Ohio Attorney General's Office (A.G.). The Ohio A.G. is the in-house counsel to a variety of departments and boards throughout the state. The A.G.'s office accepts applications for summer clerkship positions from second- and third-year law students during the fall on-campus interviewing season and generally accepts applications from first year law students in the Spring. Summer clerks are often tapped to become permanent attorneys upon graduation.

Other state agencies employ attorneys in law and law-related positions. Most opportunities are posted on www.ohio.gov/working. As always, check Symplicity for postings that come directly to our office.

Students interested in state government positions outside of Ohio are encouraged to obtain reciprocity at law schools in that state to obtain information about local opportunities. Additionally, most states do have a job posting site on the state's web page, which is an excellent way to access openings. Go to Useful Links and the state you desire to access additional information.

Jobs in the Local Government

Cities frequently have a residency requirement. Most local government agencies hire permanent attorneys from their pool of law clerks once bar passage is secured. Although grades are important to local government employers, performance as a law clerk and success in clinical and/or moot court programs may carry equal weight in the hiring decision. Students seeking positions in local government should not be surprised if permanent positions are not lined up before graduation. Go to Useful Links and click on the state you desire to access additional information.