The federal government is composed of hundreds of agencies, commissions, departments and boards. Almost all of these hire law students both for summer and permanent employment. The application procedures and the hiring criteria vary greatly. Given the wide range of options and varying hiring criteria it is important to work with a counselor on a federal job search and review information in the Government Honors and Internship Handbook and other sources.
Government opportunities range from a variety of practice areas including: antitrust, litigation, first amendment, communications, trade, labor law, banking, tax, international, immigration, environmental, health law, policy, technology, intellectual property, patents, housing, civil rights, energy, and many others.
Some internships may be paid, while many are not. However, students may apply for Externship credit for unpaid internships, or simply volunteer to gain excellent experience.
Entry-level attorneys are given excellent training and usually assume a great deal of responsibility. Federal employment offers some flexibility including alternate work schedules and movement between agencies. Many times promotions are offered in a steady and incremental manner. Also, entry level attorneys typically start at a GS-11 salary level, but many agencies are moving to higher pay levels. Some also offer assistance with the repayment of student loans. Federal employment is secure but depending on federal budget issues, professional layoffs and freezes may occur.
Many of the larger agencies recruit former interns and hire new lawyers through their "Honor Programs." (See the Government Honors and Internship Handbook). There is also the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program, which is an alternative to the honor programs for policy making entities. Other than these two types of programs, another form of entry for permanent employment is by securing a position posted on USAJobs for a full-time attorney positions with experience. Most programs are highly competitive, and academic record and commitment to public service are evaluation criteria.
State and local government agencies are excellent places to work and generally hire lawyers and law students. Aside from participation in job fairs, these positions are often not advertised widely. You can inquire as to availability for summer and permanent positions by contacting agencies directly. Meet with a counselor to research employers and use networking contacts to identify job and internship opportunities.
Some internships may be paid but many will be unpaid volunteer opportunities. However, students may consider applying for Externship credit for volunteer work with these employers.
A career as a district attorney or public defender or county attorney are other avenues of employment in state and local government. Some public defenders, district attorney, and city and county law departments recruit on campus, but others do not. Therefore, to be effective also research employers that do not recruit on campus. Note that some public defenders and prosecutors participate in our recruitment programs in surrounding cities, such as New York, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia.
Working on the "Hill" has excitement and appeals to many law students. However, this is a very difficult market to break into and making connections helps a great deal. In this job search, "who you know" is extremely important.
There are three main points of entry for employment: Legislative Aide (LA), Legislative Director (LD) or legal staff member of a congressional committee. Political caucuses also hire staff attorneys. If you are interested in policy analysis you should consider intern and attorney positions with the Congressional Research Service, a federal agency housed in the Library of Congress. (On the "state" side, also consider Maryland Legislative Services in Annapolis). A number of private lobbying firms and watchdog groups also hire lawyers and law students.
The key to getting hired in on the "Hill" is to work your contacts and be committed and aggressive in the job search. Contacts include representatives from your home town. Many first-year law students have obtained internships by directly contacting offices in which they are interested in working. Intern positions are not typically advertised or obtained through postings.