YourABA December 2011 Masthead

Advice on working for Uncle Sam

Considering a job in public service? While the legal hiring market remains stagnant, there may be employment opportunities available in government, particularly on the federal level. In a recent Student Lawyer magazine article, “Working for Uncle Sam,” author Carla J. DeVelder says that the federal government will need to fill 23,596 positions in the legal field by the end of FY 2012.

Is a career in federal government for you?

Among advantages, federal employees often cite a satisfying sense of mission and service. And since many government jobs offer young lawyers immediate responsibility, many seek these positions to gain experience to later use in the private sector.

The benefits provided by the federal government—nearly three weeks of vacation time to start, loan repayment programs and child care resources, to name just a few—are often a big draw as well.

Flexible schedules also exist. “Employees can ‘compress’ their work hours to take one day off each pay period, creating the possibility of 26 three-day weekends throughout the year,” says DeVelder, also mentioning the availability of part-time and job sharing positions.

“While all this sounds great, make no mistake: Government attorneys work hard and work hours that can be comparable to their private sector counterparts,” cautions DeVelder.

Moreover, while federal employees can work long hours with tough assignments, their pay is generally lower than it would be in the private sector, and pay is capped by salary schedules and pay grades. “Government positions typically pay below large law firm starting salaries, although federal pay can be comparable to mid-sized firms,” elaborates DeVelder.

To find available positions, DeVelder suggests USA.gov, USAJobs.gov and MakingTheDifference.org.  Recent graduates may want to consider a summer or academic-term internship as a way to get a foot in the door. Two of the most popular ones are the Department of Justice’s Summer Law Intern Program and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of General Counsel’s Summer Law Intern Program.

For further information, see the 2011-2012 Federal Legal Employment Opportunities Guide. 

Student Lawyer magazine is a publication of the Law Student Division.

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