Types of Employment: Government Positions

Last updated: July 7, 2013

Georgetown University Law Center Career Book

Edited By Abbie Willard, Ph.D.

If you think it is difficult to choose among law school courses, seminars, and clinics wait until you see what is available after law school. A variety of alternatives are open to an individual who seeks to practice law or to combine law with other areas of interest and expertise. Among the more traditional types of practice, the following are most common.
Federal

The federal government offers career opportunities in a broad range of legal fields; admiralty, trade regulation, taxation and finance, labor law, communications regulation, international law, energy law, antitrust, patent law, public utilities regulation, criminal and constitutional law, to name but a few.

Federal attorneys are involved in:  administrative, regulatory, and advisory processes; brief and opinion writing; legislative drafting; research and review of special problems; and trial practice at the administrative, trial court, and appellate levels. The nature of the work and kinds of legal responsibilities vary tremendously.

For specific information on the role of attorneys in a particular agency refer to The Directory and Profile of Federal Legal Offices and Now Hiring:  Government Jobs for Lawyers, a guide to legal careers in Government Manual, the Uncle Sam Connection and the Federal Yellow Book.

Because of Georgetown's location in the heart of government activity, only a few agencies recruit on campus. Other agencies advise the Placement Office of their interest in hiring and then conduct interviews in their offices. Most agencies assume that interested Georgetown students will contact them directly.

The procedures for hiring attorneys vary tremendously from agency to agency, and it is difficult therefore to give any general rules. In some agencies, attorney recruitment is handled through the Office of the General Counsel (or its equivalent) and in others, it is handled by Attorney Personnel Specialists. It is advisable to send your application for employment to the General Counsel of an agency, the Personnel Office, and the specific divisions of interest within the Agency.

An application to the federal government usually includes your resume, cover letter and the infamous "Standard Form 171," -- the government's version of your professional biography. Whether or not initial application procedures require an SF-171 and/or a resume varies  greatly. Some agencies have their own attorney application  forms and many of these are on file in the Placement Office. For help in filling out a 171 form, see the Uncle Sam Connection or talk with one of the Placement Counselors.

Several of the largest agencies have formal recruitment programs, early fall interview dates and make offers by December in order to compete with their law firm counterparts. If you are interested in either a summer clerkship or permanent employment with an agency, check with the Placement Office immediately upon returning to school in the fall. In the past, students have assumed that government agencies hire later and this is often not the case.

Opportunities for summer employment are available to both first and second year students. The best information source regarding these positions is the Summer Federal Legal Employment Report, which is revised annually.

In addition to summer and permanent opportunities, many part-time clerking positions are available in the government during the school year. These positions are valuable not only for the experience they provide, but for the advantage they may give the applicant seeking a summer or permanent position.

The federal bureaucracy may at times seem overwhelming and confusing. Where else but a law school in D.C. and where better but our office to start your exploration of the myriad of career opportunities available in its halls?

Capitol Hill

On rare occasions positions for Legislative Assistants to members of Congress and/or positions with specific committees are advertised in the Placement Office. Typically, however, finding such a position requires development contacts, conducting repeated follow-up, and exhibiting tremendous persistence and tenacity. In addition to pursuing personal contacts, we urge you to apply directly to your own Representative and Senators.

Each year through the Wednesday Forum program a panel of attorneys from the Hill comes to speak to interested students. Additionally, a binder in the Placement Office lists Georgetown alumnae/i working on the Hill. Several other resources you may want to use are - The Congressional Directory, Congressional Yellow Book and the Washington Information Directory.

Military

The offices of the Judge Advocates General of the three branches of military service recruit 200 to 300 attorneys each year to enter the military as commissioned officers. A small number of openings also occur each year for civilian attorneys, but these almost always require some legal experience after passing the bar. Detailed information is available from the Judge Advocate General Corps of the Army, Air Force, and Navy.

State and Local Agencies

There are an increasing number of opportunities available to recent law graduates in state and local government, particularly in the areas of energy, environment, criminal justice, health, and education. Uncertain budgets and personnel turnover create a somewhat erratic hiring situation, and in general, openings are very seldom forecast. Yet, information is available from a variety of sources. All states have "State Offices" in D.C. These are listed in Washington Information Directory under "State and Local Officials."  Guides for exploring opportunities in state and local government include:  State Information Book and State Administrative Officials. Information about individual states is also available via a short walk to our neighbor, the, Hall of States, at 440 North Capitol Street.

Prosecuting Attorneys

One of the longest established types of public attorneys is the public prosecutor (also called district attorney, prosecuting attorney, county attorney, state solicitor, and other titles). Each of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States has a district attorney. Their principal responsibility is prosecution of criminal cases. the district attorney's responsibility for enforcement of the criminal law makes him/her a key figure in local politics. In less populated areas of the county he/she generally serves also as corporation counsel for the county government. A corporation counsel provides legal advice on tax and other revenue measures, bond issues, contracts for the purchase of goods and services by public agencies, matters relating to public employees, the regularity and validity of local regulatory measures, and a host of other problems of local government.

The office of the district attorney varies in size according to the population and complexity of the community in which it is located. In rural counties, the district attorney may have no staff and may serve as only a part-time official; in metropolitan areas, the staff may include over a hundred lawyers (handling both criminal and civil matters) and correlative numbers of support staff. (Refer to The National Directory of Prosecuting Attorneys.

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