If you're a law student or a state or federal lawyer contemplating a career switch, or just in need of a new position, give a government position a try! You'll be hard pressed to find a job with better benefits, steadier hours, more interesting work, or a deeper sense of public service. Many lawyers find that it provides an excellent start to a political career in elected office, not to mention a transition into private practice (attorneys with senior-level government job experience are considered by many firms to be a big client draw, and hence highly valued). And if you're looking for a position that's family-friendly, you'd have to look awfully hard to find a better setup than most government attorneys enjoy.
But how do you gain entry into those positions? It's true that competition can be stiff for an upper-level position (although you may find it easier if you're looking at an entry-level position straight out of law school). Don't let that dissuade you, however. Polish up that resume and writing sample, and take a look at these sources to help you in your government job search.
Federal Government Jobs
- For federal agencies, the single best portal on the web is USAJobs. Here, you can search by agency name or by position. Try a simple search for "attorney"--as of the time of this writing, over 100 positions are listed, at salaries ranging from $50,000 to over $140,000!
- Knowing which federal agencies are hiring is simply the first step in a more complex process:
- Take a look at each listing's job duties; does this sound like a job you can see yourself doing on a daily basis?
- Check your qualifications against the minimum qualifications provided on the listing. Are you in the running? While there may be some leeway in certain agencies or certain listings, for the most part, the minimum qualifications are hard and fast, and will be enforced rather strictly. Don't apply for a higher-grade job that requires 3-5 years experience if you've just graduated.
- Review the agency's website, particularly the mission statement and jurisdiction statement. Is this a goal you can get behind? Is the agency's purpose aligned with your values and principles? While it's not absolutely critical to job satisfaction to be your agency's cheerleader, you will probably have a difficult tenure if the agency's activities go against your grain.
- Some listings will permit a resume to be provided using USAJobs' Resume Builder program. Others will state that a paper resume must be provided via mail or otherwise. Look carefully at each listing you're interested in to ensure you comply with the specific requirements.
- While USAJobs is a terrific site that captures a great many open positions, it's not perfect, nor is it all-inclusive. If there is an agency you really want to work for, make sure you look at its individual website under "Job Vacancies" or "Employment." Additionally, you might want to check out a website run by the Department of Commerce called FedWorld. This site also warns that it's not all-inclusive, and that an individual agency website may contain other information that's more up to date.
State and Local Government Jobs
- If you're more interested in staying near home, or relocating to a specific state that doesn't have a large federal presence with suitable jobs, or if you're more interested in matters of state or local jurisdiction, then you'll want to look for attorney positions with any branch of the state government or with a local government unit, many of which also hire in-house attorneys (though many local governing bodies outsource their legal needs to large local law firms). Some state employment options here include state court staff attorney positions, judicial clerkships, state agency in-house counsel jobs, and staff positions with the state legislature. With local governing bodies, you'll be looking for staff, city, or county attorney positions, although some organizations may have attorneys assigned to specific functions complex enough to require greater dedication (i.e., police, airports, school districts, etc.).
- The best source of information on state and local jobs will be the governing entity's website, which can be found with a Google search, or via Findlaw's state-specific directory pages. To look for the government jobs available look for "Job Vacancies" or "Employment Opportunities."
- To find municipal and county sites, try these resources: National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties.
- Another great resource is the International Municipal Lawyers Association. Once you obtain a position with a municipality or county, or other form of local government, ask your chief attorney or office supervisor to look into membership for your office. IMLA city and county memberships are based on population and are office-wide; other options exist for associate members, professors, etc.
- Don't forget local and state capital newspapers, including the online versions if they include classified ads for employment. Most government entities advertise publicly for available positions.
While this article has focused on published sources available for government attorney job searches, you shouldn't overlook the power of networking. As with all lawyer jobs or any attorney job search, your contacts (and their contacts) can widen the net, so to speak, and increase your visibility. Finally, take advantage of any opportunity to meet government attorneys; look for continuing legal education (CLE) opportunities in fields related to your career interests, particularly those that feature faculty members on government agency staffs.