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Careers in the Public Sector: Benefits of Working as Legal Staff for Uncle Sam

published April 13, 2023

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( 165 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
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Working for the government is becoming an increasingly attractive option for legal professionals. The stability, competitive salaries, and opportunities to work in the public sector are just a few of the benefits that government jobs offer.

The federal government is the largest employer in the United States and employs thousands of attorneys and other legal professionals in a variety of roles. Whether you're interested in civil rights, criminal justice, or environmental law, there are a wide selection of legal jobs in the public sector with attractive salary and benefit packages.

Federal government jobs are largely divided into the executive and legislative branches, with the judicial branch offering a different type of opening. The Department of Justice, for example, is part of the executive branch and is responsible for prosecuting criminals, defending civil rights, and protecting the environment. The Department of Homeland Security, on the other hand, is part of the legislative branch and is primarily focused on national security.

In addition to the standard federal government jobs, there are also openings in state and local governments. State and local governments have their own sets of laws and regulations, and there are a wide variety of legal staff positions available. From prosecutors to public defenders to court clerks, these government jobs offer a unique opportunity to work in a variety of legal fields.

The pay and benefits offered by government jobs are often highly competitive compared to similar positions in the private sector. Many of these positions offer pension plans and other types of long-term retirement benefits. Additionally, there are often generous benefits packages that include health insurance, vacation time, and other perks.

Legal staff in the public sector must also be aware of ethical issues related to their positions. For example, government attorneys are required to comply with strict standards of conduct, and any breach of these rules can result in severe consequences. It's important to have a thorough understanding of the ethical responsibilities of public sector legal staff before accepting a position.

Overall, working for the federal, state, or local government is an attractive option for legal professionals. Government jobs offer attractive salaries and benefits, as well as the opportunity to work in a variety of legal fields and make a meaningful impact on the community. For those interested in working in the public sector, it's important to understand the ethical and legal obligations that accompany such positions and take the necessary steps to help ensure compliance.

The Pros & Cons of Public Sector Employment

The public sector in the U.S. is composed of those federal, state, and local government agencies charged with administering and executing public code. Although the private sector, being composed of for-profit businesses and organizations, still carries more clout, many people are satisfied with the stability and security of government employment. For many, the public sector is a way to both pay their bills and also feel as though they are doing something good, while also still enjoying their profession.

Stability & Security of Government Employment

Public sector employment offers stability and security far beyond what is available in the private sector. Job security is a bonus here, as layoffs or firings are rare occurrences. Benefits packages are also typically more generous – employees in the public sector often receive paid time off, medical benefits, and generous pension packages that are rarely found in the private sector.

Fulfilling Career Paths

Public sector jobs also provide job satisfaction greater than the private sector. A law firm partner might make more money than a District Attorney, but the DA has the satisfaction of knowing that his or her work is helping directly to imprison criminals, bring abusers to justice, and help victims of many sorts. In the private sector, employees work to make money for their employers, whereas in the public sector, employees are providing a much needed service to their constituents.

Compensation Sacrifices

It is true that most public sector jobs do not pay as well as private sector jobs. Usually, the higher the title or salary, the more the public sector trails the private sector. Still, with the added benefits and job security, many people believe the tradeoff is well worth it.

The Allure of Public Sector Employment

Legal professionals have long been drawn to the public sector due to the dedication to serve, stability and security that is found in the public sector. These pros and cons must be carefully weighed to determine if a legal career in the public sector is the right fit for you.

Friendly towards entry-level candidates, government organizations are a good place to get started; they also offer internships to students and recent graduates. "The opportunities in the public sector are great for someone just entering the field. It is a great place to gain experience, network, and learn the system," said Mary Donovan, Support for Juvenile and District Court Assistant District Attorneys in Lowell, MA. "Paralegals who work for municipal government work on many of the same issues as paralegals who work in the private sector, only with a different perspective," explained Tobie Cioccia, local government paralegal for the City of Portsmouth, VA, and President of the Local Government Paralegal Association of Virginia (LGPA.) "Our client is also our employer, similar to in-house counsel."
Working as Paralegal for Government organizations

Besides district, county, and city attorneys' offices, paralegals may find jobs at administrative agencies, courthouses, lobby groups, and community-based organizations. The role of legal staff in these arenas can range from administrative support to legal research, from obtaining and indexing evidence to analyzing files. Government paralegals may research and organize information that serves the general public; some qualified and authorized paralegals may even represent people at agency hearings or aid those who can't afford traditional legal representation. "Paralegals are also qualified to work in various departments within local government that would utilize their paralegal skills and knowledge, [like] risk management or human resources, but would not be classified as a paralegal," Ms. Cioccia pointed out.

The number of legal staff openings in the public sector is likely to continue growing. In fact, many paralegals working for the government cite lack of manpower and the vast amount of work as the job's greatest challenges. "The most challenging part of my job is the number of cases that we handle on a daily basis. It sometimes seems that we will never catch up," stated Ms. Donovan.

Legal staff are kept busy with a wide variety of tasks, making for a diverse work environment. "Paralegals draft city ordinances and resolutions, as well as pleadings, correspondence, [in addition to] meeting with citizens and contact with city council members, business officials, judges, and court personnel," said Sandra Claxton, Legal Executive Coordinator for the City of Norfolk, VA, and Vice President of LGPA. "Every day is a different experience," Ms. Donovan said. "It seems that we are always trying to track down something needed by the assistant district attorneys: a file, an officer, evidence, or a report that is needed in the courtroom. If we are not tracking things down, we are busy doing notifications to officers and civilians, completing discovery, and updating cases." On the local level, legal staff often get involved with lawmaking and enforcement as well. "They are involved in economic development, land use issues, and historical preservation," Ms. Cioccia listed. "They assist the City Attorney with preparation for court proceedings on behalf of the Social Services Department; employment law issues include grievance procedures and civil service hearings."

Paralegals in the public sector often work in many different areas of the law, leading to colorful resumes and overall wisdom in the field. "The job's greatest rewards are too many to mention, but I've been exposed to specialized areas of law because of the nature of work of my supervising attorney," Ms. Claxton says. "I have been fortunate enough to work with experienced lawyers who took the time to train and teach me on the job. As the years went by, I took on more responsibility: drafting pleadings, litigation responses, processing claims, developing a comprehensive case management system, and went back to college to complement what I was learning on the job." Such dedication to continued education and taking initiative is key to doing well in the public sector.

Being a government paralegal or legal assistant often means a more relaxed, less pressured workplace. "There are no timesheets or billing quotas," explained Ms. Cioccia. "There is the freedom of being able to sit, discuss, and analyze a problem, a case or issue without the fear of over-billing a client. There is not the incessant pressure to bill every minute possible in order to justify your existence." In addition, paralegals in the public sector often have a lasting impact on the community. "The greatest reward would have to be the people I have met and the entire experience of working in the office and knowing that you contribute to making the community a safer place," Ms. Donovan said.

published April 13, 2023

( 165 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.