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Legal Career-Options In The Government Sectors

published March 01, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
Published By
( 233 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
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There is a need for government lawyers at virtually every level of government - federal, state, and local. At the federal level, there is a need for lawyers in each of the three branches of government-legislative (Congress), executive (president and various departments and agencies), and judicial (Supreme Court and the federal court system), and also in the various administrative agencies as administrative law judges and legal staff.

Legal Career-Options In The Government Sectors

Lawyers can often be found serving the federal court system as staff and researchers. In addition. Congress employs lawyers to help draft and edit existing legislation. Federal agencies such as The Department of Justice, and the underlying Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency, employ lawyers in various litigation, oversight and advisory capacities. Administrative agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission, hire lawyers in various regulatory and enforcement capacities. A huge employer, the armed forces, offers employment to lawyers in both military and civilian capacities to perform a vast variety of law-related tasks.

At the state level, lawyers are also employed in the three branches of govern-mental jurisdiction such as the legislature, governor's office, the state court system, and in various state agencies. The state legislature employs lawyers to assist in drafting and reviewing legislation. The state attorney general's office hires lawyers in various litigation and enforcement capacities to deal with such topics as consumer protection or civil rights law. State administrative agencies hire legal staffs and administrative law judges to resolve contested issues at the state level.

At the county and local level, lawyers can be employed as public defenders and prosecutors and for such administrative agencies as water authorities, collections, and regulating government corporations. In addition, cities require lawyers to draft ordinances, to supervise and enforce zoning laws and building codes, and to litigate on the city's behalf.

Government legal jobs offer little or no client contact. Training programs consist of more "on-the-job experience" than extensive training programs, enabling government lawyers to assume responsibility early on. Resources such as secretaries, clerks, and computer terminals are limited as state budgets are tight. For this same reason, and due to set ceilings, salaries are much lower than those in the private sector.

There are certain benefits to be derived from working for the government, irrespective of level, such as more uniform working hours, resulting in the possibility for more leisure activities. Although caseloads may be somewhat heavy, there is no pressure to generate a minimum number of billable hours or to engage in continually landing new clients as is true in private firms.

Opportunities do exist for developing expertise in a specialized area of the law, which greatly enhances a lawyer's marketability should he or she later decide to leave this sector. Even though there are set legal limitations to discourage the granting of favors by government lawyers to future employers in the private sector and vice versa, the movement of lawyers from one sector to the other enables good supply and demand of both sectors to attract good lawyers.

Judicial Clerkships:

Judicial clerkships are usually reserved for top students who express an interest in litigation, enjoy legal research, have excellent writing skills, and can interrelate well with others. They provide new law graduates an opportunity to work closely for a year or two with an experienced judge in helping to resolve actual cases. There is stiff competition for both state and federal judicial clerkships; however, a federal clerkship is preferable for two reasons. First, it is much more impressive on a resume; second, it pays more. Unfortunately, these clerkships are prime hunting ground for students graduating from prestigious law schools, so the probability of securing these positions is slim.

A judicial clerk's duties vary from trial to appellate appointments. Clerks at the trial level are more involved in actual litigation, which may include learning the tactics and strategies used by attorneys in presenting their evidence as well as observing the demeanor of parties and witnesses as the evidence is presented. Duties also include acting as a contact between the judge and the parties' attorneys, researching the relevant law, reviewing motions and jury instructions, and making appropriate recommendations to the judge.

Since judges and clerks work so closely, it is important that there be an atmosphere of trust, loyalty, honesty, and mutual respect. A judge must be able to place complete confidence in a clerk's ability to competently and ethically perform his or her duties.

Judicial clerkships serve to enhance a graduate's analytical, research, and writing skills while allowing that graduate to work closely with and to learn from some of the best legal scholars in the country.

Judges or Justices:

You may become a judge by being elected, appointed, or promoted to public office. Judges normally experience great career satisfaction and develop some distinguished contacts, political and otherwise. To serve as an administrative law judge, you must normally possess previous government service and legal experience. Justices are appointed by the head of the executive branch, subject to approval by the legislature.

Law Enforcement Officials:

Law enforcement officials are recruited by the FBI and CIA or serve as legislative committee aides, hearing officers, probation officers, and human resource specialists and advisors. Course work in criminal justice and in law enforcement is recommended to secure employment.
Interested in these kinds of jobs? Click here to find Government jobs.


Litigation is portrayed by television as very glamorous, with lawyers reducing witnesses to tears and the defense lawyer unmercifully questioning the witnesses until, by some small miracle, one witness breaks down and confesses to the crime. It's amazing on television how seldom the defendant is the guilty party.

In real life, most lawyers are not litigators. Less than 10 percent of all attorneys see the inside of a courtroom with any regularity. Those who are litigators spend a considerable amount of time perfecting their art of persuasion and preparing their cases, which entails poring over countless documents, depositions, and legal precedents. as well as anticipating opposing counsel's actions. Much time is also spent analyzing facts, trying to find evidence that will swing the decision in their client's favor. Even after all of the preparation, it is possible that at the last minute, the parties will decide to settle out of court, which then makes all the aforementioned work unnecessary.

Mediation and Arbitration:

Alternatives to litigation include mediation and arbitration, sometimes referred to as ADR-alternative dispute resolution. Unlike litigation, however, which is adversarial in nature and where there are distinct winners and losers, ADR is not a zero-sum game; all parties are winners to some extent because compromises are quite common.

Mediation and arbitration both utilize third parties. The mediator merely assists the parties in reaching a decision acceptable to all parties, but does not act as a decision maker. The arbitrator, however, reaches a decision that is legally binding on all parties. Legally binding means that all parties must comply with the arbitrator's ultimate decision.

The American Arbitration Association handles most of the private arbitration actions. Founded in 1926, the AAA is a nonprofit organization with offices in 35 cities throughout the country. Most large law firms are members. Disputes submitted to the AAA are assigned to a qualified expert, or experts, many of whom are lawyers. The party submitting the dispute pays a filing fee, then each party is charged for each hearing day with an additional fee applied if the case involves personal injury or property loss. In addition, AAA also furnishes education and training materials and extensive library and research facilities.

Military Law:

Military law concerns the legal guidelines and procedures that govern the armed forces of the United States. The primary source of military law is the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ is unlike any other body of law that you might encounter in law school because it deals with military personnel and the expectations that the military establishment has of them. Generally, the laws are fairly harsh and exacting, which is necessary to maintain discipline in an area where high performance and teamwork are critical.

Attorneys who are officers of the military court are members of the Judge Advocate General branch of the military, also known as JAG Corp. These attorneys function as prosecutor and defense counsel for those accused of wrongdoing under military law.

The benefits of becoming a JAG Corp officer are assistance with educational expenses, travel, and the high level of experience and responsibility afforded from the very beginning of your legal career. JAG Corp officers prepare the necessary motions and litigate on behalf of their clients from their first day of appointment, something seldom seen in the civilian practice of law. Many attorneys make the military their career, while others use the experience as a launching pad to other areas of legal practice.

The detriments of practicing military law include the commitment to the military for a given number of years of service. The number of years of enlistment varies, but enlistment is much longer if the military pays for your legal schooling. During the obligated enlistment period, you are assigned work with little personal choice as to desired assignments. The issue of limited personal choice, however, is similar to working for a civilian law firm where the partners act as superior officers and delegate assignments as they deem appropriate.


Politics can be one of the most rewarding professions both in terms of money, depending on the political office, and/or personal satisfaction. It is also one of the highest callings because you have been elected by constituents who have placed in you the utmost confidence to represent them intelligently by writing and passing laws that will be in their best interests. However, ideals and reality are at odds lately as politicians have not fared well in recent public opinion polls.

Public Interest Advocacy:

A career in public interest advocacy is pursued by those, who for whatever reason, have a desire to benefit others by furthering some personal aspirations or societal goals. Careers in public interest law include prosecuting and defending criminals and offering legal aid.

Depending on the size of the firm or agency, there is usually a strong sense of shared purpose, which helps since salaries are normally low. Lawyers must assume responsibility early on for their own caseloads, which are normally large due to minimal resources and support staff. Training usually consists of "on-the-job" experience.

In addition to defending and prosecuting criminals, lawyers may also provide advice and services in the form of legal aid to those who otherwise could not afford legal representation. Legal aid is defined as representation of indigent persons in civil actions. Indigent persons are individuals who may be unable to pay for legal services and include children, immigrants, the homeless, psychiatric patients, prisoners (with respect to civil rights), and battered spouses.

There are other government options also and this list is by no means all-inclusive. However, it should at least provide insight into other legal career options available to those who choose not to practice law in a private or public firm.
Interested in these kinds of jobs? Click here to find Government jobs.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit

published March 01, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 233 votes, average: 4.2 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.