Career Services

Published: September 18th, 2006

Category: Students

Careers with the Federal Government

During the Sept. 5, 2006, Federal Career Opportunities Panel, Professor Michael Seigel and 2L Lawrence Scheinert shared their insights with students regarding ob- taining positions with the federal govern- ment, as well as their experiences within the federal government.

Seigel, former judicial law clerk to the Honorable Edward R. Becker, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, was a special attorney for four years with the United States Department of Justice, Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, before spending four years as first assistant United States attorney for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa. Scheinert was selected to participate in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Honors Law Program, in the Division of Enforcement in Washington, D.C. last summer.
Scheinert said one of the highlights of his position was an opportunity to have immediate involvement in major, front page cases as a law student. He was given a good deal of responsibility from the get go. He also had exposure to some of the best defense attorneys, as they were sitting across the table from him and defending their clients against SEC action.

As a U.S. Attorney, Seigel enjoyed having a true trial practice, and he was immediately given much responsibility. He thus gained a great deal of experience in a short amount of time. While sometimes daunting, the fact that he stood in court as the United States was an honor.

As far as obtaining jobs within the federal government, both speakers advised not to underestimate the importance of your cover letter. It is the initial way you can express your unique and dedicated interest in the federal position for which you are applying. Scheinert shared that his supervisor at the SEC told him that his cover letter was highly instrumental in his being offered his paid, summer position, as it clearly displayed his desire to work for the SEC and his commitment to the fields in which the SEC is primarily involved. Seigel said it’s critical to convey in your cover letter not only a demonstrated interest, but also an assurance that “this is what I want to do.”

Other tips from our speakers included:
• “Foot in the door” theory: Even though you might not land a position in the first agency or department of your choice, once you get your foot in the door with the federal government or a specific agency and gain experience and prove yourself, it will be easier to transition to other areas from the “inside.”
• Follow-up using “polite persistence”: Remember, typically for federal jobs you apply to a practicing attorney, not a recruiter whose sole job is to work with applicants. For these attorneys, resumes and hiring decisions can get buried beneath their caseload, so a polite reminder from you can get the ball rolling. This is also another way to express your dedication to a certain field, agency, position, etc.
• Seigel mentioned that a federal judicial clerkship also can be a springboard into a federal agency.

Wondering Why You Should Consider Legal Employment Within the Federal Government?

• Very large legal employer – over 22,500 federal agency attorneys, for example the Department of Justice employs almost 8,200 attorneys, the Department of Defense over 2,500 and the Department of the Treasury employs about 2,100 attorneys.
• Federal employees can receive up to $10,000 per year in student loan repayments, and up to $60,000 total.
• Increasing opportunities as federal workforce “ages out” into the “looming retirement boom.”
• Older workers make up over 50% of the federal government workforce and a substantial proportion are reaching retirement age.
• Of the older workers, a high percentage are employed in positions that require specialized education such as in the legal profession.
• Having work experience in a federal agency provides a solid career path toward future employment within law firms and the corporate world. For example, if you wish to be a corporate immigration lawyer, the experiences gained and contacts made working for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would prove invaluable.
• Entry-level government lawyers typically are given greater responsibility in handling a case load and trying cases much earlier than a new associate in a private firm who could still be doing research and writing memos.
• Fulfills a desire to serve the public.
• Size-able number of positions are in Washington, D.C., but 88% of the positions are located outside of D.C. in other large cities with regional offices.
• A recognition that while the starting salaries tend to be less than in the private sector, attractive benefit packages that include retirement pensions, student loan repayment assistance plans, flextime, a more predictable work schedule and more, can outweigh the compensation difference.
• Job security. Even in an economic downturn, your job is protected.

Challenges to Finding Federal Jobs:
• Less likely to interview on campus – a number do participate in Equal Justice Works Conference and Job Fair (U.S. Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Education, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Com- mission will be interviewing at Equal Justice Works. For application instructions go to then select job fair employers).
• De-centralized hiring means that each agency hires separately and lists openings in different places so it can be difficult to locate openings.
• Attorney positions in the Federal Government are in the “excepted service,” found under an appointment called Schedule A. By being in the excepted service, attorney positions are not covered by regular civil service hiring procedures. Agencies may hire for attorney positions directly, outside of the Office for Personnel Management.
• Rigid bureaucratic process requires strict adherence to completing appropriate forms and following deadlines.
• Agencies have early application deadlines such as TODAY (9/18) for the Department of Justice, Attorney General’s Honors Programs for 3Ls & LLM & Paid Summer Law Intern Program 2Ls & 3Ls. To access the application, please go to  and select “Opportunities for Attorneys” or “Opportunities for Law Students” for the appropriate links.