Government legal practice spans a wide range of practice areas and practice types, from litigation to transactional to regulatory work. Work in a government setting can also be broken into federal, state or local government levels.
Attorneys work in all three branches of federal government: executive (the President and his or her administration), legislative (the Senate and the House of Representatives), and judicial, and in numerous capacities, including litigating civil and criminal cases, counseling lawmakers, drafting statutes and regulations, enforcing regulatory compliance, issuing administrative legal opinions and much more. In addition to working in all three branches, government attorneys also are employed by independent agencies such as the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Communications System and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Government Honors Programs
Honors Programs are one avenue by which federal government agencies hire LL.M. students for entry-level positions. These programs provide students with excellent training and exposure to an agency or department and also increase their likelihood of obtaining permanent, postgraduate employment with the agency or department. Each program has a unique set of requirements, application procedures and deadlines. You must carefully review each program’s requirements. Our Career Manual and Handouts section has login information for the University of Arizona Government Honors & Internship Handbook, which is a web-based comprehensive listing of federal, state and local legal internships and post-graduation honors programs for law students and attorneys. The handbook lists 165+ programs offered by 55+ federal agencies and departments, and 44 state, county and municipal governments.
Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF)
This is a prestigious two-year paid fellowship program working with federal government agencies. PMF assignments include domestic and international issues, public policy, public administration, technology, science, criminal justice, health, financial management, and many other fields in support of public service programs. Note: This program is not designed to place applicants in legal positions; rather, this is a program for those interested in management, public policy, and government leadership positions. However, PMF Fellows have successfully moved into legal positions upon competition of their PMF commitments. Typical PMF placements for law graduates include policy analyst, budget analyst, tax law specialist, and other non-attorney positions.
State level government work includes litigation and appellate work through the State Attorney General’s Offices. Attorneys can also work-in-house at state agencies, working on issues geared toward an agency’s mission, such as public health or transportation, or administrative legal issues, such as those related to employment or contracts. State legislatures also employ attorneys to serve as legislative counsel to members and committees.
Cities, counties and local municipalities all have employment opportunities for lawyers. Like on a federal and state level, cities and counties will hire attorneys to provide representation in litigation through a city attorney’s or corporation counsel’s office. Boards of education and city and county agencies will also have counsel advising on issues relating to the work of the agency and day-to-day issues such as personnel matters.
NOTE: Citizenship Requirements for Government Positions
In order to be eligible for “competitive civil service” positions with the U.S. government, you must be a U.S. citizen or, in some cases, hold citizenship with an “Allied Nation,” as defined by the U.S. government and U.S. treaties. If you are neither a U.S. citizen, nor a citizen of a defined “Allied Nation,” you do not qualify to apply for a compensated position with almost any U.S. Government agency.
Employment rules for “Allied Nation” citizens vary from agency-to-agency. Students must research a particular agency’s requirements before reaching any definitive conclusion regarding their employment eligibility. In fact, in some instances, ultimate eligibility is not determined until the performance of a U.S. government background investigation.
Please note that it is extremely difficult for a non-U.S. citizen to secure employment with any U.S. government agency.. Ultimately, it is an agency-by-agency determination. Unfortunately, there is no single office or person that will give a definitive answer for all agencies before completion of a candidate’s background check.