Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

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DrewPBottom
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Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby DrewPBottom » Tue Aug 14, 2012 1:02 am

Hello all,

I used these forums a few years back when I applied to law schools and I always appreciated when practitioners came on and gave real answers on their life as an attorney. I also appreciated the help Ken gave me with my personal statement and the rest of the process. I've made a new account, so no use checking my posting history.

Long story short: I accomplished my goal of getting a good Federal job as an Attorney a few years back despite the bad economy. I work in a Regional (non-DC) office, but should have some insight on any questions anyone may have. Ask away. I'll try to check back every few days and answer your questions (if anyone has any).

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patrickd139
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby patrickd139 » Tue Aug 14, 2012 1:25 am

Do you find a 1:1 correlation between your success in achieving a position as a federal attorney and the fact that KenDemiGod kritiked your personal statement?

Srsly though, thanks for coming back and answering questions. Are you "bigfed" (i.e. US-A, DOJ, etc.) or with another agency?

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Loose Seal
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby Loose Seal » Tue Aug 14, 2012 1:32 am

Did you go into government straight out of law school, or did you stop at a firm first?

How many years of law firm work experience is ideal before it's "too much"?

Thanks for taking the time!

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NoleinNY
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby NoleinNY » Tue Aug 14, 2012 2:32 am

School/rank?

What was your recruitment process?

Thanks for taking Qs.

Anonymous User
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Aug 14, 2012 11:29 am

Did you apply through DOJ Honors?

LiberalLaw
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby LiberalLaw » Tue Aug 14, 2012 11:30 am

Anonymous User wrote:Did you apply through DOJ Honors?


Should not have been anonymous.

Miracle
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby Miracle » Tue Aug 14, 2012 11:38 am

Can you give us a brief description of what your normal day looks like? With regards to atmosphere, work load, hours, etc.?

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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Aug 14, 2012 11:55 am

Can you give a sense of what kinds of practice backgrounds would allow for a lateral into your office? Obviously litigation is the most natural fit, but would someone doing bankruptcy or transactional work have a shot?

DrewPBottom
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby DrewPBottom » Tue Aug 14, 2012 7:57 pm

patrickd139 wrote:Do you find a 1:1 correlation between your success in achieving a position as a federal attorney and the fact that KenDemiGod kritiked your personal statement?


While I don't give Ken 100% credit, I would spot it somewhere in the high 90's.

Srsly though, thanks for coming back and answering questions. Are you "bigfed" (i.e. US-A, DOJ, etc.) or with another agency?


I am not US-A or DOJ, but I work with them quite a bit. So: A different agency.

DrewPBottom
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby DrewPBottom » Tue Aug 14, 2012 8:01 pm

Loose Seal wrote:Did you go into government straight out of law school, or did you stop at a firm first?


Straight. However that seems fairly rare at my agency (for attorneys). I'd say roughly 50% of attorneys started with a state agency and then "lateraled" over. The other 50% came from firms.

How many years of law firm work experience is ideal before it's "too much"?


I've seen my agency hire staff attorneys with anywhere from 1-10 years of law school experience. The sweet spot seems to be somewhere in the 2-6 year range, however. (With exceptions).

Thanks for taking the time!

Sure thing.

DrewPBottom
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby DrewPBottom » Tue Aug 14, 2012 8:21 pm

NoleinNY wrote:School/rank?


Low Top 14. A little better than top half of class.

However, I was shocked to find my school was among the better schools of my co-workers. Many of them came from Regional law schools from other regions! My understanding is that federal positions in D.C. tend to be more snobbish about the law school you attend.

What was your recruitment process?


Mine was simple and straight forward. My agency put out a notice to a few select universities and our Career Service staffers sent it out to everyone. They only requested resume and cover letter. I sent them off the day I got the notice (as this was more or less a dream agency/field for me personally - not to mention the fact I was studying for the Bar exam without a job offer). I had an interview, then didn't hear anything for a month and a half, so I figured I did not get the job. Out of the blue I get a phone call and am offered the job. I accept immediately and am told I'll hear from Human Resources and the Security Clearance folks. The clearance and HR side of obtaining a federal job is an in-depth post in and of itself, but if people are curious for more detail on that, I can oblige.

But, as the recruitment process for a federal position was something that always left me confused as an applicant, I'll try to lay it out for you. There are two main types of employment as a federal employee. They are:

1) Competitive Service: This is the complicated one you hear the most about. Competitive Service positions must be posted on USAJOBS and are open to the entire qualified American public (typically). In order to apply for one of these positions, you make a profile on USAJOBS, which includes detailed background information, essays, and a whole lot of headache. Your responses are then sent off and scored according to a point system. There is a definite trick to getting a job this way. Your points for your essays are based on whether you use certain buzz words. You also get bonus points if you are a military veteran. (I personally believe you get points for being a racial minority as well due to the % of competitive service employees who are minorities, but officially, at least, I am wrong. I'm not trying to make a political point on affirmative action, I'm simply relaying my personal observation). I applied to quite a few of these Competitive Service positions and never heard back. I know people occasionally do get jobs this way, including a journal-mate of mine, but it's an uphill battle due to the vast number of applicants.

Or you can go my route...

2) Excepted Service: Many but not all attorneys are hired this way. It gives the Agency greater flexibility in hiring. It also streamlines the upfront process (though not the security clearance).

The difference between a Competitive Service employee and an Excepted Service employee is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say, applying for an Excepted Service position tends to be much easier. And, at least in my limited experience, you'll have a better shot of getting the position.

DrewPBottom
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby DrewPBottom » Tue Aug 14, 2012 8:24 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Did you apply through DOJ Honors?


I applied for the DOJ Honors internship 2L year. I got an interview, but not the position. A tip for applying for these (which I found out later in my law school career):

You have a much better chance of getting one of these positions if you: 1) Choose a Geographic preference other than DC as your primary (everyone chooses DC, apparently) AND 2) Choose a less sexy practice area (i.e. Tax; Antitrust)

DrewPBottom
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby DrewPBottom » Tue Aug 14, 2012 8:55 pm

Miracle wrote:Can you give us a brief description of what your normal day looks like? With regards to atmosphere, work load, hours, etc.?


For this (and all other answers) if you feel my answer is too general or glosses over some specific nugget you really wanted, just let me know. I'll tend general in most of my answers, but I am willing to go into detail for the areas people have a strong interest in knowing more about.

Federal Government staff-level employees are not allowed to work more than 80 hours a pay period (2 work weeks) without special approval. This is due in part to laws and in part to labor agreements between the federal employee unions and any given agency. Note: The Department of Justice regularly works its employees beyond 40 hours a week. It's more of a law firm like culture than many agencies, which may account for this. I think the extent a DOJ attorney goes over the 40 hours depends greatly on their group and their individual caseload. I know, for example, that the DOJ group that handles local Washington DC crimes regularly works 60+ hour weeks. I think this is unusual.

One of the best things about working for the federal government is the flexibility they give their employees in scheduling. Most agencies I've heard of offer the options of:

1) Traditional 40-hour work week (8/hours a day, 5 days a week)
2) Compressed Work Schedule (9/hours a day, 8 days a pay period; 8/hours a day, 1 day a pay period; and 1 day off a pay period)

Some Agencies offer even more flexibility:

3) Compressed Work Schedule II (10/hours a day, 4 days a week; 1 day off a week)
And best of all...
4) Daily Flexible Schedule (Work a minimum of 8 hours a day. Any extra hours you work essentially become additional vacation hours that you can accumulate and use like you would Annual Leave)

Now let's see...what was the original question again?

Miracle wrote:Can you give us a brief description of what your normal day looks like? With regards to atmosphere, work load, hours, etc.?


Oh, right. I'll handle Atmosphere and work load one at a time

Atmosphere: The best and worst thing about working for the federal government as an attorney is that you work alongside non-lawyers. Why do I say that?

The good: Shorter work hours than most lawyers; More laid back than a law firm; Managers tend to be more relaxed about you taking leave;

The bad: Sometimes so laid back that it can border on unprofessional (particularly for those in cubicles); Every once in a while you have to work with a really horrible employee who won't return e-mails, do their work promptly, etc.; Some bad employees who'd get fired at a law firm get away with doing just enough not to get fired. (Contrary to popular belief, you can get fired from a federal job, but with the Union appeals process it's tougher.)

Work Load: Another truism: When you work for the government, it's feast or famine. Sometimes you're way too loaded up and sometimes you wish there was more work.

I personally find that truism to be a bit overstated, but not wholly inaccurate. I am the lead attorney on 10-20 administrative cases. I move with minimal managerial approval (this varies depending on supervisor). Within a few months of starting my job, I was negotiating against experienced lawyers with no safety net. For the most part I held my own, but a few times I had a crafty lawyer get the better of me. And that's okay. One year out of law school, you're not going to be the best negotiator in the world. But I've honed my craft and my job has allowed me to learn through real practice. And I've continued to improve. That's hands-on experience is something you would NEVER get at a big law firm. Likely not at a medium or even small-sized one, either.

In my first year, I drafted motions, participated in ADR, negotiated several settlements, and worked alongside DOJ in larger cases. It's been a great experience.

There were times in law school when I wasn't sure this lawyer thing was really for me. But when you enter a room to negotiate, without help, and you're alone against two experienced attorneys -- that's what being a lawyer is about. You have to think on your feet, debate the merits of your case, and call BS when they try to pull one over on you (because many attorneys will test you, particularly if you look young). It's thrilling and you never know where it will turn. And that is just one of the reasons why I love my job.

DrewPBottom
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby DrewPBottom » Tue Aug 14, 2012 9:00 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Can you give a sense of what kinds of practice backgrounds would allow for a lateral into your office? Obviously litigation is the most natural fit, but would someone doing bankruptcy or transactional work have a shot?


The answer depends on the Agency, of course. For an agency like mine that mainly focuses on a particular type of law (though other types come in, of course) you'd want either Litigation or a knowledge base on the specific area of law (both is a plus, of course). Having written a legal article that deals with a relevant area of the law is a HUGE plus. So...


If you want to work for the IRS (which I hear is actually a great job) write a journal article on tax. Same goes for the EPA, Corps of Engineers, Department of Labor, etc.

DrewPBottom
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby DrewPBottom » Tue Aug 14, 2012 9:02 pm

Anonymous User wrote:... but would someone doing bankruptcy or transactional work have a shot?


Forgot to answer the second part of your question. I would say the answer is yes. The hurdle for that individual would just be a little higher. For someone in that position, I'd really try to hang my hat on my interest/accomplishments in that area of law. Have you written an article? Did you do some amount of practice in the relevant area of law?

Anonymous User
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Aug 14, 2012 9:03 pm

When do non-DOJ/AUSA agencies usually start the hiring process for 3Ls? I've applied to a bunch like USACE, NRC, etc., and I figure I won't hear for awhile as gov tends to go slower than firms, but do you have a rough estimate of your agencies timetable? Non-DOJ/AUSUA position listings don't usually have a published timetable like DOJ.

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patrickd139
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby patrickd139 » Tue Aug 14, 2012 10:21 pm

PM'd. Thanks in advance.

DrewPBottom
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby DrewPBottom » Tue Aug 14, 2012 11:30 pm

Anonymous User wrote:When do non-DOJ/AUSA agencies usually start the hiring process for 3Ls? I've applied to a bunch like USACE, NRC, etc., and I figure I won't hear for awhile as gov tends to go slower than firms, but do you have a rough estimate of your agencies timetable? Non-DOJ/AUSUA position listings don't usually have a published timetable like DOJ.


You'll find that the various federal agencies are even less uniform that you ever would have guessed. There are several different timekeeping systems, payroll systems, travel systems, etc. This is to say, every agency handles it differently. I know that agencies that hire through Competitive Service on USAJOBS list pretty early in the school year. They do this because it takes so long to go through the hiring process.

Many others, like mine, simply post whenever they have an opening. In this current fiscal climate, most agencies will probably be limiting their hires. As a result, they'll probably list a position as soon as they receive approval for the FTE (basically funding for a position). What that means is you have to search the good career sites every few days to make sure you don't miss anything. My agency's Excepted Service announcement was not up very long.

To make explicit a point I left implicit above: Federal Agencies are having their budgets squeezed. The next year or so is probably a bad time to look for a federal job. That doesn't mean there aren't any jobs available. It just means there will be less opportunities. But it only takes one.

Miracle
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby Miracle » Thu Aug 16, 2012 2:40 pm

Why did you chose to pass on a big law job, and go straight to federal prosecutor position?

Anonymous User
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Aug 16, 2012 6:19 pm

3L here. A Fed Gov agency's honor program that I dreamed of working at since pre-law school is apparently had a dearth of applicants for fall OCI and I'm being asked to apply. I didn't apply initially because my grades are below median at a regional school. My UG experience relates a bit to the job (think physics/broadcast/finance/management -> NRC/FCC/SEC/DOL) but I have 0 law school classes that relate to the subject (i.e., no regulatory/admin/communications/securities/employment classes). What's the best way for me to get across my desire to work there and/or convince them it's worth interviewing me?

Thanks for taking questions!

DrewPBottom
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby DrewPBottom » Sun Aug 19, 2012 11:44 pm

Miracle wrote:Why did you chose to pass on a big law job, and go straight to federal prosecutor position?


I've always wanted to do federal government, so I went to a cheaper (but still good) school to minimize loans. As for the why:

1) Be on the side of the "good guys" (Cheesy but it makes a difference to me)
2) Better hours
3) Better Flexibility
4) Work environment

Government work can be stressful, of course, but I felt the culture was far different from big law (where I summered, but did not work as an full-time associate). It's a more laid-back environment typically, despite the fact that you as a young attorney are doing more work of substance (typically) than young big firm associates.

I think this is a personal decision, however. Some people like an intense work environment or the whole work hard/play hard thing. I love my job, but I love being able to have time to have a life outside of it.

DrewPBottom
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Re: Federal Attorney Taking Any Questions

Postby DrewPBottom » Sun Aug 19, 2012 11:51 pm

Anonymous User wrote:3L here. A Fed Gov agency's honor program that I dreamed of working at since pre-law school is apparently had a dearth of applicants for fall OCI and I'm being asked to apply. I didn't apply initially because my grades are below median at a regional school. My UG experience relates a bit to the job (think physics/broadcast/finance/management -> NRC/FCC/SEC/DOL) but I have 0 law school classes that relate to the subject (i.e., no regulatory/admin/communications/securities/employment classes). What's the best way for me to get across my desire to work there and/or convince them it's worth interviewing me?

Thanks for taking questions!


I had not taken admin law before I got my job, despite the fact my practice is now primarily administrative. I had, however, taken classes in the subject area. For you, I'd do the following:

1) Sign up for (or plan to sign up for) a class in the relevant subject area next semester. Find out a thing or two about the class to mention in case you're asked about it in your interview.

2) Consider writing a law review type article in the area. Even if it doesn't get published, it'll help you gain an understanding in the area and enable you to better speak about the subject in an interview. If you don't have enough time to do this step, then at least think about potential papers subjects.

3) Think of a good answer to the question: "Why do you want to work for the SEC (or whatever)? I see you haven't taken Securities..." Many interviewers for government agencies really are passionate about their jobs and what they do. As a result, they want other attorneys to care too. This question will be particularly important for you because you lack any coursework in the area (though if you follow points 1 and 2 above you can mitigate the harm).




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