BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

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BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Sun May 03, 2015 12:19 pm

Were you an entry level (honors or otherwise) BigFed attorney? Did you start as a law clerk at GS-11 until you passed the bar? How long until you moved from GS-11 to the next pay grade?

If senior attorney, how often did you increase your pay grade?

Do y'all get annual bonuses at all? If so, what's the range?

Thank you very much! Just trying to get a clearer picture of what the pay is actually like.

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haus
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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby haus » Sun May 03, 2015 1:02 pm

If you are interested in what wages are really like you might want to spend some time performing some searches at:

http://www.fedsdatacenter.com/federal-pay-rates

You might want to consider looking at the agency you are interested in and find some staff who have moved a few notches off of the first rung on the ladder, many of these people will have presence on sites such as LinkedIn where you can get a feel how long ago they graduated.

One pain is that the titles vary a bit, making searching a bit of a pain, but you can start out with searching for the occupation of "General Attorney"

Disclaimer: Part-time 1L who has works for a federal agency

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Sun May 03, 2015 1:12 pm

haus wrote:If you are interested in what wages are really like you might want to spend some time performing some searches at:

http://www.fedsdatacenter.com/federal-pay-rates

You might want to consider looking at the agency you are interested in and find some staff who have moved a few notches off of the first rung on the ladder, many of these people will have presence on sites such as LinkedIn where you can get a feel how long ago they graduated.

One pain is that the titles vary a bit, making searching a bit of a pain, but you can start out with searching for the occupation of "General Attorney"

Disclaimer: Part-time 1L who has works for a federal agency


Thanks, Haus! Neat tool. Disappointed to not find a lot of bonuses though haha!

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Sun May 03, 2015 5:37 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Were you an entry level (honors or otherwise) BigFed attorney? Did you start as a law clerk at GS-11 until you passed the bar? How long until you moved from GS-11 to the next pay grade?

If senior attorney, how often did you increase your pay grade?

Do y'all get annual bonuses at all? If so, what's the range?

Thank you very much! Just trying to get a clearer picture of what the pay is actually like.


I'm not a fed govt attorney, but have been interviewing for fed govt. I think you can technically be given GS-9 if you haven't taken or been admitted to the bar, but I think that's uncommon. It's probably safe to assume you start at GS-11 regardless of bar status. I've been told that you typically move up a pay grade each year until you get to whatever grade your job maxes out at (assuming you're given grade promotions each year, which most agencies will do unless there's sequestration going on or something like that). The 10 steps technically take 18 years, but my understanding is that it typically doesn't take that long for attorneys. I suspect the exact details of how your agency will deal with the grade and step increases varies pretty widely depending on which agency it is. (E.g. I have a friend who went to a fed agency after working at a firm, and they told her that they couldn't give her more than GS-13 because she only had two years of experience, but they then agreed to give her GS-13, step 10, which is not where she would have been if she had started at that agency right out of law school).

I've never heard of bonuses in federal government. I mean bonuses are basically like profit sharing (from the top to the bottom), and by default fed govt is not-for-profit (i.e. it operates at a deficiency, if anything), so a bonus structure doesn't really make a lot of sense. Not that it really matters, since pay in fed govt. is pretty much as good as it gets in the PI realm. You'll be making around 6 figures in 3-5 years at most agencies (assuming you're in a major market).

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Sun May 03, 2015 6:29 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Were you an entry level (honors or otherwise) BigFed attorney? Did you start as a law clerk at GS-11 until you passed the bar? How long until you moved from GS-11 to the next pay grade?

If senior attorney, how often did you increase your pay grade?

Do y'all get annual bonuses at all? If so, what's the range?

Thank you very much! Just trying to get a clearer picture of what the pay is actually like.


I'm not a fed govt attorney, but have been interviewing for fed govt. I think you can technically be given GS-9 if you haven't taken or been admitted to the bar, but I think that's uncommon. It's probably safe to assume you start at GS-11 regardless of bar status. I've been told that you typically move up a pay grade each year until you get to whatever grade your job maxes out at (assuming you're given grade promotions each year, which most agencies will do unless there's sequestration going on or something like that). The 10 steps technically take 18 years, but my understanding is that it typically doesn't take that long for attorneys. I suspect the exact details of how your agency will deal with the grade and step increases varies pretty widely depending on which agency it is. (E.g. I have a friend who went to a fed agency after working at a firm, and they told her that they couldn't give her more than GS-13 because she only had two years of experience, but they then agreed to give her GS-13, step 10, which is not where she would have been if she had started at that agency right out of law school).

I've never heard of bonuses in federal government. I mean bonuses are basically like profit sharing (from the top to the bottom), and by default fed govt is not-for-profit (i.e. it operates at a deficiency, if anything), so a bonus structure doesn't really make a lot of sense. Not that it really matters, since pay in fed govt. is pretty much as good as it gets in the PI realm. You'll be making around 6 figures in 3-5 years at most agencies (assuming you're in a major market).


That's great to know. I am mostly curious about how fast or slow the process is, and this gives me an idea.

I asked about the bonuses because I know some state attorneys who do get bonuses, so I wondered if fed gov't did the same.

For the record, can't complain about the pay given lifestyle and other benefits 8)

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Sun May 03, 2015 10:33 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Were you an entry level (honors or otherwise) BigFed attorney? Did you start as a law clerk at GS-11 until you passed the bar? How long until you moved from GS-11 to the next pay grade?

If senior attorney, how often did you increase your pay grade?

Do y'all get annual bonuses at all? If so, what's the range?

Thank you very much! Just trying to get a clearer picture of what the pay is actually like.


I'm not a fed govt attorney, but have been interviewing for fed govt. I think you can technically be given GS-9 if you haven't taken or been admitted to the bar, but I think that's uncommon. It's probably safe to assume you start at GS-11 regardless of bar status. I've been told that you typically move up a pay grade each year until you get to whatever grade your job maxes out at (assuming you're given grade promotions each year, which most agencies will do unless there's sequestration going on or something like that). The 10 steps technically take 18 years, but my understanding is that it typically doesn't take that long for attorneys. I suspect the exact details of how your agency will deal with the grade and step increases varies pretty widely depending on which agency it is. (E.g. I have a friend who went to a fed agency after working at a firm, and they told her that they couldn't give her more than GS-13 because she only had two years of experience, but they then agreed to give her GS-13, step 10, which is not where she would have been if she had started at that agency right out of law school).

I've never heard of bonuses in federal government. I mean bonuses are basically like profit sharing (from the top to the bottom), and by default fed govt is not-for-profit (i.e. it operates at a deficiency, if anything), so a bonus structure doesn't really make a lot of sense. Not that it really matters, since pay in fed govt. is pretty much as good as it gets in the PI realm. You'll be making around 6 figures in 3-5 years at most agencies (assuming you're in a major market).


That's great to know. I am mostly curious about how fast or slow the process is, and this gives me an idea.

I asked about the bonuses because I know some state attorneys who do get bonuses, so I wondered if fed gov't did the same.

For the record, can't complain about the pay given lifestyle and other benefits 8)


I don't really understand the rationale behind this. It's essentially like saying, "oh, hey, we got substantially more tax money than we anticipated collecting this year, so here's a bonus for being an employee for the state." It would make more sense to just increase their salaries. I guess it's possible that they have tax money laying around that didn't get used, so they gave it to their employees, but with the budgets in most states, I doubt that's very common. I dunno, my gf works for a nonprofit, she gets a small bonus at the end of the year, which we both find equally puzzling (since the nonprofit is exactly that and doesn't make any money, and I don't understand how donors don't scrutinize a line that says "bonuses" in their 990s).

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Sun May 03, 2015 10:55 pm

In a non-GS agency, I've seen the feds give what they call a bonus, basically if there isn't enough budget to give everyone a raise. Even if it's the same amount as the raise, it's cheaper than upping someone's base salary, but that person still gets something. The case I know of, the bonus was $2000, so not really what biglaw would call a bonus anyway.

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby FamilyLawEsq » Sun May 03, 2015 10:55 pm

Big Fed employees get days off as a bonus since there is no money for cash bonuses.

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Sun May 03, 2015 11:52 pm

I am a federal attorney who started as a GS-11 and advanced to a 13 before transferring to a non-GS agency. At most agencies you start as an GS-11, step-1 "Law Clerk" (around 64k in DC) before you pass the bar. Once you pass the bar, the only thing that happens is that your title changes to "Attorney". After a year as an 11, assuming your performance is at least "meets expectations", you advance to a 12 (around 77k in DC). A year later, to a 13 (around 92k in DC), and a year later to a 14 (around 108k in DC). After 14, advancement depends on your agency. Some agencies treat GS-15 (around 127k in DC) as a normal advancement and you get it after a year as a 14, some agencies wait until after you've done some specific activities, and others make you compete for 15 positions that are only given to managers or very specialized attorneys. Note that in years where you don't advance a "grade", you get a smaller pay bump called a WGI or step increase. Also, some agencies like the FTC start attorneys as GS-12s, and others like the IRS start attorneys as GS-11 Step 10s which means both higher initial salaries and faster salary growth.

In terms of bonuses, my former agency and many others have cash bonuses and vacation bonuses that depend on your performance review. For instance, "meets expectations" might get you a few extra vacation days and no cash as a bonus, while "exceeds expectations" will get you a 1.5% cash bonus plus an extra week of vacation and "greatly exceeds" will get you a 3% bonus and an extra week of vacation. Some agencies have additional awards based on specific projects. For instance, if we had a very successful settlement or litigation, we might get an additional bonus of 1.5% of salary or extra vacation or the like. So whoever above said that federal employees don't get bonuses is completely wrong. Basically, the bonuses can be a nice perk at the higher GS levels, especially at the "greatly exceeds expectations" level, but they are not nearly as big as in the private sector.

Also, while salaries are correct on the federal employee databases, the bonus information is not accurate since bonuses are usually given after the database is published. I know since my bonus is listed as $0 but was actually a bit higher :)

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Mon May 04, 2015 1:01 am

Anonymous User wrote:I am a federal attorney who started as a GS-11 and advanced to a 13 before transferring to a non-GS agency. At most agencies you start as an GS-11, step-1 "Law Clerk" (around 64k in DC) before you pass the bar. Once you pass the bar, the only thing that happens is that your title changes to "Attorney". After a year as an 11, assuming your performance is at least "meets expectations", you advance to a 12 (around 77k in DC). A year later, to a 13 (around 92k in DC), and a year later to a 14 (around 108k in DC). After 14, advancement depends on your agency. Some agencies treat GS-15 (around 127k in DC) as a normal advancement and you get it after a year as a 14, some agencies wait until after you've done some specific activities, and others make you compete for 15 positions that are only given to managers or very specialized attorneys. Note that in years where you don't advance a "grade", you get a smaller pay bump called a WGI or step increase. Also, some agencies like the FTC start attorneys as GS-12s, and others like the IRS start attorneys as GS-11 Step 10s which means both higher initial salaries and faster salary growth.

In terms of bonuses, my former agency and many others have cash bonuses and vacation bonuses that depend on your performance review. For instance, "meets expectations" might get you a few extra vacation days and no cash as a bonus, while "exceeds expectations" will get you a 1.5% cash bonus plus an extra week of vacation and "greatly exceeds" will get you a 3% bonus and an extra week of vacation. Some agencies have additional awards based on specific projects. For instance, if we had a very successful settlement or litigation, we might get an additional bonus of 1.5% of salary or extra vacation or the like. So whoever above said that federal employees don't get bonuses is completely wrong. Basically, the bonuses can be a nice perk at the higher GS levels, especially at the "greatly exceeds expectations" level, but they are not nearly as big as in the private sector.

Also, while salaries are correct on the federal employee databases, the bonus information is not accurate since bonuses are usually given after the database is published. I know since my bonus is listed as $0 but was actually a bit higher :)


This is SUPER useful. Thank you so much!

I have to ask... is a non-GS agency better? What are the differences?

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby haus » Mon May 04, 2015 1:34 am

Anonymous User wrote:This is SUPER useful. Thank you so much!

I have to ask... is a non-GS agency better? What are the differences?

There are some agencies that are not held directly to the GS scale, one example that I know of is FDIC. They have a scale similar to the GS scale, but they are allowed to determine their own pay bands. In their case, this is because they are not funded by congress, instead they operate out of the funds that they charge banks for deposit insurance.

Generally speaking the benefits are on par or better than most agencies. Also, it appears that the wages are on the higher end of the scale. As an added bonus, when the federal government is playing games with budgeting for most of the staff, it is simply not an issue as they will continue to get paid even if there is a shutdown.

In this case I would argue that this non-GS based agency would be a better one to work for than most GS based agencies.

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Mon May 04, 2015 3:56 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I am a federal attorney who started as a GS-11 and advanced to a 13 before transferring to a non-GS agency. At most agencies you start as an GS-11, step-1 "Law Clerk" (around 64k in DC) before you pass the bar. Once you pass the bar, the only thing that happens is that your title changes to "Attorney". After a year as an 11, assuming your performance is at least "meets expectations", you advance to a 12 (around 77k in DC). A year later, to a 13 (around 92k in DC), and a year later to a 14 (around 108k in DC). After 14, advancement depends on your agency. Some agencies treat GS-15 (around 127k in DC) as a normal advancement and you get it after a year as a 14, some agencies wait until after you've done some specific activities, and others make you compete for 15 positions that are only given to managers or very specialized attorneys. Note that in years where you don't advance a "grade", you get a smaller pay bump called a WGI or step increase. Also, some agencies like the FTC start attorneys as GS-12s, and others like the IRS start attorneys as GS-11 Step 10s which means both higher initial salaries and faster salary growth.

In terms of bonuses, my former agency and many others have cash bonuses and vacation bonuses that depend on your performance review. For instance, "meets expectations" might get you a few extra vacation days and no cash as a bonus, while "exceeds expectations" will get you a 1.5% cash bonus plus an extra week of vacation and "greatly exceeds" will get you a 3% bonus and an extra week of vacation. Some agencies have additional awards based on specific projects. For instance, if we had a very successful settlement or litigation, we might get an additional bonus of 1.5% of salary or extra vacation or the like. So whoever above said that federal employees don't get bonuses is completely wrong. Basically, the bonuses can be a nice perk at the higher GS levels, especially at the "greatly exceeds expectations" level, but they are not nearly as big as in the private sector.

Also, while salaries are correct on the federal employee databases, the bonus information is not accurate since bonuses are usually given after the database is published. I know since my bonus is listed as $0 but was actually a bit higher :)


This is SUPER useful. Thank you so much!

I have to ask... is a non-GS agency better? What are the differences?


The biggest advantage is that the pay is usually significantly higher and the benefits are better. For instance, OCC starts new attorneys around $105k and the salaries go up to around 220k for a 14-equivilent vs around 140k at a GS agency. Health benefits and retirement benefits might also be better subsidized. But there's a few non-GS positions that actually pay equivalent to GS or worse. Notably, US Attorney's offices are not on GS scales but usually have lower salaries. But most non-GS agencies pay significantly more.

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby champ33 » Mon May 04, 2015 12:51 pm

Sorry this is definitely a dumb question but I'm a little confused. After a year at GS-11 you jump to GS-12, and after another year to GS-13? What are the levels within each GS for then? My impression was that you go from GS-11 level 1 to level 2 after a year, to level 3 after another year, etc etc. which seems to be clearly wrong.

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby zot1 » Mon May 04, 2015 1:09 pm

champ33 wrote:Sorry this is definitely a dumb question but I'm a little confused. After a year at GS-11 you jump to GS-12, and after another year to GS-13? What are the levels within each GS for then? My impression was that you go from GS-11 level 1 to level 2 after a year, to level 3 after another year, etc etc. which seems to be clearly wrong.


what I get from reading the comments is that attorneys are in sort of a fast-track path, so they jump from one grade to the other without actually going through the steps of each grade.

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Mon May 04, 2015 1:21 pm

zot1 wrote:
champ33 wrote:Sorry this is definitely a dumb question but I'm a little confused. After a year at GS-11 you jump to GS-12, and after another year to GS-13? What are the levels within each GS for then? My impression was that you go from GS-11 level 1 to level 2 after a year, to level 3 after another year, etc etc. which seems to be clearly wrong.


what I get from reading the comments is that attorneys are in sort of a fast-track path, so they jump from one grade to the other without actually going through the steps of each grade.


It's not really because attorneys are treated differently. The steps within a grade are mostly for people who have topped out their career ladders. For attorneys, career ladders are usually from gs-11 to gs-14, which means you go up a grade every year until you're a 14 (assuming good performance). Once you're a 14, you will only go up one step within the 14 grade every year ( and every two years once you're at a high enough step) until you are competitively promoted to a 15. Some agencies top out those attorney career ladders at 15. This is true for non attorney government positions too, but many of them only have career ladders that go to gs-12 or gs-13 before you need to competetively apply for promotion.

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby champ33 » Mon May 04, 2015 1:41 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
zot1 wrote:
champ33 wrote:Sorry this is definitely a dumb question but I'm a little confused. After a year at GS-11 you jump to GS-12, and after another year to GS-13? What are the levels within each GS for then? My impression was that you go from GS-11 level 1 to level 2 after a year, to level 3 after another year, etc etc. which seems to be clearly wrong.


what I get from reading the comments is that attorneys are in sort of a fast-track path, so they jump from one grade to the other without actually going through the steps of each grade.


It's not really because attorneys are treated differently. The steps within a grade are mostly for people who have topped out their career ladders. For attorneys, career ladders are usually from gs-11 to gs-14, which means you go up a grade every year until you're a 14 (assuming good performance). Once you're a 14, you will only go up one step within the 14 grade every year ( and every two years once you're at a high enough step) until you are competitively promoted to a 15. Some agencies top out those attorney career ladders at 15. This is true for non attorney government positions too, but many of them only have career ladders that go to gs-12 or gs-13 before you need to competetively apply for promotion.


Thank you both this is much clearer now.

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 05, 2015 11:51 pm

Technically, an attorney could start as low as a GS-9, but most agencies will hire entry-level at GS-11. See OPM guidelines, p. 21- http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversigh ... gs0905.pdf

They could also hire new grads as Law Clerks at GS-7/9, and they'll get converted to the agency's entry-level grade when they become licensed. I started off as a GS-9 law clerk in an Honors Program and was converted to GS-11 a couple months later when I got my bar license.

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 06, 2015 11:09 am

I am at an agency that recently came off a hiring freeze and I have been started at a GS-12 with one year practice experience and have also been told about the likelihood of going 12-13-14 each year, fwiw

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby ch2262 » Thu May 07, 2015 8:53 am

I am a fed attorney and I started at GS-11 as soon as I graduated LS. The minimum time required for going from GS-11 to GS-12 is 6 months and after I passed the bar and got sworn in (which was about 6 months after I started), I got promoted to GS-12. After a year of being at GS-12, step 1, I was promoted to step 2. In several months, I'll be at a different fed agency and they'll be starting me at GS-13. At that point, I will have had about 2 years post-LS experience, which I believe is the minimum required.

As you can tell from the various posts, different positions have a band of GS levels that they hire on as well as maximum levels. Such depends on the nature of the position and responsibilities. If you go on usajobs.gov, you'll have a better idea of which jobs will max out at which bands. As an attorney, I believe that unless you have supervisory roles, it's unlikely to advance to a GS-14 or GS-15. Certain positions will max out at GS-12 and as mentioned, move up in steps until you max out.

The bonuses are explained well by the poster below. There are various agency-specific monetary awards that are give out and performance-based bonuses. Going on fed salary center will give a good idea of the agency you're looking into.

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 07, 2015 9:15 am

I will be starting a GS-11 position with the General Counsel's office of a large federal agency in a few weeks. I was told by my supervisor that after one year from starting I will be eligible for GS-12; after another 1.5 years will be eligible for GS-13; and after an additional 2 years will be eligible for GS-14. To simplify, that equals GS-11 --> GS-14 after 4.5 years.

Based on the above it seems that I have a much longer wait for GS promotions than others who have posted on here. I'm beginning to wonder whether I am at the slow end of the spectrum for fed gov't attorney promotional pace. I'm also wondering if there's a chance I can surpass the pace they indicated. I think I'll ask...

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 07, 2015 11:23 am

I'll be starting as a GS-12 in a BigFed Honors Program this fall. I'm going in as a -12 as opposed to an -11 because I had a one-year federal clerkship after law school and have already passed the bar. I'll be eligible for -13 in six months, -14 a year after that, and -15 a year-and-a-half after that.

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Scottie2Hottie » Mon Nov 23, 2015 1:05 pm

I was offered a non-attorney position right after graduating law school at Grade 10, Step 5. I have passed the bar and will be sworn in December. I still have not started my government position because clearance has not gone through yet and could be another 6 months.

My question is, should I contact someone and see if I am eligible for a higher grade? My dilemma is that Grade 10, step 5 salary is more than grade 11, step 1. I am wondering what is the best move for the future growth and a higher salary?

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Re: BigFed Attorneys: Please Help Me Understand GS

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Nov 23, 2015 1:15 pm

Scottie2Hottie wrote:I was offered a non-attorney position right after graduating law school at Grade 10, Step 5. I have passed the bar and will be sworn in December. I still have not started my government position because clearance has not gone through yet and could be another 6 months.

My question is, should I contact someone and see if I am eligible for a higher grade? My dilemma is that Grade 10, step 5 salary is more than grade 11, step 1. I am wondering what is the best move for the future growth and a higher salary?


I don't think it will make much of a difference and also the I'm fairly sure the time to negotiate has now passed if you already received a formal offer. What's important isn't where you start necessarily but what the career ladder is for the position. It's usually far better to start as a GS-9 in a position with a career ladder of 14 than to start as an 11 in a career ladder of 12.




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