DOJ Job After JAG Forum

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DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Thu May 12, 2022 9:58 pm

Looking to see if anyone has any experience with going from JAG to DOJ.

I have a little less than 2 years on my contract, and I want to see if I would even have a shot at DOJ.

For context, I served as an Infantry officer for five years then re-joined after law school as a JAG. I have three and a half years of military law experience, including a year of trial experience.

I was top 1/3 of my law school class but went to a tier three school.

Any insight would be helpful in making a decision on my next career move.

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Fri May 13, 2022 11:45 pm

DOJ is actually a huge umbrella. What kind of jobs are you talking about? If you mean USAO, I've seen a lot of former JAGs in the border districts, and your trial experience will help, although one year of trial experience isn't that much.

If you mean Main Justice, then I think it will be tougher. But again, it will depend on what you're talking about - like do you want to be an attorney-advisor for ATF or DEA or BOP? Or do you want to work in one of the Main Justice divisions like criminal or civil? I think that will be a harder mountain to climb, in that they will want to see either a fancier pedigree or more concrete specialized experience (or both).
Last edited by Anonymous User on Thu May 19, 2022 8:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 14, 2022 8:04 pm

Thank you for this! This is helpful information.

I have two questions:

(1) Why did you specify former JAGs working at border districts? Are those easier areas to get hired at or just what you have seen?

(2) How much does my veteran status play in balancing out my lack of a fancy pedigree? I have seen I can provide my dd214 and get some preference in hiring.

I am interested in the USAO, but I also have a desire to pursue a path in the national security division. I take it NSD is at Main Justice (I am still pretty new in my research on this).

I appreciate the reply.

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Sun May 15, 2022 8:54 am

DOJ jobs are excepted service jobs, so veterans don't get the same boost from veteran's preference like they will for competitive service.

Allegedly, preference is still considered by the DOJ and is a big plus factor in your favor. I don't have HR contacts to confirm how true that is though!

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Sun May 15, 2022 10:17 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Sat May 14, 2022 8:04 pm
Thank you for this! This is helpful information.

I have two questions:

(1) Why did you specify former JAGs working at border districts? Are those easier areas to get hired at or just what you have seen?

(2) How much does my veteran status play in balancing out my lack of a fancy pedigree? I have seen I can provide my dd214 and get some preference in hiring.

I am interested in the USAO, but I also have a desire to pursue a path in the national security division. I take it NSD is at Main Justice (I am still pretty new in my research on this).

I appreciate the reply.
Anon from above. I specified border districts in part because that’s what I’ve seen (I’ve been in both border district and non-border districts) and in part because they can be easier districts to get hired in. For one thing, they’re high volume districts with a lot more turnover and so hire more often/have more openings (my current non-border district is small and full of lifers, so while I don’t think we’re the most selective office around when we do hire, there just aren’t a lot of openings).

I think also that border districts often hire based more on trial experience than just on pedigree, whereas an office like SDNY tends to hire out of biglaw and looks for elite pedigree and grades. Not that this is a hard and fast rule, and it depends on the preferences of the current USA; and I’m pretty sure most offices will hire people coming out of biglaw with traditional biglaw credentials, it’s just that some offices are more open than others to also hiring local prosecutors/former JAG based on their trial experience.

Re: veteran’s preference in USAO’s:
I agree with the post above about this, there’s no official advantage. I have seen a hiring committee definitely pay attention to veteran status and make efforts to give first round interviews to veterans if they were at all plausible candidates. Clearly uncompetitive candidates weren’t interviewed regardless of status, but it could help a borderline candidate get interviewed. But at that point the candidate was evaluated on pretty much the same standards as everyone else. (I haven’t seen enough of a close call for veteran status to be a tiebreaker in actual hiring, but I suspect that if the committee has come down to say the top 4 candidates that they like equally and wants to recommend the top 3, veteran status could be a tiebreaker. IME what usually happens is that the committee puts forward a small number of finalists to the USA and the USA makes the final decision. No idea if veteran status plays much of a role at that point or whether just it’s personal preference.)

NSD is at Main Justice and while overall contours are the same - no formal boost but being a vet can help - I don’t personally know anything about how they hire. I do think that the Main Justice divisions tend to be much more specialized, because they set policy as well as handle cases. So someone in NSD is *only* going to work on NSD cases, probably some narrower subset thereof, and then maybe to work on setting policy for NSD cases across DOJ. Someone doing NSD cases in a USAO will likely have some proportion of other kinds of cases as well (though it depends on the office caseload overall) and doesn’t have the policy role. So my sense is that the more specialized experience you have, the better. And I don’t think one year of trial experience would be sufficient at this point. (Some divisions will be more school/grade snobby than others, too.)

My take is that at the moment you wouldn’t be incredibly competitive for a USAO or Main Justice, though I suppose it depends how much and what kind of trial experience you got in that year. I don’t think you have a strong enough pedigree/grades to fit the traditional model of elite hiring out of biglaw and you don’t have quite enough experience yet to stand out in the “trial ready” bucket of candidates (most people I’ve seen who get hired out of the practical experience route have had more like 3-7 years trial experience).

That said, I wouldn’t rule it out completely, especially for a border district. And there’s no reason not to apply just because of what some internet rando says. I think it would just make sense to have other plans going as well (which frankly is advice I’d give to any candidate, in part because USAOs and MJ generally hire only when they have actual openings, so it’s hard to predict the timing. You can’t generally just apply on your timeline. Some USAOs do take rolling applications, but they tend to be the most competitive ones, and I don’t know when they interview/hire on the rolling apps).

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Sun May 15, 2022 6:25 pm

Former Army JAG here. I knew I wanted to be an AUSA after 4 years of JAG, so I tried to get as much trial experience as possible. Stats are below:

Ivy undergrad
T-14 law school
1.5 years Trial Counsel
2 years TDS (trial defense)

Applied to pretty much all the DOJ/AUSA positions and struck out.

Goodluck to you my friend.

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Sun May 15, 2022 9:28 pm

For the former JAG who didn't get selected:

Why do you think you they didn't pick you? Was your JAG experience not taken as seriously?

And, where did you end up working after leaving the Army?

I will be going into TDS this summer, so I should have at least two years of trial experience before I plan to get out. However, after reading this thread, I may reconsider when/if I leave

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Mon May 16, 2022 10:20 am

I'm a JAG who's now at DOJ. Many of us were lucky to join DOJ, but I also know many who applied but never got it. It's very competitive, as you know. Here's my advice to increase your odds:

(1) Try to land a federal clerkship. Judges are the only folks who will hire you 1-2 years out. Feels good to drop your Release from Active Duty and have a job lined up. Not many clerkship applicants have practiced law, let alone tried a contested trial, so you already stand out. Apply to federal magistrates as well.

(2) If you cannot land a clerkship, get more litigation experience. This may mean sticking it out for another tour. Try to get to appellate government/defense and improve your writing. Many of my friends who joined DOJ came directly from OMC P or D, so another tour there will get you to DC (where there are plenty of openings) and also keep you litigating. Or just another tour as a TC or TDC.

(3) If you're anywhere near the DC area, come to the 2022 Veterans Legal Career Fair on June 16-17. https://www.veteranslegalcareerfair.com/. Plenty of DOJ folks will be there. Find mentors and stay in touch.

Good luck!

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Thu May 19, 2022 8:17 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Sun May 15, 2022 9:28 pm
For the former JAG who didn't get selected:

Why do you think you they didn't pick you? Was your JAG experience not taken as seriously?

And, where did you end up working after leaving the Army?

I will be going into TDS this summer, so I should have at least two years of trial experience before I plan to get out. However, after reading this thread, I may reconsider when/if I leave
My intent was certainly not to scare you off. But just be aware that going straight from JAG to AUSA/DOJ is an exception, not the rule. I know of one JAG who went straight to AUSA, but the USA that hired him was also a former JAG. What I suspect is more probable is if you use your next job to pivot to DOJ/AUSA. Your time in TDS will certainly add to your trial experience, and perhaps, even change your view on the military justice system and criminal justice system as a whole. It will be a good litmus test for you in the sense that you will definitely know whether you want to be a trial lawyer after spending time in TDS. You will know after a few months in the assignment if its right for you.

If I had to guess why I struck out was because of two things. (1) below average resume + (2) lack of network. Your average applicant applying to DOJ/AUSA jobs is a t14 grad ---> district court/COA clerk--> top law firm . I don't think my JAG experience was looked down upon, but it was certainly unspectacular. To my second point, even with those stellar credentials, you usually need someone to get your resume to the top of the stack. My approach of mass applying to these jobs wasn't the right approach.

The advice about snagging a clerkship now is a good one. I also applied to clerkships. There are many judges that will explicitly state in their openings that they prefer veterans. Also, the trend seems to be that judges like to hire clerks with more experience. There are many former JAGs in clerkships now, and I recommend reaching out to them. Literally everyone I reached out to on linkedin responded and gave me advice.

I disagree with the notion that staying in longer to get more trial experience after your TDS time is a good approach. After 4-6 years in JAG, you will be less marketable in other legal jobs (you will be too expensive without the necessary experience they are looking for). Also, no guarantees that you can just ask and get more trial experience. Since you are most likely prior service/FLEP, your bosses are going to push you to get some more leadership assignments before your board, which I assume is coming up soon. Gov and Defense appellate gigs are also hard to come by. What is more likely than not is you getting pushed into a non litigation role (BJA/Chief of Legal Assistance/ OP law) which is useless to the civilian world.

Again, none of this is gospel, just one persons point of view. The takeaway is to have an open mind as to what type of legal jobs you want to pursue after your service. Going all in on DOJ/AUSA can be a dangerous and unfruitful exercise for many.

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by howell » Wed May 25, 2022 3:52 pm

Really good advice in this thread. It mostly matches my experiences.

For the DOJ, it would probably help to get any DOJ job and then try to work toward the area you want to be in. I have had friends go directly from being a JAG to the DOJ. I think most of them had appellate experience, however. But I've seen them to go national security & civilian sections as well as criminal.

For an AUSA gig, I would apply broadly. I have had several friends get AUSA gigs, but most of them separated at the 6-8 year mark with significant trial experience (base legal -> defense -> senior trial/defense counsel -> and maybe appellate), and a lot of them didn't just focus on one geographic area. I believe an AUSA position would have been offered to me if I had not backed out (long story), but that US Atty was a retired JAG. I know two AUSAs in Atlanta who were previously JAGs. One moved there directly, but had 3-4 years as a senior trial counsel. The other one didn't have much more trial or appellate work than being a defense counsel for two years, but he clerked after he left the military and worked in a firm for a bit.

A federal clerkship would be phenomenal, especially in managing the transition to the civilian world. Knowing you have a job lined up 6+ months in advance of leaving would be really, really comforting. Even more so when that job could help you pivot in a lot of directions.

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by grayskies » Sat May 28, 2022 6:31 am

This is an interesting thread. Can anyone comment as to how experience as a JAG, particularly in practice areas such as administrative law or national security law (especially with an emphasis on cyber), would translate into an attorney-advisor or general attorney position within one of the DOJ agencies? Do people ever lateral from these positions to DOJ Main or do they have their own career trajectory within the specific agency?

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 28, 2022 7:17 am

grayskies wrote:
Sat May 28, 2022 6:31 am
This is an interesting thread. Can anyone comment as to how experience as a JAG, particularly in practice areas such as administrative law or national security law (especially with an emphasis on cyber), would translate into an attorney-advisor or general attorney position within one of the DOJ agencies? Do people ever lateral from these positions to DOJ Main or do they have their own career trajectory within the specific agency?
Struck out JAG from above. We don't really specialize in "ad law". Its just one of the first assignments we do for 1-1.5 years as a junior to cut our teeth and learn how a division works. After that assignment, you may possibly be the chief of ad law as a major (again, for 1-2 years). However, if you play it up correctly, it is helpful to show that you have investigation experience, which many in house jobs look for. I suspect your ad law experience will be helpful for DOJ jobs, but they are looking for litigation experience as well.

As for NSL, admittedly, I did not go this route but do know a few friends who did. NSL isn't something you can truly get subject matter expertise in until after the grad course, and that is if the stars align. You may be able to get an Op Law job as a captain but again, it really isn't "NSL" like you think it is, nor is helpful for outside employment. Another option is to try and get a BJA position at a Military Intelligence Brigade and hope to get some of that experience that way. Best chance to get a real NSL gig is to deploy, which I wouldn't count on anymore, and hopefully get the right slot doing the "sexy stuff". My friends who wanted NSL gigs had to fight really hard to deploy and there just isn't as many opportunities to do so like there was 10 years ago. My advice to you would be to get an assignment as a CPT that would get you a Top-Secret SCI clearance. For many agency jobs, this is a requirement. I have applied to the NSA and got interviews without the highest clearance or NSL experience. They seem to like JAGs.

This is to say, to gain real subject matter expertise as a JAG, you probably need to hit MAJ, which means, you have to spend a minimum of 8-10 years in the JAG Corps to hopefully get that. I will tell you, the experience you end up obtaining isn't really up to you. The needs of the military will dictate, for the most part, what assignments you get. When I was interviewing as a 3L for the JAG Corps, the SJA said to me: "You speak Italian and want to get criminal law experience? Great! Human Resource Command will send you to Japan to do legal assistance!"

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 28, 2022 10:09 am

grayskies wrote:
Sat May 28, 2022 6:31 am
This is an interesting thread. Can anyone comment as to how experience as a JAG, particularly in practice areas such as administrative law or national security law (especially with an emphasis on cyber), would translate into an attorney-advisor or general attorney position within one of the DOJ agencies? Do people ever lateral from these positions to DOJ Main or do they have their own career trajectory within the specific agency?
I’ll take a stab at the second question, but disappointingly my answer is, it depends. I think it’s important not to *assume* you can go from an internal agency to main justice. I do think that already being a DOJ employee is a little bit of a boost in that employers know you understand what working for the feds is like, you get the general bureaucracy and you’re a public servant type. But it entirely depends on what experience you get in the attorney advisor/general attorney position and if that experience translates to the MJ position. MJ definitely takes laterals and I’m sure they’d seriously consider someone with experience doing similar work elsewhere within DOJ, but you’d have to have that experience and make the pitch for yourself just like everyone else.

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by grayskies » Sat May 28, 2022 11:43 am

Very insightful and helpful replies, thank you.

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jun 22, 2022 2:32 pm

I do know two military acquaintances offered interviews with Main Justice, one stayed in and retired from the military, the other was hired as a AUSA after four years in the military and then four years private practice. However, I believe both people had the same personal connection within Main Justice that may have helped. www.ucmjlaw.com

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Re: DOJ Job After JAG

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jun 23, 2022 4:36 pm

Joining an USAO after JAG may be easier than going to Main Justice as a Trial Attorney given the latter group tend to be specialists (e.g., Antitrust, Cyber, Fraud, Healthcare, Civil, Gangs, etc.) As a JAG, my trial experience tended to be more violent crimes and virtually little to no "white collar," absent the occasional and small-time fraud cases. If you're a JAG who has done National Security cases or bigtime fraud cases, then you stand a better chance of getting into Main Justice.

And we have to keep in mind that JAG to DOJ is a very popular option for most transitioning out, so it's hard to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack.

I know plenty of people may disagree with me on the value of this, but getting an LLM (part-time), certificate, or another advanced degree (using the GI Bill) may expose you to an area of law that JAGs don't regularly practice in: securities, antitrust, tax, or healthcare. For example, if you're applying to the Antitrust Division, having a certificate in antitrust may be a great start if you don't have an requisite experience in this field.

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