The government sets laws in order to regulate society and protect the rights of citizens. They exist on the local, state, and federal levels, and people sometimes misunderstand or disobey them. For this reason, the government uses attorneys to interpret and enforce the laws. These legal professionals are known as government lawyers. Keep reading to learn more about the government lawyer.
What Does a Government Lawyer Do?
In simple terms, a government lawyer is any lawyer that works directly for the government. They exist on all levels, and their duties vary. Regardless of the agencies government lawyers work for, the goal is to correctly implement and enforce the laws.
Lawyers on the local level may advise city officials on legal matters, enforce ordinances, or prosecute criminals. They also help create laws that benefit local businesses or the community as a whole. State attorneys act as public advocates, enforce state laws, and advise state legislators. Some work as public defenders to represent the state in criminal cases, as well.
Attorneys working for the federal government may help draft regulations or provide assistance to various agencies. Other roles include preparing opinions in criminal and civil matters pending before a federal court. They are also responsible for writing legal reviews of agency decisions.
Professional Requirements to Become a Government Lawyer
The professional requirements to become a government lawyer are the same as those working in the public sector. The first step is earning a bachelor’s degree from a college or university. There is no specific major required for admission to law school, but many prospective lawyers choose political science, English, or business. Towards the end of the program, the student will take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Law schools use the score as part of the admissions process.
Then, after receiving a bachelor’s degree, the student attends law school for three years to earn a Juris Doctorate degree (J.D.). The first year of law school entails studying the basics of law. Subsequent years are focused on more specific areas of the law. After receiving a J.D. degree, the last step needed to become a government lawyer is passing the bar exam. Moreover, to practice law in multiple states, an attorney typically must take the bar exam in each of those states.
Additional Education and Experience
A student may choose to take his education beyond a Juris Doctorate degree. In this case, they can do so by obtaining a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree. This degree is internationally recognized and gives lawyers global credibility. While working towards a degree, students can also complete clerkships or internships to gain experience. For some individuals, this may also broaden job prospects.
There may be other requirements for lawyers practicing in federal courts.
Additional Licensing Requirements
Each state has additional licensing requirements for attorneys. The criteria vary, but most require practicing lawyers to complete Continuing Education courses. They are typically mandated to take the courses every one to three years.
Where Can You Work as a Government Lawyer
Where you can work as a government lawyer depends on the level of government that employs you. State lawyers may work as prosecuting attorneys or public defenders for criminal cases. They can also work for state agencies such as the Department of Transportation. These lawyers typically have offices in the courthouses, city halls, or state capitals.
Attorneys working for the federal government may try civil cases and prosecute criminal cases. They help with program development, procedural issues, or law enforcement, as well. When employed by the judicial branch, they can work for the Supreme Court of Appeals or other government entities. Another option is working for the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Government Lawyers spend most of their time in an office setting. The job involves large amounts of paperwork, research, and other office tasks. They also spend time in courtrooms and meeting with clients.
How do Government Lawyers Get Paid?
Attorneys working in the public sector receive pay directly from clients. In contrast, government lawyers are paid by the agency employing them. Generally, they receive a salary, though this amount varies depending on their role. Along with a salary, government attorneys receive benefits such as sick pay, vacation pay, health insurance, and retirement plans.
Government Lawyers with more experience often earn more than those without. In some instances, lawyers working for the government volunteer their time. For example, a prosecuting attorney may hold free legal clinics at a local domestic violence shelter.
Government Lawyer Salary
As of 2018, the median annual salary for government lawyers is $119,250 ($57.33/hr) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook. The BLS does not differentiates between fields of practice, however, so this is the average for all lawyers.
The salary for government attorneys varies significantly. For instance, a lawyer working for a small town will likely earn less than one working for a larger city. In general, they make less than their counterparts, but have more job security and better benefits.
Employment Outlook for Government Lawyer
According to the BLS, the employment rate for lawyers will increase about 8% over the next 8 years. This is the average for all occupations in the U.S. As more students graduate from law school, the job market is likely to remain competitive.
How to Find a Job as a Government Lawyer
To find a job as a government lawyer, you must meet the educational requirements. Then, check your city or state website, since many list available positions. Additionally, use a reputable website that connects employers and employees. These websites allow users to search for job openings by location and industry. Another option is attending a local job fair. Check your Chamber of Commerce website or a local career center and inquire about upcoming events.
Once you find a position you are interested in, fill out the required application and submit the proper paperwork. Potential government employees are subject to background checks as well as drug tests.
|Degree Level||Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) is optional|
|License/Certification||Licensure in state of practice|
|Key Skills||Critical thinking, negotiation, verbal and written communication, ability to research, analytical, compassionate|
|Number of Jobs (2016)||792,500|
|8% growth rate (average growth rate)|
|Median Salary (2017)||$119,250*|
|On the Job Training||Moderate term of on-the-job training|
|Top Earners||Top earners in the field are generally employed by large law firms|
(*Source: the BLS)