Ms. JD

Avenues to Government

Editor's Note: Ms. JD's annual conference, Avenues to Advancement, was held November 20-21 in Chicago. These are six pieces of advice from the Avenues to Government panel.

Although lawyers in the public sector often make far less than lawyers in the private sector, that is not an indicator of the difficulty of the job or of getting in the door.  The panelists on our Avenues to Government panel offered some myths and truths about working for the government and offered some tips to help you get public sector job.  Below are two of these myths and three tips to help you get started.


Myth #1: Lawyers in the public sector are not as good as lawyers in the private sector.

This is absolutely false.  As one of our panelists stressed: lawyers in the public sector are some of the best and the brightest lawyers in the profession.  And they demand excellence as much, if not more, than lawyers in private practice.

Myth #2: The training is better in private practice.

The truth is that the training is often different.  One panelist stated that she did not have any “real” training, but was just thrown into the water and had to swim.  Another panelist jumped in to note that this was training – real experience training – and that is huge! Public sector training if often informal, but it teaches lawyers how to multitask and how to run by the seat of their pants – both great skills for lawyers, especially in this economy. 

Get in the Door

Tip #1: Intern!

In the public sector, other than in politics, it is less about who you know and more about the process, at least at the early stages.  So get some real experience.  If you are struggling to find a meaningful experience, look outside the box.  Be willing to work for little or no pay for some time, think about clerking and get involved in your community.

Tip #2: Be a joiner.

Just because who you know matters less, it does not mean it doesn’t matter at all.  Being connected means you’re more likely to hear about positions that fit your interests.  So join your local or state bar association or a community organization.  Get involved with these groups and gain connections. And remember: don’t burn your bridges.  You never know who might be able to help you out in the future.

Tip #3:  Keep track of everything you do.

Whether you’re speaking on a panel, attending a training session or earning CLE credits – write it all down and keep it handy.  It will show your connections, your motivation and your experience, so when the right job comes along, you can prove that you’re prepared. 

Tip #4:  Be positive.

The process of getting a job in the public sector can be difficult.  And once you get the job, the long hours, less pay and sometimes not enough help can make it even more difficult.  Remember to keep your sense of humor and to stay positive.  The experience you’re gaining, whether through applying for, preparing for or actually doing the job is so valuable that it will be worth the effort in the long run.  Plus, if you keep a positive attitude, you’ll be known as the person who never seems to be fazed by anything…and that’s a great reputation to have. 

Moderator:  Kathryn Kelly, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Civil Division, Northern District of Illinois; Dorothy Capers, former Deputy Corporation Counsel, City of Chicago Department of Law; Debbie Osgood, Director, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights- Chicago; Mary Smith, Partner, Schoeman, Updike, Kaufman & Scharf; Corinne Wood, former Lieutenant Governor, State of Illinois

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