State and local government attorneys perform a variety of functions ranging from litigation to contract review. If a state or county has an office that is concerned with a certain issue such as social services or land use, there will be an attorney within the agency providing the legal support for that office. On the county level, attorneys typically work in the County Counsel’s Office or are assigned directly to the department they are representing. Research is necessary to determine how a particular county is organized.
If you are interested in the structure of a particular county, including where lawyers work, outside of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, please consult the State Section of the Public Sector Resources chapter for resources. The State and Municipal Yellow Books (contact a reference librarian for username and password) and PSJD are also good starting points.
Many students who are interested in government work target their job search to federal agencies or big city public defender and prosecutor’s offices. For many students, this is not a good strategy for several reasons. First, the federal government has experienced downsizing and the number of entry-level attorneys hired has dropped in past years. Second, big city public defenders and prosecutor’s offices (like Washington, San Francisco, Boston) traditionally receive the largest number of applications because everyone thinks of applying there. Third, other employers, especially many county government agencies, also hire attorneys for criminal and other legal work. Often competition becomes less the farther away from a city the position is, even if travel time is only a half an hour to forty-five minutes. This does not mean, however, these jobs are easy to find.
Students interested in government positions should consider the possibility of broadening the scope of their job search to include state, county, and city governments, and targeting more than one major city.
If you have questions or would like additional information, please contact Jill Frost, Director of OCPD, at (202) 319-5132 or firstname.lastname@example.org.