It’s that time again, when desperate law students are scrambling to land employment for the coming year. I would do a post about this season’s OCI and the 2L fretting involved with that, but as the vast majority of students never have a shot at biglaw, especially in this economy, we can ignore that in favor of something that students outside of the top 15% of their class dream about: working for the government. This is of particular concern to jobless 3Ls, who went through the worst OCI in history in 2009 and are by and large still scrambling for a job before graduation hits. Who doesn’t want to find a steady spot on the General Schedule, with the possibility of IBR loan forgiveness after ten years?
Career Services LOVES to push the myth that students who didn’t get a job with a big firm (the vast majority of them) can all just go work for the government. The “Government Honors & Internship Handbook” is put out every year by the University of Arizona. It is nothing short of the bible for lazy Career Services Charlatans. Overpaid slugs from career services offices, from the T-14 down to the lowliest of TTTs, beat the “Arizona Handbook” drum every time a desperate student steps into their office. Never mind that it’s not exclusive, and every law student in the country has access to (and presumably uses) it during the desperate search for employment. Never mind that the federal government was only hiring perhaps 5% of qualified applicants even during the best of times. Never mind that the feds are flush with extremely-credentialed private sector refugees, or as my buddy at the DOJ says, “we’re flush with Skadden/Yale hybrids so students are getting shafted.” No, to hear career services tell it, there is nothing at all to worry about. Tens of thousands of panicked, indebted law students can breathe easy, because we’ve got this stupid handbook!
Something to notice right off the bat about this year’s handbook is that there are a lot more 1/2/3L Fall/Spring/Summer Internships than last year. It appears that many second-tier agencies have trimmed their paid internships and Honors Programs (or whatever equivalent) and stopped looking for full-time employees entirely. This makes perfect budgetary sense, as an agency could stock itself full of summer 2Ls and semester-long 2L/3L interns from the many D.C.-area law schools. This process can be repeated indefinitely, paying these interns at a lowly rate well below an actual GS attorney, without ever having to take on the “dead weight” of full-time employees. If the agency is really third tier, they will seek a continual rotation of volunteer, unpaid interns without ever looking to hire. Because law students are ignorant little shits who think it benefits them to be screwed and work for free forever (for the “experience,” you know?), agencies will have no trouble finding these volunteers.
One thing I like about the handbook is that it often has figures on the number of applicants and accepted students from the previous year, being those who would have applied as 2Ls and were part of the Class of 2010. This class has been massacred by the economy, but they sat for OCI in 2008. That year’s hiring was anemic, but it was nothing compared to how crappy 2009 OCI was, which this year’s current crop of federal attorney aspirants endured. There are going to be even more people applying for these federal jobs this year, because the Class of 2011 has been the most out-of-luck class (thus far) since the great recession hit. In reviewing these numbers and percentages, one must keep in mind that they will be even higher this year and the percentage chance of landing a gig even lower. It’s also important to note that many agencies “request” top quarter or top third and “prefer” law review.
Because the class of 2011 will be on the hunt for full-time employment, let’s limit the following rundown to positions that will result in full-time employment for 3Ls. Generally, there are a few (meaning one or two more) summer positions in any given department or division for 2Ls, but when it comes time to hire permanent workers, the ranks are culled. Since we care about employed attorneys rather than summer-jobbing law students, we’ll focus on the miserable wretches of 2011 who will soon be graduated, unemployed, and waiting in a welfare line.
Here’s the complete list, from the handbook, of federal agencies looking to hire 3Ls for full-time attorney positions after graduation. For reference, I’ve included last year’s numbers of 3Ls hired, along with the number of applications for the positions received, as reported by the handbook. This list does NOT include the many more agencies who are listed as only looking for law student interns, many of them unpaid. If an agency is not on here, it’s listed as only looking for low-paid or unpaid temporary student interns, and is not hiring any recent grads. I’ve also left out fellowships, which are temporary. If included, they would add a few dozen legal positions and many more non-legal public policy positions, which is beyond the scope of this review of attorney jobs. Also, I realize that there is probably significant overlap between some of the applicants, wherein a single student will have applied for multiple positions at different agencies. Having no way to gauge this, I'm presenting each entity's numbers independently, as they themselves report them.
* Army Corps of Engineers. Hiring up to 15. Last year, 10-15 hired out out 800 applications. Probability: 1.875%
* CIA. Hiring six 3Ls, last year's numbers not listed.
* EPA. Hiring two fellows, last year 2/200 hired, top 10% preferred. 1% chance.
Region 1: Seeking one hire, 1/200 taken last year. 0.5% shot.
Region 3: Seeking one, 1/300 taken last year. 0.33%.
Region 5: Seeking two, 2/500 taken last year. 0.4%.
Region 9: Seeking one, 1/over 500 taken last year. 0.2%.
(Rest of regions seeking low-paid or volunteer temporary student interns).
* EEOC: Seeking up to five hires, last year 5/680 were hired. 0.735% acceptance.
* FDIC: Seeking up to six, last year six were hired “from hundreds” of applications. Top third of class required.
* FTC: Seeking eight, from more than 1000 applications. 0.8% shot.
* DHS: Seeking up to eight, last year 8/"over 1180" applications. 0.677% shot.
* HUD: Seeking 10-20, last year 25/1,100 applications. 2.27%.
* Interior: 3-5 positions, last year 5/more than 700 hired. 0.71%.
* IRS: Seeking 55, last year hired 55 “out of thousands.”
* Justice: Seeking 160, will interview 600-700. Last year, 211 out of 4,121 were hired! 5.12%.
* Labor: Seeking four, last year 5/1200 hired. 0.4166%.
* NLRB: Seeking three, last year 3/800 hired. 0.375%.
* NRC: One position is seeking up to four 3Ls, last year 3/500 hired. Another is seeking 4-6, last year there were 5/1400 applicants accepted. 0.357%.
* SEC: Seeking six, close to 2000 applicants received every year. 0.3%.
* State: Seeking 12-14. Last year, 4/800 accepted. 0.5%.
So, using the federal government’s own maximum estimate, there are a whopping 332 paid, full-time, real attorney positions available for graduating 3Ls in the Class of 2011, the biggest chunk of these with the Dept. of Justice or the IRS, where your odds are still only 5%. This year, things look tougher because fewer students will be interviewed. Your shot at most federal agencies (those that are actually hiring) is often lower than one percent. Also keep in mind that many of the above-listed "strongly prefer" top third or above in class rank, and law review.
With approximately 45,000 law students graduating in 2011, this smidgen of jobs represents 0.73% of the jobs that would be needed to fully employ them all as lawyers. As the federal government is the nation’s biggest employer, and has a huge demand for legal work, students can't expect them to do much more heavy lifting than they already are. Given that the private sector and most state governments are still hard-hit and have responded by laying off thousands and taking on fewer new hires overall, we can expect 2011 graduates to be even worse off than their miserable fellows from 2010.
Thanks a lot to the University of Arizona Law School for compiling this very illuminating handbook. Extra thanks to my school's career services office, who touted the handbook and this tiny smattering of federal jobs, most of which go to elite students from T-14 schools, as a realistic way to find employment. And they say that those folks are only working there because they can't work with numbers!