One benefit to pursuing a career in the legal field is that the opportunities are limitless—private practice, in-house, academia, nonprofit legal work, prosecution, government—and the list goes on. One area that should not be overlooked is he federal government—interning with the federal government is a great way for law students to develop their legal skills while exploring different areas of the government. If you are interested in interning with the federal government but do not know where to start, this article will help you start the process.
Narrow Down Interests.
The first step to interning with the government should be determining your field of interest. Recognizing your interests will help narrow the internship opportunities down. It is worth noting that it is important to look at the description of the office, not the agency, when determining where to apply. There are 15 executive departments, but within these departments are dozens of agencies, sub-agencies, and offices. Don’t dismiss an agency just because of its name—you may be surprised how many agencies actually appeal to your professional interests once you take time to research. For example, if you are interested in immigration law, you may assume that you will only find immigration-related work with the Department of Homeland Security. But the other agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor, have offices that deal with immigration-related issues.
How do you apply for an internship with the federal government? While it seems like an obvious choice to use sites like LinkedIn, you will need to apply on USAJOBS.gov. Even though the agencies may post internships on other sites, they only accept applications through USAJOBS.gov.
Once you have created a USAJobs.gov account, you can start looking for internships! It is helpful to use filters to narrow down opportunities. Be sure to thoroughly read the job description. Document requirements vary among agencies, and some agencies will ask you to email your application directly.
When do you need to apply for an internship? It depends—agency deadlines vary. It is important to plan in advance to ensure that you do not miss any opportunities.
Pro Tip: Consider reaching out to a local college about staying there if you do not live in the area. Most colleges rent out their dorm rooms and apartments to interns in the summer.
Look into Pathways.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has created a program called Pathways, which is worth looking into if you want to intern with the government or want to pursue a career with the federal government after graduation. Pathways is a federal government program that offers students and recent graduates a path to internships, training, and career development opportunities. There are three main components to Pathways: the Internship Program, the Recent Graduates Program, and the Presidential Management Fellowship. If you are a first-year or second-year law student, the Pathways Internship Program will provide you with opportunities to explore federal careers. (Bonus: you will get paid!) The Recent Graduates Program is a program that offers career development, with training and mentorship for those who have graduated within the past two years. The Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program is for recent graduates with an advanced degree, including a J.D. PMF is a two-year appointment that will allow participants to work at a single federal agency or participate in a rotational opportunity at another agency.
Consider Capitol Hill.
An alternative to interning with an agency is working on Capitol Hill. To find an internship, contact your state’s Senator or Representative. Send an email to the appropriate contact with your resume and a cover letter that describes how interning in their office will help further your career goals. Congressional members prefer to have their constituents be their interns, so they will welcome your email!
Pro Tip: If you want to intern with the House of Representatives, you can subscribe to the weekly House Employment Bulletin to receive information on openings in offices and on committees. If you prefer the Senate, keep an eye on the Internship Opportunities Bulletin.
What happens if you do not get a federal internship this year but want to try again next year? Network! Attend ABA events or reach out to people on LinkedIn. If you network with people in the office you desire, they will be able to help you with your application next year.
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