Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Federal Agency Attorney's Perspective

I'm going to speak from my own experience, which is that of an attorney who didn't really know about federal job opportunities until I was almost through with law school. I think some of the plusses and minuses of federal work (on the whole, there are far more plusses in my experience) might hold true for members of other professions: for example, engineers.

Oftentimes one gets to a certain stage of career development where the worry of "can I get a job at all?" is accompanied, or replaced, by "can I get a job that has any meaning to me?" As an attorney joining the Bar, I knew I would be able to find a job, but I worried that I wouldn't get one that would enable me to both a) make the kind of contribution I wanted to make to society, and b) enable me to have work-life balance (this is a code phrase that law students use for "not wanting to spend the best years of their life chained to a desk every weekend doing document review, in the name of maximizing billable hours.")

Enter the federal government! Working for the Social Security Administration, I was allowed to handle complex cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals, and other courts, at a very early stage of my career. By attorneys' standards, I have a great deal of schedule flexibility. And, without getting too corny about it, I go home every day happy about who my client is (to wit, the American public) and the fact that I've put my skills to work on that client's behalf.

The major negative is simply this: one is working on a government pay scale. At the upper end, this is not comparable to the upper end of compensation available to attorneys in private practice. So you are not going to become wealthy working for the federal government, or anywhere in the public sector, as should be obvious to everyone. However, if you're considering federal employment in the first place, that's probably not your first concern; and even then, it is not as though you are living on a poverty wage by any means in these positions.

I've enjoyed my government career tremendously and would be happy to recommend it to anyone.

David J. Burdett
Assistant Regional Counsel
Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration
Region X, Seattle