The Office of the Legal Adviser furnishes advice on all legal issues, domestic and international, arising in the course of the Department’s work. This includes assisting Department principals and policy officers in formulating and implementing the foreign policies of the U.S., and promoting the adherence to, and development of, international law and its institutions as a fundamental element of those policies.
Attorneys in the Office are at the forefront of the important international issues faced by our country, whether they are working to respond to humanitarian crises, to prevent human rights abuses, to promote international trade and resolve international disputes, to create a more livable world or to help foster peace and security. They work directly with high-level U.S. and foreign officials, the Congress and the White House staff. While almost all of the Office’s attorneys are based in Washington, their work may require them to travel overseas on a “temporary duty” basis to almost anywhere in the world for bilateral and multilateral negotiations, dispute resolution efforts or an unlimited range of other diplomatic missions.
Attorneys negotiate, draft and interpret international agreements involving a wide range of matters, such as peace initiatives, arms control discussions, trade-liberalization agreements, international commodity agreements, consular conventions and private law conventions on subjects like judicial cooperation and recognition of foreign judgments. They also work with Department officials on legislative initiatives and draft and interpret domestic statutes, Departmental regulations, Executive Orders and other legal documents. They represent or assist in representing the U.S. in meetings of international organizations and conferences and many U.N. programs and represent the U.S. before international tribunals such as the International Court of Justice and the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, as well as in international arbitrations. The attorneys work closely with the Department of Justice in litigation in the U.S. and foreign countries affecting the Department’s interests and, in addition, have had increasing opportunities to represent the Department in domestic courts and administrative courts before the Foreign Service Grievance Board, the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and in contract disputes, Boards of Contract Appeals.
The Office is comprised of approximately 200 permanent attorneys and about 100 support staff, including paralegal specialists, treaty analysts, secretaries and general administrative personnel. Although all are stationed in Washington, DC, attorneys from the Office also fill the Legal Counsel and Deputy attorney positions at U.S. Missions in Geneva and The Hague, and the Legal Counsel positions at U.S. Missions to the European Union in Brussels and the United Nations in New York. On occasion, the office provides attorneys for other overseas posts.
The Office is organized into sections that roughly correspond with the Department of State’s various bureaus, including regional offices that focus on specific areas of the world and functional offices that deal with specific subject matters such as: Human Rights and Refugees; Political and Military Affairs; Economics and Business Affairs; Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs; Legislation and Foreign Assistance or Management. Accordingly, the Office of the Legal Adviser is divided into twenty-three sections, in addition to the offices at The Hague, Geneva, Brussels, and New York. Attorneys’ preferences for “rotation” are requested after they have served approximately two years in an assignment; attorneys typically rotate assignments within the Office every two or three years to broaden their experience and take on new challenges.
The Legal Adviser holds a rank equivalent to that of Assistant Secretary of State and reports directly to the Secretary of State. Four Deputy Legal Advisers collectively supervise Assistant Legal Advisers, who manage the individual regional and functional offices.
Competition for attorney positions in the Office is intense. Approximately 13 to 15 of the nearly 1,000 applicants for permanent employment each year are selected. New hires are generally drawn from judicial clerks, attorneys from other federal agencies, and attorneys in the private sector. The Office also occasionally hires third year law students with superior credentials. It selects approximately twelve summer interns, as well as 20 to 25 externs annually under the work-study program (see below). Outstanding academic performance, analytical ability, writing skills, special honors or achievements, professional experience, publications, and relevant extracurricular activities are important considerations in all selections. Knowledge of a foreign language is not mandatory. The Office encourages applications from persons with an interest or experience in general government work. In addition to hiring generalist lawyers who rotate through the broad range of the Office’s practice areas every two to three years on average, the Office also hires attorneys who are experienced specialists in the following areas: employment law, medical privacy and health care operations, contacting and procurement, FOIA litigation, ethics and financial disclosure, regulations and administrative law, immigration law, and international arbitration. Applicants interested in specialist positions in the above areas should indicate such interest in the cover letter.
The Office is committed to fostering a diverse and representative workforce and encourages women and minorities to apply. Excepted service attorney positions within the Office of the Legal Adviser are wholly exempted from the appointment procedures of 5 C.F.R. Part 302; however, the Office follows the principle of veterans’ preference in its attorney hiring procedures as far as administratively feasible, and it treats veterans’ preference as a positive factor at all stages in the hiring process. The Office complies with all applicable federal non-discrimination laws.
HOW TO APPLY
Applicants must submit a comprehensive resume that includes information about their educational background and scholastic standing, academic and other honors, professional experience, other government or military experience, publications, and other relevant attributes such as language skills. A copy of the applicant’s law school transcript and a list of three academic or professional references must accompany the application; a cover letter is also welcome.
Attorney applicants – Please submit applications on line to email@example.com, or fax to 202-485-8650.
Summer Intern applicants – Please submit applications on line to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax to 202-485-8650.
Externs applicants – Please submit applications on line to email@example.com or fax to 202-485-8650.
Office of the Legal Adviser
L/EX Room 5.600, SA-17
600 19th St., N.W
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20522-1705
- Third-year students: September 1 of 3rd year
- Judicial Clerks: Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. However, recommend as early in the fall as possible but no earlier than 12 months before end of Clerkship
- Laterals: Open
- Summer Interns: September 1 of 2nd year
- Externs: (for application process, see Work Study (Extern) Program below; two letters of recommendation are required)
For spring semester – June 1 of preceding year;
For fall semester – January 31
Decisions on hiring (other than laterals and spring semester externs) are generally made in the fall consistent with the availability of positions and needs of the office.
- Only U.S. citizens are considered for appointment as attorney-advisers.
- All Attorneys must be eligible to receive a Top Secret security clearance based on a comprehensive background investigation. The investigation usually takes three to six months to complete. Clearances typically are received prior to beginning employment with this Office.
- All Department of State employees in positions requiring a Secret or higher security clearance are subject to random drug tests.
- Attorneys in the Federal Service are required to be admitted to and maintain active membership in the Bar of a state, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. However, recent law school graduates may be hired before being admitted to the Bar under a special one-time Law Clerk appointment limited to fourteen months, which cannot be extended. Upon receipt of satisfactory evidence of Bar admission, the appointment will be converted to that of attorney-adviser.
- New attorneys initially receive three-year appointments. At the end of that period, subject to continuing successful performance, appointments are made permanent. Prior full-time service as a practicing attorney at another federal agency is counted toward meeting this initial requirement.
- Third-year students should plan to report to duty no later than November 30 following graduation from law school.
Resources permitting, attorneys from the Office visit a number of local and top tier law schools each summer and fall to interview interested students. These efforts include outreach to a diverse range of law students, including through visits to law schools and student groups with historically minority demographics. Students can determine from their school’s placement office if our recruiters will be conducting fall interviews on their campus. If students are unable to obtain an on campus interview, they may submit their applications directly with the Office of the Legal Adviser (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Interview in Washington, DC
Because of the large number of applications and limited resources, interviews of prospective full-time candidates in Washington, DC, are by invitation only. Candidates will not be reimbursed for travel expenses. On occasion, L participates in a Washington, DC-based hiring fair or interviewing consortium that provides an opportunity for law students, particularly from schools at which L does not schedule on campus interviews, to request interviews.
Compensation and Benefits
Attorneys are paid according to the General Schedule for Federal employees. For recent law school graduates with less than one year of relevant legal experience, the standard appointment is at GS-11, step one. Candidates with at least one year of experience, such as judicial clerks, will be appointed at GS-12, step one. Non-government laterals are appointed at the grade level (up to GS-15) and step that they would have earned had they joined the Office directly from law school. On a case-by-case basis, we may be authorized to compensate a newly appointed attorney with “superior qualifications” at a higher step level. Attorneys at the GS-11 level may be appointed at up to step 10 in their salary grade. The possible step increase varies for the higher grades. Salary levels for laterals from other Federal agencies are based on their current grade and step.
Staff attorneys who perform exceptionally well are eligible for rapid advancement through GS-15. Employees must be in grade one full year before being promoted to the next grade. Assistant Legal Adviser positions are under the Senior Executive Service and typically are filled competitively.
Attorneys have the option to participate in comprehensive health and life insurance programs. They are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), which consists of a pension program, the Thrift Savings Plan (a 401k-type savings program), and Social Security. Paid annual leave is earned at a rate of thirteen days annually for the first three years of employment, increasing to twenty days a year through the fifteenth year, and twenty-six days a year thereafter. Full-time employees also earn thirteen days of paid sick leave each year and receive ten paid Federal holidays. In addition, Federal employees are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993.
Summer Intern Program
The Office typically selects about twelve highly qualified second-year law students to participate in its Summer Intern Program. This provides a unique opportunity for students interested in public service and international law to become acquainted with the work of the Office as well as the Department (and to demonstrate their legal and interpersonal skills and acumen). Summer interns are normally given the same level of work as junior attorney-advisers. Interns are usually assigned to two offices in which they serve consecutively to ensure that they receive as broad an exposure as possible to the various facets of the Office’s practice within the time allowed. Interns are encouraged also to take advantage of special summer programs and activities sponsored by the Department, the Federal Bar Association, the Department of Justice, and others.
The Office’s summer intern program is highly competitive. Outstanding academic achievement, relevant international experience and/or extracurricular activity, strong interpersonal skills, references, and demonstrated professional potential and interest in public service are important factors in the selection process. Consideration is given only to U.S. citizens. We recognize that many students endeavor to divide the summer before their third year between two employers to broaden their exposure to the practice of law and finance their education. The Office is flexible in allowing students to schedule their internship any time between May and September with a minimum of six weeks of employment.
All applicants must submit a complete resume, including a law school transcript, together with a list of at least three professional references; a cover letter is also welcome. Applications should be submitted as early as possible in the summer and must in any event be received no later than September 1 of the second year. Applications submitted without a law school transcript will not be considered. Successful applicants will be notified around December 15, but their participation is conditional upon receipt of a Secret-level security clearance. Interns receive no pay from the U.S. Government and the U.S. Government defrays none of their personal expenses.
Students are informed that all materials produced while working in the Office are considered U.S. Government property and permission to use them for other purposes must be obtained from the proper authority at the Department of State. Students are subject to all requirements relating to retention or use of classified information (whether written or not) obtained in the course of employment.
The Legal Adviser’s office also offers unpaid legal internship opportunities at the U.S. Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands and at the U.S. Mission in Geneva, Switzerland. Law students who are interested in applying for these positions should complete the intern application found at careers.state.gov, and should indicate clearly in the application materials their interest in the U.S Embassy The Hague or U.S. Mission Geneva.
Work Study (Extern) Program
The Office typically accepts five to ten highly qualified second or third year law students as full-time or part-time “work-study externs” in the fall and spring semesters. Externs receive no pay from the U.S. Government and the U.S. Government defrays none of their personal expenses. Externs may receive academic credit from their law school, at its discretion, and obtain fellowships, scholarships, or other non-USG funding to support their externship.
This Program provides an unparalleled opportunity for intensive involvement in the Office’s work. Externs generally assume the same level of responsibility as summer interns and are expected to work between twenty and forty hours per week, the specific hours to be agreed upon prior to the commencement of the externship. Externs are typically assigned to one section of the Office, but may have the opportunity to work in several areas of the Office’s practice. Any academic requirements of the sponsoring institution are considered in the selection of assignments and projects, but the student is expected to invest a considerable amount of personal time outside the Office to accomplish any assignments required by his or her law school.
Externs, like interns, must be eligible to receive a Secret-level security clearance. Only U.S. citizens are considered for the program. Academic excellence, relevant experience, professional promise and the other factors identified for interns are important factors in the selection process. Applications for externship during the fall semester must be received no later than the preceding January 31, and for the spring semester no later than the preceding June 1. All applicants must submit a comprehensive resume, law school transcript, and two letters of recommendation from faculty members or officials of the sponsoring institution; a cover letter is also welcome. Externs will be requested to provide a statement affirming that the institution permits participation in such a program.
Students should be aware that all materials produced while working in the Office are considered U.S. Government property and permission to use them for other purposes must be obtained from the proper authority at the Department of State. Students are subject to all requirements relating to retention or use of classified information (whether written or not) obtained in the course of employment.