Getting into All Levels of Government (and especially California) Through JD Preferred Positions

I just got back from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) conference in San Francisco, where I attended an excellent session on getting an entry-level government job through the JD preferred route. In the session, I learned that many attorneys and professionals working in government did not start in conventional attorney positions. In fact, according to NALP data, 21% of government jobs are JD advantage jobs rather than attorney positions.

Whether you’re a 3L on the hunt for that first government job or a 1L or 2L planning the road ahead for your government career search, there are specific steps you can take to position yourself to begin your legal career in a JD preferred government role.

If you’re looking to apply for JD preferred positions in government, what does that mean?

Some common JD preferred job titles include:

Public Policy Analyst


Lobbyist/Government Relations

Legislative staffer

Political Campaign Manager

Contract Administrator

Court Administrator

Criminal Justice

Salaries for these entry-level positions range from $45K-65K.

You can search for these job titles on to get a sense of what skills they are looking for and the kind of work that people in these positions do.  Many of these positions come about through networking so if you want to get into government work, start meeting people working in these kinds of positions. Meet with me and I can coach you how to network into a government role effectively.

Because the conference was in San Francisco, one of the focuses of the session was jobs in California government, of which they are are many. California is one of the most regulated states in the country so there are numerous job opportunities in California government. California agencies don’t typically hire right out of law school but there are multiple entry-level fellowships.

One of the best routes to landing an entry-level job in California government is through the Capital Fellows Program.

This fellowship program offers entry-level positions in the California state assembly, governor’s office, state court administration, or in the California senate and grades are not a major focus of the application. The application is typically due in February so if you will be a 3L next year and are interested in working in California government, plan to work on your application over winter break next year. 

One of the conference session panelists, Dyanna Quizon, began her career through the Capital Fellows Program. If you’re interested in this program, I highly recommend taking a detailed look at her LinkedIn, which nicely traces her career path.

To give you a brief overview, Dyanna graduated from Berkeley Law in 2010 and then started her legal career as a Capital Fellows Program Fellow with the Judicial Counsel of California. As a Judicial Fellow, Dyanna advocated, wrote, and interpreted policies. More specifically, she conducted analysis on legislative issues affecting the judicial branch, participated in brainstorm sessions regarding significant judicial policy and procedural issues, such as the branch’s governance structure and the deployment of the statewide computer case management system, and  assisted attorneys in the Office of the General Counsel in conducting legal research.

Dyanna applied for all of the Capital Fellows positions and was placed with the Judicial Counsel. She explained that the administrative office of the courts is huge and courts are run like a business so they need capable staff to run the basic administration. The Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court is the administrative head of courts so Dyanna worked with her very closely. Dyanna says that the court administrators were often former attorneys.

After her fellowships concluded, Dyanna landed a job as Policy Associate and Special Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff with the San Francisco Mayor’s office. She got that job by building relationships. One of her friends from law school had lunch with the Deputy Chief of Staff to the mayor and he said he was looking for an assistant. Dyanna’s policy work she did as a Capital Fellow in the judicial system made her well-qualified for the position.

Working in the mayor’s office made it easy for her to switch to the legislative side in the role she currently has as Legislative Aide to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In this role, she creates ideas and then the city attorneys put those ideas in legalese to make sure they don’t get sued afterwards. Dyanna said that you don’t need a JD to get the type of position she has but it is helpful.

To get a Capital Fellows or more advanced government position, Dyanna says that employers want to see a passion and focus toward these positions. You need to be connected to the community on the local government side. She said that grades are not very important but showing a high level of commitment to the issues and to the state of California is.

Notre Dame is obviously not located in California so you may not be able to show commitment to local California government during the school year but you can absolutely show a commitment to local government by volunteering or externing with local government in South Bend. Of course, you can also show that commitment through your summer positions by working in local government in California. If you want to pursue a California state government job, it is important that you show your commitment to California so be sure to make working there over the summer a priority.

Beyond the Capital Fellows program, there are many additional government jobs in California.

The San Francisco mayor, for example, is a lawyer who got his first job through the city human rights commission. Many people don’t realize there is such thing as a city human rights commission but there are actually many city offices that need attorneys.

Also, look to the state assembly and senate. Many attorneys are working for committees and individual assembly members. The California state legislature has term limits so staff members make up the institutional knowledge and have a lot of power and influence.

There are also non-clerkship attorney positions in the judicial branch. The Judicial Counsel needs attorneys to work for the policy making body of the court.

Attorney roles in California city attorney offices are very coveted roles with good pay and cutting edge work.

The California Attorney General’s office is the largest legal employer in the state. They have an honors program modeled after the U.S. DOJ’s honors program, which was founded in 2011. They hire 6-10 new attorneys every year. Graduating students and those coming out of clerkships are eligible and the application is due 3L Fall.

California operates a Cal Jobs portal modeled after the USA jobs portal for federal jobs.

You can search for California government jobs in the portal by typing in “attorney” and all attorney jobs will pop up. Alternatively, you can pull some of the JD preferred job titles from above and search for those.

To apply for jobs in the portal, you need to take exams on the website, which assess your qualifications for the jobs you are applying for. Through these exams, you rate your fitness in certain core competencies like research.

One job that you should strongly consider searching for in the Cal Jobs portal is “Legal Analyst.” It is a similar position to a Deputy Attorney General except you cannot sign briefs and do not need to pass the bar. After a few years, this position can often turn into an attorney position but is way less competitive than other attorney positions in California. I just did a search for that job title and came up with 49 positions.

You should also search for Graduate Legal Assistant positions, which you can get without passing the bar but must pass the bar within 12 months. If you are in this position for 1-2 years and prove yourself, you can get into an attorney role.

Other government entities have their own fellowships. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has a one-year civil rights fellowship. The application is due in March of your 3L year.

New York state offers similar fellowships.

This year, they launched a new Social Justice Post Graduate Fellowship for law graduates to gain professional experience in municipal government.

For students with professional experience before law school, the Empire State Fellows Program is an excellent opportunity to get an entry-level position in New York state government.

To find JD Preferred jobs in the federal government, you will want to make USA Jobs, the official site for jobs in the federal government, your best friend.

USA Jobs can seem intimidating at first but once you get used to it and get a feel for the logic of the site, it is a great resource for hundreds of job opportunities. Plus, USA Jobs updated their entire website just two weeks ago to make it more user friendly.

Certain job titles and “occupational series codes” are linked with JD preferred jobs.

Here are some common ones:

JD‐preferred federal job titles (a non‐comprehensive list)

The US Federal government employs over 30,000 attorneys as attorneys, but many thousands (tens of thousands) more who hold JDs but are not in practicing legal roles. It can be challenging to determine the full scope of work held by this JD‐trained cohort of the federal workforce, but here we attempt to bring together some of the most common Occupational Series (OS) codes and job titles for JD‐ Advantage federal jobs.

Management and Program Analysis/Miscellaneous Administration and Program (0343/0301)

The 0301/0343 OS codes are the broadest category for JD‐advantage roles, though job titles can vary widely.

These include:

  • Program Analyst
  • Management and Program Analyst
  • Regulatory Counsel
  • Health Insurance Specialist
  • Health Information Privacy Specialist
  • Legislative Analyst
  • Congressional Liaison
  • Attorney Analyst Contracting and Grants Management (1102/1109)

Another frequent category for JD holders is contracting and grant management, with common titles of:

  • Contract Specialist
  • Contract Administrator
  • Procurement Analyst
  • Grants Management Specialist Varied Labor and Employment Roles

Many roles concerning labor and employment laws and regulations are held by JD holders, though across a wide variety of titles and OS codes.

Here are a few common ones, with codes where known:

  • Labor and Employment Equal Employment Opportunity Officer/Manager (0260, 0360)
  • Hearings and Appeals Specialist
  • Labor Relations Specialist
  • Workforce Analyst (0140)
  • Civil Rights Analyst (0160) Investigation and Compliance (1800 series) The “Inspection, Investigation, Enforcement, and Compliance Group” falls under the 1800 series, and spans the work of inspector general offices, criminal investigation (including financial, environmental, agricultural, and more), wage and hour investigation, and equal opportunity investigation. While job titles can vary in this group, they generally fall in the model of “Wage and Hour Investigator,” or “Equal Opportunity Investigator” on the investigation side, and “Compliance Officer” on the compliance side.

Copyright, Patent, and Trademark (1200 series) While patent roles often require a scientific or engineering background as well, a JD is frequently strongly preferred or even required, depending on the role.

Two of the most common for JDs are:

  • Patent Attorney (1222)
  • Patent Examiner (1224)


Finally, there are a number of other roles that may be well‐suited for a law school graduate or lawyer, but do not fall neatly into these other categories. This is why it is important to run overly broad USAJobs searches, to cast as wide a net as possible for these disparate positions.

A small sampling includes:

  • Tax Examiner
  • Environmental Protection Specialist (0028)
  • Public Health Analyst (0685)
  • Asylum and Refugee Officer
  • Adjudications Officer

Start out by performing a search on USA jobs by typing in either the 0343 or 0301 occupational series codes, which are the codes under which most of the JD preferred jobs fall.

When searching on USA Jobs, be sure to make use of the filters on the side of the website. Click on “open to the public” jobs and on the  “student and recent grads filters. You can track down JD advantage jobs by sorting by salary. JD preferred jobs are typically GS 9, 10, and 11 jobs.

“Pathways jobs” are explicitly entry-level jobs for recent graduates.

In all federal hiring, veterans are at a huge advantage so if you served in the military, be sure to apply.

USA Jobs resumes are quite different from the one page resumes you are accustomed to.

I recommend watching this very detailed You Tube video on how to craft your resume for positions in federal government.

If you’re interested in a federal government career, be sure to apply to the Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF).

Through PMF, recent grads work in two-year appointments with a federal government agency.

The whole process is now online. You take an online assessment and then they go straight to finalist selection. There was no in-person interview this past year. Veteran’s preference is huge for PMF as are combination degrees such as a JD/MPH or JD/MBA. PMF looks for those who work well in teams. The application is open for two weeks in the fall.

If you are selected as a finalist, you are invited to a hiring fair but you can bypass that fair entirely if you already have relationships with government agencies.

Beyond applying to these fellowships and through these portals, networking will get you quite far in your government job search. Almost 100% of the time an alumni tells me they got a government job, someone they knew at the agency was pulling for them. Our Bridge to Practice program is also an amazing opportunity to get in with a government agency. If you’re interested in that program, contact Christine Holst in our office and she will be happy to speak with you more about it.

If you are interested in pursuing JD preferred positions in federal or state government, contact me and I can get you a started on an application and networking plan.








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