Interning and working for the U.S. Attorney’s Office

If you’re interested in cultivating strong writing skills, learning more about trial law, and getting a great summer internship or school year externship experience, you should consider the United States Attorney’s office. Last week, I met with Peter Salib, Assistant United States Attorney at the United States Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago to talk about the work that his office does, internship and externship opportunities, and getting hired as an AUSA after law school.

Summer Program: Getting Hired

The Summer application deadline for the Volunteer Internship Program is Friday, December 14. You can apply here. The U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) has waived the requirement that 1L applicants submit 3 letters of recommendation. The whole process is done online.  (By the way, you can access all volunteer DOJ summer positions and search on the left hand side for positions by state, practice area, and hiring organization here.)

When you apply to work for the USAO, your application goes to their secretary and then gets forwarded to the intern coordinators for screening. (The USAO in Chicago has two attorney intern coordinators who review all applications and manage interns and externs.)

To intern for the USAO, you have to be a U.S. citizen and you need to have lived in the U.S. for three years before applying.

They extend offers to summer interns in February. The application is due early because candidates need three months to complete a background check before starting their internship with the office.

The USAO participates at participates at MPILCC but their Summer hiring is complete by then. However, the office will be screening candidates for Fall externship positions and will also speak with students who are interested in just learning more about the office.

Despite what you may have heard, the USAO does not just hire from Ivy league schools for its internships. The USAO takes students from law schools all across the country and would be thrilled to have Notre Dame interns in their office.

Summer Program: What Interns Do

The summer program is 40 hours per week and typically lasts about ten weeks but they are open to students staying longer and indeed, in the past, one student stayed through September.

USAO interns get a good writing sample. One intern last summer drafted a 7th Circuit brief. Other interns have drafted a motion to suppress response and a prosecution memorandum on a Rico case.

When you intern or extern at the USAO, you get evaluated on all of your assignments and  written evaluations are left in your permanent file. These evaluations are included in your hiring packet if you apply for an AUSA position in the future. You can read more about this in the getting hired as an AUSA section below. If you get a 7/11 license (a student practice license available to students who have completed at least three semesters of law school), you can do petty offense trials and prepare witnesses. The office tries hard to get all interns embedded on a trial team.

School Year Externships

School year externs are welcome through Notre Dame Law’s in Chicago program. Through the Chicago program, you can extern with the USAO 32 hours per week. As a fall or spring extern through the Chicago program, you set your work schedule and they are totally flexible. However, it is incumbent upon you to make sure you fulfill the hours in order to receive credit.

School year externships are a great opportunity because you have the chance to get even more one-on-one mentoring. That is because there are typically fewer externs working on a given day during the school year than there are interns during the summer (who are all working full-time).

If you’re interested in externing with the USAO through the Chicago program, touch base with me.

Getting hired as an AUSA

The USAO in Chicago does not hire through the DOJ Honors Program and doesn’t hire new attorneys directly out of law school, but interning with their office during law school can go a long way in positioning you for success when you apply for an AUSA position a few years after law school.

But the DOJ Honors Program can be an important source for opportunities across the country to be a trial attorney in the Department of Justice headquarters or an AUSA in other districts. The deadline is in September of your 3rd year and I encourage everyone to apply. The information is here.

For instance, the Chicago office recently hired a women as an AUSA who interned in their office when she was a law student back in 2005. While she was working as an intern, she completed a project for Pat Fitzgerald, who was the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois for 11 years. Pat completed an evaluation for her work as an intern, raving about her. Three jobs and two clerkships later, she was applying for a full-time position with the office and that strong evaluation helped her get the job.

If you are working as an attorney and looking to move to the U.S. Attorney’s office, you can get on an email list where you will get emails alerting you to new job postings in real time. In fact, this email list is how Peter learned that the Chicago office was hiring when he applied to be an AUSA.

There is no single track for getting an AUSA job. They do see a lot of judicial clerks as applicants, but they have hired  a number of individuals without clerkships, in addition to former state prosecutors, litigators in private practice, and others from varying legal careers. The USAO looks for diverse backgrounds to fill its ranks.

Once you’re in the office, you’re in. You’re doing your job and you have an equal opportunity to advance based on merit, regardless of background. The challenge in hiring is assessing whether an AUSA candidate will truly strive to do justice, and whether that individual possesses a long-term commitment to public service.

If you’re interested in learning more about the USAO in Chicago, I am happy to put you in touch with Peter. If you are interested in applying for an internship in their office, the CDO is here to help you with your application materials.

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