Government Lawyers Newsletter
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers

December 2002, vol. 4, no. 3

So you’re looking for a job?

Lawyers working for government agencies are frequently affected by the biennial or quadrennial election process. As incumbent officials retire or are defeated, new officials are elected. The impacts are frequently felt in the mid and upper levels of management where government lawyers work. The purpose of this article is to provide some information about that frightening prospect.

Looking for a new job should always start with a self-assessment process. This is the process of determining what it is that you like and want to do. This self-assessment should begin before you look for jobs because it is a great help in determining where to look and in evaluating opportunities. You may not have the time or inclination to do this once a situation presents itself. What makes me dread going to work? What kind of projects have gotten really good feedback? These kinds of assessments are critical because few people do a good job with something they hate, even if it is a promotion or step-up. Many of the general job search books start off with chapters that guide you through a self-assessment. There are also specific books for lawyers. One of the best is What Can You Do With a Law Degree? By Deborah Arron. Some general books are What Color is Your Parachute? And Wishcraft.

So now that you know what to do and you have evaluated your present skills, what's next?

Network, network, network. It is obvious, but it works. This is particularly true in Illinois state government jobs. These jobs are not widely advertised or posted on the Web. Central Management Services (CMS) does not post job opportunities on its Web site. Some agencies do post their job openings on their Web sites, so thorough checking can help. For example, vacancies for both Springfield and Chicago positions in the Illinois Attorney General's office can be found at <http://www.ag.state.il.us/>. Surf the Web for other opportunities.

CMS does maintain a list of vacant positions, which can be viewed at their application locations. These locations are available on their Web site. Applications must be made for specific job openings. Except to a very limited degree, CMS does not maintain applications "on file." CMS maintains four job positions which specifically require a law degree: two Hearing Referee positions and two Technical Advisor positions. There are 220 active positions within these job titles. (Sorry, most are filled). Many senior attorney positions, such as General Counsel, are officially designated as Public Service Administrator, or Senior Public Service Administrator. These broad job descriptions cover many legal and non-legal positions.

The best way to determine openings in state jobs, however, is not through CMS but through contacts at the individual agencies. Although jobs may not be posted on agency Web sites, such sites are important to review to acquire as much information as possible about the working environment.

The best way to find out where the jobs are is to talk to all the contacts you have. How do you go about networking? One traditional way, of course, is to know someone with clout and follow up that advantage with a request for help. If you do not know someone who might be able to help get you a job, do you know someone who does know these people? Now is not the time to be shy. But assuming you are not blessed with this kind of situation, what is the next thing to do? Take a look at your present work. Do you have contacts with people in other agencies? Have there been people in the past who have indicated that they respect your work? These are the people to contact, and let them know that you are looking for a new job. You might even consider a position that generates this kind of contact. Many positions in the Attorney General's Office, for instance, have a wide variety of contacts with state agencies, which can open up opportunities. The networking process is not about who you know but who you get to know. AIR--advice, information, referral. Call a person you know, and first establish that you are not asking them for a job, but because of their position, knowledge, etc., you are asking for advice on getting a job. Ask whether they know of any openings (information) or names of people who might know of openings (referrals). Then, call the referrals and start the process again.

Another place to start is through the professional organizations that you belong to. Ethnic bar associations and committees of the Illinois State Bar Association can provide a variety of contacts to provide information about openings in places that you might be aware. Becoming active before you are actually looking for a job is always helpful. The ISBA's Committee on Government Lawyers is a great way to meet people in a variety of jobs across the state and will always be eager to welcome new active participants. Networking does not have to be painful. Active participation in bar association activities provides substantive information and adds to your resume, as well as provides contacts. You can formally apply to become a member of the Committee on Government Lawyers by making application to the ISBA by January 1, 2003. Appointments will be made in the early spring by Terrence Lavin, ISBA President-Elect. Making your interest known to a member of the Committee beforehand is a great boost.

Prosecutor and public defender jobs are more publicly advertised. Your law school placement office is probably the best place to find these vacancies. Check the school's Web site, though you may need to contact the placement office for a password. Many municipal positions are also advertised as a matter of policy by that governmental unit. The ISBA Bar Journal and ISBA Bar News are two good places to look for these vacancies.

More and more employers are using the Internet to post vacancies if wide notice of the position's opening is part of the public agency's policy. The ISBA Web site has a career center which is powered by Legalstaff.com. This Web site connects to a legal career center network that stretches across the entire nation, and is associated with more than 53 bar associations. Unlike general Internet job sites, Legalstaff.com focuses solely on legal jobs, both attorney and support staff. Posting for job seekers is free, and can be either confidential or open. This site also has a free feature where new postings which match your preferences are e-mailed to you every night. Although Illinois state government does not use the site, the staff indicates that other state governments, especially California and Arizona, use the site quite a bit for filling attorney positions.

Another avenue is to contact your law school placement office. Placement offices offer services not just to graduating students, but to alums as well. The University of Illinois Placement Office, for instance, can provide guidance to many Web sites, both free and paid. The U of I can provide passwords to access for-pay databases for job searches. It can also direct you to free Web sites which are good for job searches, such as federal government Web sites. Therefore, do not overlook this resource if you are looking for a new job. The U of I Placement Office indicated that it has had some postings from state government and has placed approximately 10 percent of its graduates each year in state government.

Once you know what kind of job you want, the repeated advice from everyone knowledgeable in the process is to go out and network. You might keep in mind that a reception for government lawyers will be held in conjunction with the ISBA Midyear Meeting in December in Chicago. The reception will be held on Wednesday, December 11th from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the ISBA's Chicago Regional Office, 20 South Clark Street, Suite 900, Chicago.