State and local governments are also sources of hidden legal and law-related job opportunities, even in tough times. Another arena worth a close look is federal, state and local government contracting and outsourcing, which are impervious to economic ups and downs. The government portion of this series concludes with a section on predicting the future.
State and Local Government
Legal job seekers tend to view state and local government legal hiring with tunnel vision. If they are interested in a state legal position, they will customarily look at the state attorney general’s office and possibly also the state civil service examination; for municipal jobs, the local prosecutor’s office, the corporation counsel’s office, and, if there is one, the public defender’s office.
While some states have a highly centralized legal structure, with virtually all of the state’s attorneys working for the attorney general, which is not the case in most jurisdictions. Arizona provides a good example of this. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office provides legal advice to all state agencies except those specifically exempted by statute. Exempt agencies include the following:
- Water Resources
- Residential Utility Consumer Office
- Industrial Commission
- Board of Regents
- Auditor General
- Corporation Commission (other than the Securities Division)
- Advocate for Private Property Rights
- Office of the Governor
- Constitutional Defense Council
- Department of Public Safety
These agencies are typical of many states that hire their own attorneys directly. In addition, they also hire attorneys to serve under other job titles, such as Research Analyst and Intelligence Analyst.
States also employ attorneys in their legislatures in positions comparable to those at the Federal Government level. Every state legislature also has an arm that performs research and provides bill drafting services, typically called Legislative Reference Bureaus or Legislative Councils.
Law-related positions also exist in state and local government, and not only in positions that share similarity with their Federal counterparts. Some are quite different. For example:
- State and local economic development agencies focus a lot of attention and resources on attracting businesses to relocate or establish new facilities in their locales. These prominent entities—often both physically and functionally close to the governor's or mayor's office—are staffed by bright individuals from various disciplines, including lawyers, because they must lobby legislators and regulators, prepare legislation and regulations, devise and explain intricate tax and regulatory concessions, and negotiate and document complex transactions with the legal representatives of target businesses.
- A number of states have established elaborate patient rights bureaucracies at the state, local, and healthcare provider levels. Patient rights advocates protect the legal rights of patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities, including representing them before administrative forums.
Government Contracting and Subcontracting
In any given year, the U.S. Government contracts for goods and services with more than 275,000 companies and nonprofit organizations. Some of these contracts are for legal services or have legal services as one of their elements. In addition, certain contracts lend themselves to subcontracting for legal services.
Legal contracts range across the board with respect to legal services, and include:
- Debt collection
- Real estate closings and settlements
- Legal research and writing, including drafting administrative decisions
- Legal consulting in specialty areas
- Training in legal topics
- Advice and assistance to foreign governments and private organizations in developing countries
The federal agencies that award the most legal services contracts are the Departments of Justice, Housing & Urban Development, Labor, Treasury, Commerce, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and U.S. Agency for International Development. Lists of prime contractors are matters of public record, and some agencies and offices make these available on their websites. Contractors include law firms of all sizes and sole practitioners. Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and Invitations for Bid (IFBs) for federal contracts exceeding $25,000 are posted on www.fedbizopps.gov. Smaller contracts are sometimes posted on agency websites. In addition, agency Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization offices and Procurement offices may maintain emailing lists that alert prospective contractors to RFPs and IFBs. If they do not, you can contact them anyway and inform them of your capabilities and interest.
State and local governments also do a lot of legal contracting. Because they are subject to more stringent budgetary constraints than the federal government, they rely more heavily on outside counsel for more diverse legal services. Contract opportunities may be viewed on state and local government websites, mindful that each state and municipality may represent this information in a different way, and not always in one central location. The states that tend to contract most often for legal services include: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Texas.
A fairly new hidden legal job market is slowly making its presence felt through the outsourcing, a.k.a. "privatizing" of many government functions at the Federal, state, and local levels. The Federal Government is pushing this initiative very quietly, but vigorously.
Predicting the Future
The U.S. Government publishes a lot of information about its intentions, often including its intentions with respect to hiring in general, and occasionally, hiring of attorneys in particular. Two documents, mandated by the Government Performance and Results Act, generally available on individual department and agency websites, can sometimes be very valuable sources of this information:
Strategic Plans provide a roadmap for agencies to meet their goals and fulfill their missions. The plans include a set of measurable long-term goals for the organization, cover a period of at least five years, and are revised at least every three years.
Annual Performance Plans are required to be submitted to Congress with agency budget requests each year. Plans include measurable annual performance goals linked to the longer-term goals in the Strategic Plan. While the amount of detail in the annual performance plan can vary, some plans include individual plans for each organizational unit, including legal offices.
In addition, department and agency budget documents can also be very informative. Detailed information about specific hiring plans, if they exist, is usually found in the Budget Appendices accompanying each agency's budget document. Some Federal organizations provide detail down to specific hiring plans for lawyers. These documents can be found at the Office of Management and Budget website and sometimes on agency websites.
Finally, some agencies will, from time-to-time, post their near-term contracting plans on their websites.
Next: Uncovering Hidden Legal Jobs X: Nonprofits - Part One