Attorney General’s Offices
Every state has an Attorney General’s (AG’s) Office (comparable to the DOJ on the federal level) charged with representing the state in litigation. This work includes criminal prosecution, civil litigation (both defensive and affirmative in nature), and appellate work; many AG’s Offices engage in legislative and policy advocacy and/or multi-state litigation as well. Assistant Attorneys General practice in state and federal courts as well as in administrative proceedings.
State Attorney General’s Offices also provide legal advice to state officials and agencies. Like the DOJ, most AG’s Offices are organized by areas of specialization, such as consumer protection, environmental, civil rights, criminal and civil.
State agencies offer diverse employment opportunities for attorneys as well as law students. Many have in-house counsel with expertise in the law relevant to that agency’s particular area of responsibility, such as public health or transportation, as well as in legal issues generic to running a state agency, such as civil service and contracts. Attorneys in state agency legal offices give legal advice and counsel to agency administrators and professional staff; draft agreements, legislation and regulations; represent the agency in administrative proceedings and sometimes in specialized areas of litigation; and have significant input into the development and implementation of government policy and programs. More so than on the federal level, attorneys practicing with a state agency may have contact with individual citizens and see the direct impact of their work.
A public authority is a state- or city-created public corporation which operates independently from the government and is run by a publicly appointed board of directors. Public authorities undertake a great deal of work, from managing airports and redeveloping cities to funding industrial development and protecting the environment. Public authorities also work in such areas as transportation, water, sewage, urban planning and renewal, housing, ports and public works. Such authorities usually employ attorneys both in their legal offices and in various upper level staff positions. Attorneys litigate important public issues, negotiate complex contracts and financing arrangements, meet with citizen groups, advise officials and oversee the management of a wide range of programs. Students may be able to find summer or term-time internships with such entities, but they typically prefer to hire experienced attorneys for permanent positions.
State legislatures employ lawyers in positions comparable to those on Capitol Hill; lawyers work as legislative assistants and counsel to members, and as staff to state senate and house committees. Hill or campaign experience is also valued at the state level, and a connection to the local district of the member’s office is often quite helpful.
State Government Hiring
Most positions with state government are located in the state capital, but many agencies have field offices in other areas, particularly in states with major non-capital cities (e.g., New York). The availability of positions is unpredictable, depending in large part on the health of the state budget. Most AG’s Offices and some state agencies offer summer internships to law students, and there may also be term time externship or volunteer opportunities available. While a few state AG’s Offices have honors programs that will hire lawyers straight out of law school or clerkships, most AG’s Offices and state agencies tend to hire attorneys who have several years of experience, and all require lawyers to have passed the relevant state bar. There are a few limited fellowship opportunities for post-graduate work in state legislatures.