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LegalJob was recently asked the career questions below by a young government lawyer.  The two questions and answers that follow can apply to government service as well as any first or second legal job out of law school.

What is the ideal length of service in the government (or any first or second legal job out of law school)?  

The ideal length of service is a period during which, while you are at the position, you are constantly growing and developing as a lawyer.  That period will likely be different for everyone and depends on your facts and circumstances.  Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Are you developing your skills as a writer/thinker/talker/researcher [insert legal skill]?
  • Are you developing your knowledge of various technical issues in your substantive area?
  • Are you developing a sub-specialty?
  • Do you have heavy lifting responsibility?  Are you in charge of a significant project or someone?
  • Do you see additional opportunities to grow and develop in the months ahead?
  • Have you learned as much as you think you can learn from your mentors there?
  • Are you pigeonholing yourself into an area or kind of practice that does not interest you?
  • Will additional experience in your current position be helpful for you next job?
  • Will it be hurtful such that you will be perceived (rightly or wrongly) as not being able to adapt to a different circumstance?
  • What have others (with whom you have similar long term goals) done whose advice you trust?
  • Are you still effective at your current job?

How much of my government (or other prior work) experience will be credited to me?  What year associate will I start at?

  • Getting credit for experience and years is important but be careful what you wish for.
    • Salary may be more important than years of service or title.
    • Suppose you can earn the highest amount for a fourth year associate even though years wise you should be a fifth year.
      • Coming in as a star fourth year has some benefits.  For one, you will have more time to establish yourself and demonstrate the necessary skills (i.e., ability to bring in business) before you are up for partner.
    • That said, if you are getting less than full credit, you want to consider whether you are receiving something else to compensate you — clear, articulated track to partner (although there are no guarantees), generous salary (research what similar situated folks are earning), opportunity to work with top partners or clients, firm roles, etc.
  • Think of your years of service as another one of your selling points, along with the experience you are bringing.
  • The experience you are bringing is more important than the years, although there is a relationship between the two.
  • When looking for your next job, find a place that will value your specific experience such that the negotiation about starting salary and level will flow smoothly and you will be better able to leverage your experience.

 

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici.

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