Federal Government

As far as we know, the hiring freeze at the U.S. Department of Justice is still on. This shouldn’t come as a shock, given all the recent political logjam concerning the debt ceiling and the federal budget.

When it comes to job opportunities at the Justice Department, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the DOJ Honors Program is still hiring — and is now accepting applications.

So consider this your friendly reminder from Above the Law, like the ones we’ve done in years past: if you want to apply to the Honors Program, accurately described as “the largest and most prestigious federal entry-level attorney hiring program of its kind,” then you need to get your materials in by SEPTEMBER 6, 2011. For complete application information and the full hiring timeline, see the DOJ website.

Now, the bad news (because there’s always bad news). It seems that the Honors Program might be extra-small this time around….

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Jeh Johnson

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fate of Guantanamo Bay. The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The rise of WikiLeaks. The raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound. The conflict in Libya.

On these and many other critical national security legal issues, one of the most important advisers to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama’s White House has been Jeh C. Johnson, General Counsel of the Department of Defense. In light of his role as senior legal adviser to the largest government agency in the world, responsible for the work of over 10,000 lawyers, it is no understatement to describe Johnson as one of the powerful and influential lawyers in the entire federal government.

I recently went down to Washington to interview Johnson in his office at the Pentagon. If you think security at your law firm is tight, visit the Pentagon. I had to pass through a metal detector and multiple security checkpoints before arriving at Johnson’s office, located on the E Ring within the mammoth structure — the world’s largest office building by floor area, with over 6.5 million square feet housing over 25,000 employees. (I was accompanied at all times by a member of Johnson’s staff, which prevented me from getting lost inside the maze-like complex.)

Before entering Johnson’s private office, I had to surrender my Blackberry – the office is a SCIF (pronounced “skiff”), or “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility.” This means that it is specially designed to prevent eavesdropping, thanks to walls and doors of specified thickness and the use of jamming technologies. The windows of Johnson’s office, tinted a yellowish green, are blast-resistant and designed to preclude visual surveillance.

Once I made it to the inner sanctum, I was in for a treat. My wide-ranging discussion with Jeh Johnson covered his remarkable career path, which has included service as a federal prosecutor, partnership at a top law firm (Paul Weiss), and his current post as GC of the Defense Department; the virtues of public service, as well as the growing challenges for lawyers interested in it; and Johnson’s advice for law students and lawyers who aspire to careers in government (hint: keep your nanny on the books)….

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Last week I attended an interesting talk by Preet Bharara, currently serving as the U.S. Attorney for the (extremely powerful and prestigious) Southern District of New York. I had heard great things about Bharara from many people, including current and former colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s office and people who previously worked with him on Capitol Hill, where he served as chief counsel to Senator Chuck Schumer. So I was eager to hear his remarks, which he delivered to the New York Financial Writers Association, a group of business and finance journalists here in New York.

Here’s my report on what he had to say — including, for those of you who aspire to be assistant U.S. attorneys, what he expects from the prosecutors who work for him….

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Being a federal prosecutor, an assistant United States attorney (AUSA), is a great legal job. The work is interesting and challenging, you’re serving the public, and you’re paid decently — maybe not Biglaw bucks, but reasonably well when compared to many state government or public interest positions. And if you want to earn more money later, perhaps as your kids approach college age, you can walk through the revolving door into the world of private practice, which values AUSA experience.

I worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in my home state of New Jersey from 2003 to 2006 (under then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie). My colleagues enjoyed their work. I remember that when I interviewed for my position, I met one AUSA who told me, “I love my job so much, I’d do it for free!”

Well… would you? Because that’s what some U.S. attorney’s offices are offering: the opportunity to work there, for no pay, with a minimum commitment as to time period.

And apparently lawyers are lining up for the opportunity….

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Although this could change, right now it looks like the federal government is about to shut down (for the first time in 15 years). Here’s an open thread for discussion.

Speaking of shutting down, we’re done for the day. To learn about how the courts and the Department of Justice will (or won’t) be affected by the shutdown, check out the excellent links collected below.

UPDATE: A compromise deal has been reached, averting a shutdown. Yay!

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Longtime readers of Above the Law will recall the colorful figure of Shanetta Cutlar. She was a high-powered Department of Justice lawyer who was known for her high-handed treatment of DOJ subordinates and colleagues.

(Read the blockquote in this post to get a sense of her antics, or read this juicy letter to former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, in which ex-Cutlar underling Ty Clevenger describes the “atmosphere of fear and paranoia” created by Shanetta.)

We haven’t covered Shanetta Cutlar since March 2010, when she stepped down from her post as chief of the Special Litigation Section (“SPL”). After she left SPL, she took a post in the Bureau of Justice Assistance, part of the Office of Justice Programs (“OJP”). This move was interpreted by some DOJ insiders as a form of exile for the controversial Cutlar.

We haven’t heard anything about her since her move to OJP — until now….

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Natalie Lee (aka Cavanaugh Lee)

Might we be seeing a new trend, namely, federal prosecutors moonlighting as novelists?

Last year, as part of Above the Law’s Career Alternatives series, we profiled Allison Leotta, an assistant U.S. attorney in D.C. who wrote a well-received thriller, Law of Attraction. Today we introduce you to Natalie Lee — an assistant U.S. attorney in Savannah, former associate at Alston & Bird, and author of a new novel, Save as Draft. (When looking up the book, please note that Natalie writes under a pen name, “Cavanaugh Lee.”)

Like Law of Attraction, Save as Draft has garnered some nice reviews. A post on Chick Lit Reviews, for example, praises the book as a “fantastic read that all of us technology addicted Chick Lit fans will absolutely fall in love with, a must read!”

The reference to technology addiction relates to the novel’s ingenious premise. I discussed that premise — along with other topics, such as the inspiration for the book’s law firm partner / villainess, a products-liability litigatrix named Rose — in a recent interview with Natalie Lee….

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Being a federal prosecutor is a great legal job, but it has its downsides. One of them, at least for me, was the anonymity. In your work as an assistant U.S. attorney, it’s not about you; it’s about the merits of the cases, and seeing that justice is done. That’s public-spirited and all, but it’s not very fabulous (at least not to a shameless attention-seeker like myself).

Given the relative anonymity of being an AUSA, it’s not normal for the New York Post to cover the hiring of any single one. But Tali Farhadian, who’s joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn), isn’t your normal AUSA.

How many federal prosecutors are as brilliant, as beautiful, and as filthy rich as Farhadian? And how many are as controversial?

Let’s learn why this lush Persian beauty is so celebrated in some quarters, and so loathed in others. And see some photos, too…

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Last week, we reported that Boston University School of Law was warning job seekers not to read (or link to) WikiLeaks if they want to get a government job. The government still regards the documents as classified, and so somehow if you link to them (say on Facebook), you might fail a to get the security clearance needed for some government jobs.

No really, the “classified” documents are now publicly available, and the government won’t even acknowledge that the documents exist, but linking to them can get you dinged from a job (during a terrible job market to boot)? Is George Orwell running the State Department?

(Ed. note: For the safety of our readers, there are no links to WikiLeaks in this post.)

Apparently, common sense is not something the federal government is working with these days, and so the warning against Wikileaks has gone out to various government agencies, and even Columbia University…

UPDATE (10:55 AM): We’ve also added, after the jump, an email about WikiLeaks that went out to employees of the Department of Commerce last week.

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As if law students did have enough to worry about when trying to get jobs, career services at Boston University School of Law has pointed out another potential pitfall that may terrify its students. According to BU, merely reading the WikiLeaks documents could prevent you from getting the security clearances necessary to get certain government jobs.

It sounds crazy. I’m talking “BU career services has been watching too many Oliver Stone movies” crazy. Basically, I don’t think the federal government is even competent enough to find all the Wikileaks readers and blacklist them from the federal payroll. I mean, if the FBI or CIA or whatever really was the kind of omnipresent force idealized in movies, tell me how Julian Assange is still alive, much less in a position to publish thousands of confidential documents.

But if you listen to BU, it sounds like reading Wikileaks is a risk that already desperate 2Ls shouldn’t take….

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