Special AUSAs

Despite the media echo chamber saying that the economy is improving, it’s obviously still tough to find work. Especially for lawyers. Everyone says you’re supposed to have a can-do attitude, but we sometimes prefer to think about all the things that you can’t do as an attorney.

Included in that list is getting a paying job at the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ has had a hiring freeze in place for a year now. We’ve heard reports of some thawing — i.e., selected parts of the DOJ receiving authorization to fill a handful of priority positions — but, for the most part, there are hardly any paying lawyer jobs to be had in that division of government.

Instead, U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country have been posting unpaid Special Assistant United States Attorney positions for some time now. We covered them last May. My colleague (and former assistant U.S. attorney) David Lat defended the SAUSA gigs somewhat, arguing that the nonpaying jobs might not be as bad as they seem. It’s fun, exciting work, and it provides valuable experience and serious professional credibility.

There is a crucial, ominous difference between then and now, though. Previous SAUSA jobs were generally aimed at entry-level or fairly junior attorneys. Now we’ve got a recent opening that’s asking for more.…

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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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