Legal Honors Programs are the primary hiring vehicle for entry-level attorneys in the federal government. I frequently meet law students who have an interest in public service but are unfamiliar with these programs or do not realize so many different federal departments and agencies offer employment opportunities through Legal Honors programs. For instance, many law students do not know that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a Legal Honors Program.
As a student, I was much the same. I knew I wanted to serve my community but was not sure how. Fortunately, my experience and interest in public service led me to learn about the federal Legal Honors programs, and ultimately, to a rewarding career as an attorney at HUD in the Office of General Counsel (OGC). For many attorneys, myself included, federal government service provides an opportunity to do important and challenging legal work, but also maintain work-life balance.
Through the HUD Legal Honors Program, OGC recruits talented and committed law school graduates to help HUD achieve its mission to create strong sustainable communities and quality affordable homes for all. It is a 14-month paid program that can lead to a permanent attorney position. In fact, many current OGC supervisors began their careers as HUD Legal Honors attorneys. Typically, law students apply at the beginning of their third (“3L”) year (although some graduate law students and judicial clerks are also eligible to apply, if they are not yet admitted to any Bar) and start work the following year in August or September, after they have taken the Bar exam. If you are currently a 3L, applications for the 2019-2020 program are due by September 21, 2018.
The Legal Honors Program is designed to help recent law school graduates develop as lawyers and give them the tools and opportunity to succeed. If selected for the program, challenging assignments, training, rotations, and mentorship will help you hone and advance your legal skills and abilities.
Rotations to other offices within OGC are an important part of the program, because it gives participants a broader understanding of HUD’s mission and helps build connections across the Department. Rotations are for up to a four-week period to ensure Legal Honors attorneys have an opportunity to participate in substantive work assignments and develop their skills. Each Legal Honors attorney is also matched with an experienced mentor in OGC. Mentors give guidance and advice, share information on the practical workings of OGC and HUD, and help participants understand the path to leadership. In my own experience, as both a mentee and a mentor, the mentor program has cultivated enduring productive professional relationships. Overall, the HUD Legal Honors Program provides the support and structure to help new attorneys thrive.
HUD’s programs directly impact every state and millions of Americans. The vital legal services HUD attorneys provide to support and facilitate HUD’s mission take many forms. For instance, HUD attorneys handle defensive litigation, take enforcement action against violators of the Fair Housing Act or HUD programs, draft regulations, provide advice on matters of statutory interpretation, advise the Government National Mortgage Association on issuance of mortgage-backed securities, and close billions of dollars in federally-insured loans for multifamily apartments and healthcare facilities. Every day, the 350 HUD attorneys located across the country (in Washington D.C., 10 regional offices, and 24 field offices) support the Department in making a positive impact on our local communities and in the lives of all Americans.
Legal Honors are hired at the General Schedule (“GS”) 11 level and qualify for all benefits available to employees, such as health insurance, life insurance, annual and sick leave, transit subsidies, and retirement benefits. Other benefits of federal employment include eligibility for the Federal Student Loan Repayment Program and flexible work schedules, including telework. Some office locations even offer on-site fitness centers or on-site child care.
HUD Legal Honors candidates are selected based on merit, and acceptance to the program is highly competitive. The selection considerations include many factors, such as academic achievement, law review, extracurricular activities, legal clinics, work experience, and participation in activities related to HUD’s mission. Application materials and requirements are outlined in the program brochure available at www.hud.gov/program_offi….
As a new attorney, the HUD Legal Honors Program provided me with the tools to be an effective lawyer and the foundation on which to build a strong legal career. Each year at HUD, I continue to develop professionally, be intellectually challenged, strengthen my commitment to public service, and take on greater responsibility. Consider a career as an attorney at HUD!