As more government lawyers retire, there has never been more of an opportunity for those lawyers seeking a career in government service at the state & local level
Last Spring, the president of the job placement site Careers in Government called for public agencies to step up their recruiting efforts to make up for anticipated Boomer retirements that could number in the multi-millions. In the third quarter of 2020, almost 30 million people retired from the work force, which was 10% higher than in the same period of 2019.
This scenario also is playing out in the legal industry for those lawyers working in government service as there has never been more of an opportunity for those lawyers to find creativity and impact and do more meaningful work to enhance their career satisfaction. At the same time, government agencies can deliver on their big drive to hire more attorneys as public servants.
Attorneys working at the state and county levels are quintessential examples of serving their communities. Gina Jurva, Manager of the Corporates and Government enterprise content platform for Thomson Reuters, was one of these lawyers being motivated to work as a public servant right after law school because of “the internal compass of wanting to work in an area where I was serving my community.” Indeed, Jurva worked in a county district attorney’s office in California, and it was in this role that she sought to maximize her professional and personal goals to help “people live with dignity and respect.” One of the most rewarding experiences of her almost half-decade long legal career was the opportunity to seek justice for crime victims. “It was always my primary motivator, and the county district attorney’s office was the best place to make an impact,” Jurva says. “It gave me that hands-on opportunity from day one.”
Another one of these lawyers was Matt Fernandez Konigsberg, who, in his words, was a recovering commercial litigator who then took a role as special counsel in the New York State Governor’s office to identify ethical and high risk issues, investigate them, and recommend potential fixes and policy and procedure solutions for the future. In particular, Konigsberg says he is proud of his role as deputy to the governor’s Chief Diversity Officer in helping to develop the policy provisions in Executive Order 187: Ensuring Diversity and Inclusion and Combating Harassment and Discrimination in the Workplace.
Konigsberg says he also recalls feeling the most satisfaction when he reached a unity of purpose with his peers on some of the ethics issues they tackled, internal investigations they conducted, key regulatory issues they identified, and ways in which they worked with law enforcement. “When your teammates also agree that the work is vital to preserve the integrity and the public trust, and to ensure compliance with ethics and Public Officers law (all of which you must have to even think of creating any positive change in government), you go home at the end of the day feeling heartened,” he states.
Preparing the next generation of lawyers in government service
One of the big motivations for attorneys in public service is the opportunity to pay it forward and give back. Jurva shared that she had many mentors at the prosecutor’s office — from her boss to more senior attorneys, and even judges who helped her navigate the complexities of criminal law. She then, in turn, mentored law clerks and new attorneys.
Other public service attorneys also mentor law students and early career lawyers who are seeking legal careers in government — especially attorneys of color — because of the foundational belief that government as a platform for power and change should be reflective of the community.
In a world where instant gratification is rampant, Konigsberg notes that patience is important. While the enthusiasm of jumping right into to lawyering is an exciting prospect, focusing more on skill development and less on titles is important. “The ‘titles’ and other things will come later,” he adds.
Retiring government lawyers continue to contribute
The idea of service is at the core of many attorneys who are working in government — and they seek to continue that idea even after retirement. In fact, even with the current onslaught of retiring attorneys from the Boomer generation, there are many examples of seasoned attorneys continuing their service-oriented missions. These lawyers know that retirement does not mean that their service to their community ends. And while they may not be practicing attorneys any longer, many of them continue to mentor and act as resources for younger attorneys that are practicing now because these retired lawyers know they have a valuable knowledge base that they need to share with the younger generation.
Of course, the most common drawbacks to public service are the relatively lower pay (compared to the private sector) and the lack of resources, which can lead to increased feelings of frustration and burn-out. The low pay, plus the large amount of debt younger lawyers amass in law school can be a drag on their motivation, Konigsberg acknowledges, but if you can make ends meet, “working for the government is absolutely worth it (early and later in your career) and will pay off in your professional skill development because those same skills will also make you well-suited for private industry, if or when that interests you.”
When mentoring future attorneys, it is important for these seasoned lawyers to advise their younger colleagues not to lose themselves in their practice and to be true to the goals and mission that brought them into government service in the first place.