Government & Capitol Hill: Federal Executive Branch

The Executive Branch of the Federal Government is Comprised of:

  • Executive Office of the President
  • Cabinet-level departments (e.g., Departments of Justice, Defense, Transportation)
  • Commissions and government corporations (e.g., Federal Energy Regulatory Commission)
  • Agencies independent of the Executive Office of the President (e.g., Environmental Protection Agency, Securities & Exchange Commission)
Each entity functions as an individual employer. Positions may be located in D.C. or in regional offices.

Entry-Level Attorney Positions

Some departments (e.g., Office of General Counsel, Office of the Inspector General), hire new graduates solely through Honors Programs. However, some agencies will hire staff attorneys on an as-needed basis. Honors Programs are specialized hiring procedures in which the particular department or agency outlines stringent application guidelines, criteria, and deadlines. Additionally, most agencies have Administrative Law Judges and Appeals Boards that hire law clerks for one or two year terms.

Internships & Externships

Internships versus externships: Students who work without pay are engaged in internships. There are no restrictions on internships. Information about legal internships is available from the Office of Career & Professional Development. Students who receive academic credit for their unpaid legal work are engaged in externships.

Internships and externships at government agencies can provide valuable legal training and experience, and increase the likelihood of an offer for permanent employment. Interns/externs are generally paired with a specific attorney and given a large amount of responsibility for the department's legal work, thus creating excellent networking opportunities. Agency Web sites are excellent tools for finding these positions.

  • Internships:
    Internship positions are posted on CareerLink. Another great resource for identifying internship opportunities with a federal agency is the Government Honors & Internship Handbook. A hardcopy of this book is available in OCPD, and it is also available online at You can obtain the login and password from OCPD.

  • Externships:
    Externships opportunities can be found through the Externship Program office. This office holds an annual Externship Fair at which students can speak with representatives from government agencies. Because externships are completed for academic credit, work performed during an externship is monitored by WCL faculty. (During the 2008-2009 academic year, 320 students participated in externships at WCL.)

Office of Career & Professional Development • American University Washington College of Law
4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW, Suite C115 Washington, DC 20016 • 202-274-4090 F: 202-274-4096