U.S. Dept. of Justice Seeks Prosecutor Volunteers

(* Note: See Part 2 of this story, How the Justice Department Gets Away with It.)

 Are they kidding?

 The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut is seeking applications from attorneys “who are willing to accept an unpaid temporary position” for up to a year doing legal research, drafting briefs, conducting hearings and trials, and attending judicial proceedings.  In other words, they’re seeking volunteer prosecutors who will work alongside paid prosecutors for nothing.

Only applicants with “outstanding academic records” will be considered.  Oh, and applicants must have at least one year of post J.D. experience.

 In what world is it ethically or morally sound to ask a law school graduate who is admitted to the bar of a state and experienced in the practice of law to work for up to a year gratis?

  It’s one thing to be an unpaid intern for a few weeks during the summer while attending law school to get experience and a line for the resume. It is quite another thing to be asked to labor alongside attorneys who are being paid, doing the same work, and meeting the same expectations. The word that comes to mind is exploitation.

One wonders what the U.S. Department of Justice would think about a large farming corporation that invites “volunteers” to work in the fields for a year for little or no pay?  (Is that legal?)

 These attorney volunteers are called “Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys (SAUSA).” They might as well be called “law-unteers.”

Connecticut is not alone in its quest for law-unteers. It’s a trend. Similar ads are posted by the U.S. Attorneys in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Illinois, etc. (see http://www.justice.gov/careers/legal/attvacancies.html)

 The sad fact is that this “job” will appeal to  many recent law school graduates who cannot find anything better to do, after being sold a bill of goods by their law schools about a fictional legal job market with six-figure jobs aplenty for newly minted lawyers.

 According to the National Association for Law Placement, only about two-thirds of spring 2010 graduates had jobs requiring law licenses nine months later, a 15 year low. Overall, 87.4 percent of the class of 2010 had any sort of job nine months after graduation, including 11 percent who were working part-time or holding temporary jobs.

 Meanwhile, the typical student leaves law school nearly $100,000 in debt.  The situation is so bleak that the word is out and law school applications have dipped by about 10 percent.

Of course, there are young lawyers with rich parents who will gladly subsidize their offspring for a year of law-unteering at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. However, many lawyers who had to scrape through law school and are burdened with crushing debt will have to work a second or third job so they can law-unteer.

 The unstated premise of all of this is the dream – of a secure position in a respected profession that pays a decent salary and benefits and/or of working as a federal prosecutor on behalf of the United States of America.

 In its advertisement, the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Office says: “The SAUSAs will not be hired by this office as Assistant U.S. Attorneys at the conclusion of the SAUSAs’ terms. However, SAUSAs may apply for AUSA positions in the office after completing service as a SAUSA.”

 One might translate this to mean that any lawyer who fails to take advantage of  the incredible opportunity to work for nothing for a year will be at a disadvantage when competing for a full-time position because s/he will lack the experience of the law-unteer.

 And then, the coup de grace. The Connecticut U.S. Attorney states that the “preferred qualifications” for this law-unteer position are: “Prior litigation experience is preferred, but the positions are open to lawyers who are finishing judicial clerkships and to highly qualified lawyers who have recently graduated from law school.”  (Emphasis added).

The vast majority of recent law school grads and lawyers finishing judicial clerkships are under the age of 40. Suppose a retired attorney would like the opportunity to work for the Justice Department without salary? If you happen to be an older (egad!) attorney who is highly qualified it, forget it. Apparently the U.S. Justice Department does not feel compelled to follow the nation’s anti-discrimination laws, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination against qualified applicants who are over the age of 40.  But maybe you can discriminate if the “job” is a mirage or a fallacy.

 This is an inside peek at government that Upton Sinclair would appreciate. Speaking about hogs and making sausage. “They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without pretence at apology, without the homage of a tear. “

(Note: See follow up article written Sept. 14, 2011, How the Justice Department Gets Away With It)