I. Administrative law
Although the majority of people do not realize it, the administrative law affects our lives in numerous ways.
Administrative law arises into play at any point where a government agency steps in to adjust the legal rights of citizens, companies, or other entities.
It influences the development of laws that govern everything from food labels to public benefits to nuclear waste disposal.
Administrative law is the basis of law formulated by the offices and departments of the government, which carry out the laws legislated by Congress or a state legislature.
When Congress passes a law on a complex issue, Congress often needs help on determining what impact will that law have on the society.
There is where administrative agencies and government departments fill in the gaps, by passing additional rules and regulations so that it will accomplish Congress’s objectives.
Broadly speaking, the administrative law refers to government action and regulation of people and business entities.
Often, the administrative law applies to government agency action, which has expanded dramatically in scope over the past century, touching an enormous range of practice areas.
As an administrative law attorney, you may focus on agriculture, financial regulation, heath and safety, welfare programs, transportation, zoning, and immigration.
As a foundation, you must understand the functions of lawmakers and rule-making entities and the parameters of their authority.
Like many other colleagues in this field, you might find yourself moving between the private and public sectors, and often concentrate in a particular area such as electricity.
II. Daily tasks as an administrative lawyer
Administrative attorneys serve in a wide variety of capacities, crossing multiple levels and branches of government and a multitude of extra-governmental institutions.
Those who address agency regulations might be the most appropriate to name themselves administrative lawyers, yet practitioners of administrative law can also fill a multitude of other tasks, covering analyzing and commenting on submitted rules and prosecuting, defending, or adjudicating cases involving regulations or their violation.
Counseling Agency Staff and Officials
Administrative attorneys may provide legal advice to agency staff and experts to ensure that the rules that are proposed are in fact legal, logical, and substantively correct.
Administrative lawyers in governing counsel positions, for example, serve alongside scientists and other technical experts to aid them in expressing the first draft of new regulations.
These regulatory attorneys help agency policymakers ensure that their policies will have the desired effect.
The process of writing agency regulations is the activity most typically associated with the administrative law.
There are reasonably tens of thousands of laws and regulations issued by federal, state, and local agencies.
While some of the more conventional rules have been drafted by non-lawyers filling in an approved template, the bulk of new regulations demands the particular attention and legal expertise of regulatory lawyers running in the agency.
If you are seeking to write rules, you must develop excellent legal drafting abilities to pursue this career path.
Organizing Regulatory Hearings
As part of the “Notice and Comment” stage of rulemaking, bureaus must sometimes, although not always, include hearings to allow parties concerned by or otherwise interested in a new or revised statute to provide their feedback.
Young administrative lawyers can also take part in planning these regulatory hearings.
This type of work could include preparing the hearing notice, authoring an agenda, publicizing the hearing, or reaching out to relevant interest groups concerned with the proposed rule.
Investigation and Oversight
As a lawyer, you can also conduct investigations: on both monitoring and investigative committees on Capitol Hill, in state legislatures, and indoors of an agency inspector general‘s office.
One of the duties of the inspector general‘s office is to make sure that government departments and institutions are evaluating and using administrative laws correctly.
On the legislative side, administrative attorneys working with, for example, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, would also monitor the FBI and other intelligence gathering bodies through investigations and hearings.
Oversight positions allow lawyers to take part in large-scale surveys, helping to review documents, conduct depositions, interview witnesses, and write up reports.
Participating in Administrative Hearings
Administrative lawyers can also focus on serving their agency, special interest association, or client in administrative hearings.
Those who believe that the agency‘s laws were applied to them unjustly can demand a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) branched with that agency.
Throughout these hearings, administrative attorneys can represent both the agency or the concerned individual, company, or organization.
III. Why should you consider this path?
A job in Administrative law grants students and graduates the privilege to conduct work of vital importance to society as a whole.
Administrative lawyers assist the critical function of interpreting statutes which, as a result of political compromise required for passage, may be somewhat vague and transforming them into specific rules that determine how the fundamental laws will affect citizens.
The regulatory duties of agencies have high power to improve the lives of people if properly executed.
This indicates that the role of the administrative lawyer is crucial.
Administrative law work, particularly in government contexts, can reveal young lawyers to a wide array of concerns and a high level of early responsibility.
As of the extent of the administrative law field and the sheer number of government agencies that need to write, assess, and defend their regulations, administrative advocacy work grips a vast spectrum of issue areas.
Administrative law is not inherently related to any particular substantive area—rather, it can be and is applied to every field.
From television and communications to food and medicine, banking and finance, to intelligence and security, every substantive issue area imaginable comes in contact with the administrative law.
The variety of subject areas within and among government agencies and advocacy organizations is a very attractive feature of administrative practice.
There is a popular delusion that practice in administrative law only involves drafting regulations in state agencies under the APA and similar state laws.
On the contrary, administrative law practice provides for a broad range of work, at all levels of government, as well as in the nongovernmental and private sectors.
Additionally, lawyers can litigate, challenging or defending agency regulatory action (or inaction), as well as prosecuting or defending regulatory violations.
Another way in which the administrative law path is very flexible is that it allows administrative lawyers, if they so wish, to work in a diversity of settings throughout their career.
Those who practice administrative law for the government, a non-profit organization or a private, public interest firm enjoy the psychological rewards that often accompany public interest work.
IV. Preparing for a career as an administrative lawyer
There are some measures you can take during law school to build up the knowledge and expertise necessary to become a top-notch administrative attorney.
Building Skills and assets
Developing the following skill set is a significant investment in your future, no matter what your career path you will finally choose, as having the skills of an administrative lawyer means having the abilities to become a great lawyer overall.
One of the most important skills that you will need and that government employers seek in new hires is excellent writing skills.
As a young administrative lawyer, you will need to possess this ability to render complex technical material into clear legal writing.
Government employers stress the significance of this skill, which includes everything from mastering basic mechanics to forging clear connections between facts and legal theory, over all other skills and qualifications.
As a general advice for this developing this ability, try and embrace journal work, clinics, and research assistantships as they can be an excellent way to establish and showcase your legal writing talents.
Those running in administrative law must be able to address diplomatically and negotiate effectively.
Diplomacy skills are critical because the individual entering the regulatory agency role will be a lawyer for some very strong-willed career officials, negotiating against some very strong-willed private sector opponents.
Taking into consideration that these regulations affect millions of people, as well as powerful private players, rulemaking will require skills in conflict resolution and compromise.
The importance of coursework and grades will vary by employer.
In some of the most competitive honors programs, for example, grades will carry more significant weight in the hiring process.
However, other factors, such as work experience or a demonstrated commitment to public interest, can weigh in your favor even if you do not have perfect grades.
Also, several agencies will want to see that you took advantage of course offerings in their area of work and may lay more emphasis on your performance in those specific classes than on your overall transcript.
An excellent way to prove to potential employers that you have gained a nuanced understanding of the variety of perspectives that carry weight in your field is a strong and relevant academic record.
If you are hoping to work in administrative law, you should plan to acquire some substantive knowledge or prior training in their field of interest.
Those aiming for federal agencies such as the Treasury Department or Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, will be much more competitive if they bring knowledge of finance or healthcare, respectively, to the agency.
While strong analytical and excellent legal research and writing skills, as well as patience, determination, and oral fluency, may prepare you for a career in administrative law, some substantive knowledge might be what separates you from other applicants.
Furthermore, it is important that you are genuinely interested in what your employer does so that you will enjoy your work.
One way to gain both the skills and the substantive background that will make your application stand out is to make savvy decisions about your law school courses.
V. Landing a job in this field
So, you have decided that you want to work in the administrative law field, taken advantage of opportunities in law school, and built up a base of skills and experience, but what now?
The job search
There are several different approaches to the job search process in the administrative law field.
If you had enjoyable experiences before or during law school working in a particular field, consider starting your search with agencies that regulate that field.
Your substantive knowledge and prior contacts will be valuable assets when you apply.
USA.gov maintains listings of different government bodies that can be an excellent starting point for a job or internship search.
As a quick tip, government employers who are dealing with a large volume of applications may read your resume before your cover letter or writing sample. Make sure your resume highlights the knowledge and experience that is most relevant to the position; otherwise, the employer might not read your cover letter at all.
Once you have identified some agencies or organizations to which you plan to apply, the next step is to demonstrate to employers that you are an attractive candidate with the skills and background for the job.
One of the keys to showcasing your talents and knowledge for potential employers lies in putting together a professional, descriptive, accurate resume.
Do not make your resume a “general resume with general stuff.”
Tailor your resume to the position for which you are applying.
Employers spend only a couple of minutes per resume, and many government employers—particularly those who receive large numbers of applications—say that they read the resume before the cover letter or writing sample.
Therefore, it is crucial to include and highlight your most relevant experiences (those that pertain most closely to the job for which you are applying) directly in your resume.
Do not make the employers “dig” for your relevant background and experience.
In addition to the resume, however, the cover letter and writing sample are also important.
The cover letter, in particular, should detail your specific substantive background and interest in the job, describing in greater depth the most relevant experiences you have highlighted in your resume.
Be sure to follow directions for the writing sample: do not submit ten pages if the employer requested five.
Both of these documents should demonstrate a clear, readable writing style.
Finally, before you apply for a position, do some homework to inform yourself about the agency or organization‘s mission and current work.
There are numerous entry points to administrative law work.Two of the most common methods of accessing entry-level public interest employment are government honors programs and fellowships, which are both discussed below.
Two of the most common methods of accessing entry-level public interest employment are government honors programs and fellowships, which are both discussed below.
In general, students need to conduct a significant amount of research on the offices, agencies, or organizations to which they would like to apply.
Some agencies will have summer programs and on-campus recruiting, while others will offer fellowships, post jobs, or rely primarily on informal hiring practices.
Students will need to do some research on the opportunities that most interest them and figure out which hiring processes are most relevant to those positions.
Because most agencies prefer to hire lawyers with several years of experience, government honors programs represent the main hiring vehicle for entry-level attorneys at the state and federal level.
One- or two-year fellowships offer exceptional opportunities for entry-level attorneys to join the
administrative law field.
There are three types of fellowships for which students may apply.
First, government fellowships such as the Presidential Management Fellows Program are an excellent way for attorneys to break into public policy positions.
Second, certain advocacy organizations and private, public interest law firms may fund their fellowships to hire entry-level personnel for a specified period.
Finally, third-party fellowships such as the Skadden Fellowship or the Equal Justice Works Fellowship offer financial sponsorship to new attorneys who wish to pursue particular projects in existing public interest organizations.
On average, administrative lawyers have a salary of $117,328, nationwide, according to the official statistics.
This means that you should expect a pay somewhere around $56/h and an average bonus of $6,676.
Take into consideration that as an entry level attorney, in your first three years, your paycheck will be much lower, around $90,000, but can grow up to $174,886 once you become a senior level administrative lawyer, which means an experience in this field of over eight years.
Still not sure what path to follow? Check other types of lawyers!