Caroline Chen photoYou’re a 2L and/or a 3L.  You’re looking for a job.  You’ve been thinking about the federal government, but you’re not sure what to do?  Do you send a standard cover letter and resume?  Who and where do you send it?  Do federal agencies hire attorneys, and if they do, how do they hire?

The majority of federal agencies hire new attorneys through a process called the “Honors Program”.  Each agency has its own deadlines and requirements for hiring, some of which are listed in the table below.  But since I am a former attorney with the Office of Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS Counsel”), I’m going to discuss its Honors Program although I was not hired through the program.

First, let me begin by saying that the IRS Counsel’s Honors Program, as well as all federal agencies’ honors programs, is highly competitive.  They’re looking for the top 20% ranked students from ABA accredited law schools that can show demonstrated interest in the field of tax law.  But this is the main program used for hiring for IRS Counsel,

So, I interviewed my former colleagues who were hired through the IRS Counsel’s Honors Program and a pattern began to emerge.  They all applied for the honors program early in their 2L or 3L fall semester, and most participated in on-campus interviews.  In fact, the 2Ls that interviewed were hired on as summer interns and then were made job offers and converted into 3L Honors hires without even having to submit another application.  The 3L hires usually were interviewed by the IRS Counsel office closest to their law schools and then were made job offers by the National Office of IRS Counsel located in Washington, DC. So, if you’re interested in any honors program and the federal agency is participating in OCIs, then you should apply for an interview.  If not, then you can apply on-line.

To have a shot at the IRS Counsel’s Honors Program, I recommend that students demonstrate a solid interest and proficiency in tax law; for instance, by:

  • Taking tax-related courses and getting good grades in them;

  • Participating in on-campus and other tax-law related organizations (Tax Law Society, ABA Tax Section, etc.);

  • Having a solid writing sample reflecting tax legal research and analysis; and

  • Volunteering & pro-bono work such as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (free tax preparation for qualifying low-income taxpayers) and/or a Tax Clinic.

Even if a student does not have direct tax related experience or interest, he or she might still be selected if they:

  • Are highly ranked and get stellar grades, especially in writing courses;

  • Participate in law review;

  • Participate in moot court/trial teams; or

  • Otherwise demonstrate extraordinary legal and academic achievement.

Tips from hiring managers:

  • Applications selected for interviews are organized by the applicant’s office rankings.

  • Even though you would be willing to work in any locale, make sure you name the cities that you would like to work in, which shows that you have thought about this topic.

  • Make sure that your GPA and rank in law school is on your resume even if though you will be submitting your transcript.

  • Submit your application as soon as possible even though IRS Counsel recruits several times a year.  If anything changes, make sure your on-line application is current.

  • There are two levels of interviews, one at your law school and one at the local IRS Counsel’s office closest to your law school.

Tips from IRS attorneys who were selected as honors hires:

  • If selected for an interview, choose an early interview slot if possible.  The interviewers are more alert and attentive during the morning sessions and are more likely to remember you;

  • Prior to an interview, learn as much as you can about the job you are applying for and the organization and have questions ready for the interviewers (think of it as them interviewing you about your qualifications and you interviewing them about the job);

  • After an interview, make sure to follow-up with an email or written note/letter thanking the interviewers and briefly highlighting certain topics discussed during the interview.

If you have any questions about the IRS Counsel’s Honors Program and/or career opportunities in tax law, please feel free to contact me.

Caroline Chen
Assistant Clinical Professor of Law
Director, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic
Santa Clara University School of Law

Note to Students:

Check NOW for upcoming Legal Externships and Summer Programs application deadlines with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Government Accountability Office, the Federal Communications Commission (Wireless Telecommissions Bureau), the U.S. Dept of Interior, the U.S. Department of Justice and more!

For access to the Government Honors & Internship Handbook 2013-2014, please refer to job posting # 10993 (for 2Ls) and # 10995 (for 3Ls) on #SCULawJobs for the URL and log-in information.

Be sure to check each agency’s website or FAQ’s for documents you will need to complete the application and put them together prior to beginning the application.


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