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Posted June 24, 2010

Class of 2010 Graduates Enter Federal Service in Record Numbers

Chioma Ayogu

A record number of 2010 Law School graduates have accepted public service jobs with the federal government, according to the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center.

These positions range from Honors positions with the U.S. Department of Justice to Judge Advocates General with the armed services, and encompass a wide variety of legal duties within a broad spectrum of federal agencies and departments. In addition, the Class of 2010 saw record success in the prestigious Presidential Management Fellows Program, which aims to attract top-flight applicants for federal service.

“When you look at where our alumni are, you can’t help but admire their level of service for the nation in all branches of federal, state and local government,” said Yared Getachew, assistant dean for public service.

A total of 30 recent graduates are entering federal service in some capacity, up from 17 the year before, Getachew said. There was also a large increase in the number of students applying to and being selected for federal service programs.

In 2009, 16 Law School students applied for the Presidential Management Fellows Program and four were selected as finalists. Both numbers were records at the time. This year, the Public Service Center invited finalists from last year to come and speak about the benefits of the program and to offer advice about how to approach the assessment process.

“Our students heeded the call and decided to apply in great numbers,” Getachew said. “This includes students who already had offers from law firms but were taking their time to learn about how the government works.”

This year the Law School had 50 applicants and 16 became finalists.   

Yared Getachew

Yared Getachew

“Not all have pursued the appointment process, but those who have will help shape and develop national policy with agencies such as the Occupational Safety & Health, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” Getachew said.

The increased student interest in public service work may be affected by economic conditions, but also reflects a spirit of service among the graduating class, Getachew said.

“I’ve always been impressed by our students, who, even in a flush law firm market, never seem to forget the reasons that brought them to law school in the first place, including a desire to be part of something larger and to contribute to the public good,” he said.

Chioma Ayogu graduated in the spring and was recently hired by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, the federal entity responsible for regulating the nation’s mines and quarries.

This summer, Ayogu will begin a two-year appointment with an administrative law judge at the commission. Ayogu said she is excited about the position, but that it was not initially on her radar as she began her job search.

“I focused on employment law and international law here at the Law School,” Ayogu said. “Yared and the Public Service Center suggested that I should think about what it was about those types of positions that interests me. They really encouraged me to think outside of the box in terms of my interests.”

That advice helped trigger her interest in the mining commission job when she saw that it was available, as the position included safety and employment work.

Getachew said encouraging students to cast wide nets in their search for public service work has been an effective strategy. A 2009 survey showed that the federal government needed to fill more than 23,500 "mission-critical" legal jobs over the next three years, a need prompted in part by the large number of federal workers reaching retirement age. 

“When I looked at this number, the first thing I thought was ‘how do we prepare our students and alumni for these opportunities?’” Getachew said.

Getachew said he and the Public Service Center’s assistant directors, Amanda Yale and Andrew Broaddus, encouraged students to look at positions that were not classified as legal jobs but that would likely go to lawyers.

Kristen Carothers

Kristen Carothers

Kristen Carothers learned about the Presidential Management Program after attending a Public Service Center presentation on fellowships.

She’ll begin as a program manager with the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center in the fall, working to coordinate and plan with the Air Force’s legal team. Though not classified by the government as a legal job, Carothers said she hopes the position will provide a lot of experience, especially in the area of contracts.

“This just seems like a really good opportunity for me to get my foot in the door for federal service,” she said.

During the past year, the Law School had recruiting visits from a wide variety of federal agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, the Justice Department, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as from the armed services.

Allen Abrams

Allen Abrams

Recent graduate Allen Abrams will enter the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General program, and will find out in the fall what his assignment is.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Abrams said. “The more people I’ve talked to, the more I’ve realized that there are so many benefits in terms of getting experience right off the bat. The accelerated education that it will provide will really be invaluable. I could also be going to a ton of different interesting places, and I’ll be interacting with different people from many different backgrounds.”

Abrams entered law school with an interest in public service, and spent last summer working in a federal prosecutor’s office. He was involved in pro bono work throughout law school, and said public service is both gratifying and an effective way to gain legal experience.

“People are very happy and very motivated when they are doing that type of work. I’ve just enjoyed it, to say the least,” he said.

Ian Fiske, another member of the Class of 2010, will join the Department of Homeland Security through its Honors Attorney Program, a highly competitive entry program for law school graduates.

Fiske will rotate through three practice areas during the two-year position, and said he could end up working on anything from operational issues to policy advice.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” Fiske said. “Some UVA alumni that I’ve already contacted have been very helpful in explaining their experiences and how much they like the work.”

Ayogu, who will clerk for the mining commission, said the best practical advice she could give to students who are considering a career in public service would be to get involved early and often during law school.   

“When they are interviewing candidates they are looking for people who not only have strong resumes but also have experience,” she said.  

Getachew said that members of the Classes of 2011 and 2012 are also well-positioned to work in federal public service.

 “The increased traffic at the Public Service Center where students have come meet with Dean [Kimberly] Emery to inquire about pro bono work shows that students are taking every effort to provide service to underserved communities as well as to gain practical legal skills while in law school,” Getachew said. “These are critical ingredients that allow students to convince public service employers that they are prepared to immediately take on significant responsibility.”