U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Government Website

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Safely connect using HTTPS

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Secretary's Honors Program for Attorneys

The Secretary’s Honors Program for Attorneys (Honors Attorney Program) offers highly qualified individuals the unique opportunity to start their legal career by addressing some of the most critical and challenging issues facing our Nation today. The broad range of issues DHS handles and the rotational aspect of the program offers Honors Attorneys experiences in a variety of practice areas, allowing them to build knowledge, consider various career paths, gain valuable insight into the Department and its Components, and make meaningful contributions to the DHS mission.

The Secretary's Honors Attorney Program offers two options:

DHS Headquarters Office of the General Counsel (OGC)

DHS offers the option of rotations within OGC and Component agencies' counsel offices in the National Capital Region. DHS Headquarters OGC Honors Attorneys may rotate to offices that handle national security law, immigration law, litigation, legislation, regulatory practice, international law, intellectual property, maritime safety and security, transportation security, border security, cybersecurity, fiscal and appropriations law, federal procurement, and environmental law. Honors Attorneys are given a significant amount of responsibility early in their careers, often handling highly visible or legally significant cases and issues.

Visit the Office of the General Counsel page for more information. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA)

Honors Attorneys also have the opportunity for placements with OPLA beyond the National Capital Region. These Honors Attorneys do not rotate between offices but are placed in the OPLA headquarters or field locations throughout the country. Through this option, recent law school graduates have the opportunity to focus in the Department's immigration enforcement mission area and gain valuable trial court experience.

The Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) is the largest legal program in the Department of Homeland Security, with over 1,400 attorneys. Congress chartered OPLA to represent the agency in administrative immigration litigation before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) and to provide specialized legal advice to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, agents, and other personnel. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., with offices in over 60 cities across the country, OPLA is a national law firm offering an array of professional opportunities to talented attorneys committed to serving our Nation.

OGC Headquarters

Honors Attorneys in the OGC Headquarters option are hired for a two-year temporary term. During these two years, Honors Attorneys participate in four six-month rotations.

The first rotation will be at DHS Headquarters in one of OGC’s eight headquarters law divisions: Immigration, General Law, Intelligence, Legal Counsel (which includes significant litigation, legislation, information privacy and disclosure, and civil rights and civil liberties), Technology Programs, Regulatory Affairs, Ethics, and Operations and Enforcement.

Honors Attorneys will continue their rotations through OGC’s Component legal offices in the National Capital Region, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Secret Service, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Rotational assignments are determined by Honors Attorney preferences, funding, and resource needs of the participating offices.

ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor

Honors Attorneys who choose to work at ICE OPLA generally will be hired into permanent positions, subject to a probationary period, to work as OPLA Associate Chief Counsels or Associate Legal Advisors, and may also be placed in Washington, D.C., at ICE OPLA Headquarters or in a field location throughout the country.

OGC Headquarters

OGC Honors Attorneys participate in the OGC-wide mentor program and will be matched with a senior attorney. Honors Attorneys are also typically assigned an informal mentor at each of their rotation locations. Additionally, Honors Attorneys have access to a network of current and former DHS Honors Attorneys, many of whom obtained permanent employment with DHS at the conclusion of the Honors Attorney Program.

ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor

ICE OPLA Honors Attorneys are encouraged to participate in the OGC-wide mentor program and the ICE mentoring program. In addition, ICE OPLA Honors Attorneys are matched with a mentor in their placement location.

OGC Headquarters

The Honors Attorney Program is the cornerstone for entry-level hiring within DHS Office of the General Counsel.

Honors Attorneys in the OGC Headquarters option, are eligible to apply for permanent positions after 18 months in the program. Although not guaranteed permanent placement, attorneys successfully completing the Honors Attorney Program frequently receive one or more offers of permanent employment from various DHS legal offices.

ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor

Honors Attorneys participating in the ICE OPLA program will be hired into permanent positions.

All permanent positions with the Department are subject to probation periods and other requirements.

OGC Headquarters and ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor

Only U.S. citizens are eligible for employment in the Honors Attorney Program. To be eligible, applicants must be:

  • Highly qualified third-year law students attending an accredited institution who will be expected to be awarded a J.D. prior to October of the next year (or fourth-year students graduating from four-year programs, combination programs, or LL.M. programs immediately after law school from accredited schools); or
  • Federal or state judicial law clerks with no more than two years of clerkship experience prior to the October start date for the Honors Attorney Program.

Exceptions to these eligibility requirements are unlikely, but will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The Honors Attorney Program is highly competitive. We seek a diverse applicant pool composed of candidates with well-rounded backgrounds, demonstrated intellectual and analytical abilities, excellent judgment, and a demonstrated interest in public service.

DHS selects candidates based on multiple factors, including:

  • Superior academic achievement: 3.5 GPA or above or top 1/3 class ranking;
  • Excellent research, writing, and analytical skills;
  • Participation in law review or a secondary law journal, moot court, trial advocacy, legal aid, or clinical experience;
  • Specialized academic studies or post-graduate work or extracurricular activities that relate to the missions of DHS and its component agencies.

Honors Attorneys hired within one year of graduation from law school are hired at the GS-11 pay grade. Honors Attorneys hired following judicial clerkships may be hired at a GS-12 pay grade depending on the duration of the clerkship. Attorneys joining the Honors Attorney Program from multiple-year judicial clerkships may be hired at a GS-12 or GS-13 level on a case-by-case basis dependent upon funding availability. In order to enter service as an Attorney-Advisor, Honors Attorneys must have passed the bar prior to receiving their Preliminary Employment Notification and be an active member in good standing. Honors Attorneys who have not yet passed the bar prior to receiving their Preliminary Employment Notification will be hired as GS-11 law clerks, pending bar admission, at which time they may be moved into an Attorney-Advisor position.

Visit the OPM website for additional information on the GS pay scale and for the latest salary and locality pay information.

Honors Attorneys will become eligible for promotions either within grade or to advanced grades consistent with the promotional policies and standards, including time-in-service requirements, of Headquarters OGC or ICE OPLA, as applicable.

Honors Attorneys receive all standard benefits available to federal employees including annual and sick leave, transit benefits (as applicable), participation in the Thrift Savings Plan and Federal Employees Retirement System.

OGC Headquarters and ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor

The application period for the Fall 2024 cohort is now closed. OGC will accept applications for the 2025 cohort from August 1, 2024 until September 2, 2024. We will not consider early applications. Candidates are asked to submit a cover letter, resume, law school transcript (unofficial copies will be accepted), writing sample (10 pages maximum), and checklist to ogchonors@hq.dhs.gov.

Please refer to the application checklist, which must be submitted with application materials. We only accept electronic submissions.


  • The subject line of your email must be: “[Last name first name] Honors Attorney Application.”
  • The cover letter, resume, transcript, writing sample, and checklist must be attached as five separate PDF attachments to your email. Documents should be titled with your last name, first name, and the document title (e.g.,: Doe John Resume, Doe John Cover Letter, etc.). Please do not use commas in the document titles.
  • We understand that not all law schools follow a standard GPA or class ranking. Applicants applying from such schools are asked to submit a one-page explanation of grading and ranking policies at their schools.
  • Cover letters should be addressed to:

    Honors Attorney Program Manager
    U.S. Department of Homeland Security
    Office of the General Counsel

One recommendation letter will also be accepted as part of your application package but is not required. If we receive more than one recommendation letter, we will only consider the first one. If you are submitting a recommendation letter, attach it with your application materials. However, you may also have them sent separately to ogchonors@hq.dhs.gov with “Recommendation letter for [applicant’s name]” in the subject line of the email. All recommendation letters must be received by the application deadline September 2, 2024. References will not be considered with the initial application submission but may be requested later during the application process. 

Interviews will be conducted virtually. We plan to conduct initial interviews in September and October 2024. Successful candidates will be invited for second interviews around November 2024.

Job offers will be extended around the end of November 2024 or beginning of December 2024. All hiring is conditional upon successful completion of a background investigation and receipt of at least a Secret-level security clearance. Successful applicants can expect to begin the program in early October 2024.

Additional questions on the Honors Attorney Program may be addressed to the Honors Attorney Program Manager, at ogchonors@hq.dhs.gov

Please note that applications will not be accepted unless they are submitted to ogchonors@hq.dhs.gov. To apply for the Honors Attorney Program, please follow the application instructions above.

The United States Government does not discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, age, membership in an employee organization, or other non-merit factor.

The DHS Honors Attorney Program does not fall under Executive Order 13562 for OPM’s Pathways Programs.

Last Updated: 01/30/2024
Was this page helpful?
This page was not helpful because the content