The Secretary’s Honors Program for Attorneys (Honors Attorney Program) at DHS 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 mission of DHS offers Honors Attorneys experiences in a variety of practice areas, including the opportunity to focus in the Department’s immigration enforcement mission area.
The Honors Attorney Program has two types of opportunities. First, DHS continues to have the traditional National Capital Region option of rotations among DHS Office of the General Counsel (OGC) Headquarters and our component agencies’ counsel offices. These include national security law, immigration law, litigation, legislative and 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.
Second, Honors Attorneys also have the opportunity for placements beyond the National Capital Region. These Honors Attorneys will be placed in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (“ICE OPLA” or “OPLA”) headquarters or field locations throughout the country. Through this option recent law school graduates have additional opportunities to engage within the DHS mission areas and gain invaluable trial court experience.
Honors Attorneys in the National Capital Region are hired for a two-year temporary term. During these two years, Honors Attorneys in the National Capital Region will participate in four six-month rotations, at least one of which will be at DHS headquarters in one of OGC’s nine headquarters law divisions: Immigration, General Law, Intelligence, Legal Counsel, Technology Programs, Regulatory Affairs, Ethics, Operations and Enforcement, and National Protection and Programs. Honors Attorneys also will rotate through OGC’s component legal offices in Washington, DC, including FEMA, TSA, USCIS, USSS, CBP, ICE, and USCG. Rotational assignments are determined by Honors Attorney preferences and the funding and resource needs of the participating offices.
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 Trial Attorneys, though they may also be placed in Washington, DC, at ICE OPLA Headquarters. These Honors Attorneys will have the opportunity to participate in more limited rotations or additional training opportunities that will enable exposure to the broad mission of DHS.
Honors Attorneys participate in the OGC-wide Mentor Program and are matched with a senior attorney through the Mentor Program. Honors Attorneys generally also are assigned an informal mentor at each of their rotation locations. Additionally, Honors Attorneys will 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.
The Honors Attorney Program is the cornerstone for entry-level hiring within DHS OGC.
Honors Attorneys in the National Capital Region will be 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.
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.
Only U.S. citizens are eligible for employment in the Honors Attorney Program.
The following persons are eligible to apply for the Honors Program:
- 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)
- 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 comprised 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 (Note: 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);
- 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.
Compensation and Benefits
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. (Please see www.opm.gov 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 OGC Headquarters or ICE OPLA, as may be 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.
Application Process and Timelines
OGC will accept applications for the 2022 Honors Attorney Program from August 1, 2021 until September 7, 2021. Candidates are asked to submit a cover letter, resume, law school transcript (unofficial copies will be accepted), and checklist to email@example.com. Please refer to the application checklist, which must be submitted with application materials. The following instructions must be followed in order for your application to be considered:
- The subject line of your email must be: “[Last name first name] Honors Attorney Application.”
- The cover letter, resume, transcript, and checklist must be attached as four separate PDF attachments to your email. Documents should be titled with your last name, first name, and the document title (example: Doe John Resume, Doe John Cover Letter, Doe John Transcript, Doe John Checklist). Please do not use commas in the labeling of your documents.
- We will only accept electronic submissions.
- 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 more than one recommendation letter is received, only the first recommendation letter received will be considered. If submitting a recommendation letter, it is preferable to attach the recommendation letter with your application materials. However, recommendation letters also may be sent separately to firstname.lastname@example.org 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 7, 2021). Writing samples and references will not be accepted or considered with the initial application submission, but may be requested later during the application process.
Initial telephone interviews will be conducted in September and October 2021. Successful candidates will be invited for in-person interviews at OGC headquarters in November. Applicants are responsible for their own travel expenses. DHS will permit video interviews for those candidates who cannot travel to Washington, D.C.
OGC will notify successful applicants around the end of November 2021. All hiring is conditional upon successful completion of a background check and receipt of at least a Secret-level security clearance. Successful applicants can expect to begin the Program in early October 2022.
Additional questions on the Honors Attorney Program may be addressed to the Honors Attorney Program Manager, at email@example.com. Please note that applications will not be accepted if sent to any other address. 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 which refers to OPM’s Pathways Programs.
About the Office of the General Counsel for the Department of Homeland Security
The General Counsel is the chief legal officer for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and oversees and integrates nearly 3,000 attorneys and staff throughout DHS. The Office of the General Counsel (OGC) is responsible for ensuring that departmental activities comply with applicable legal requirements, and that the Department’s efforts to secure the Nation are lawful and consistent with the civil rights and civil liberties of our citizens and residents. OGC attorneys work on a broad range of subject matters, including national security law, immigration law, litigation, international law, intellectual property, maritime safety and security, transportation security, border security, cybersecurity, fiscal and appropriations law, federal procurement, and environmental law. OGC also coordinates DHS’s rulemaking process, manages interdepartmental clearance of proposed legislation, and provides legal training for law enforcement officers.
OGC is comprised of nine divisions at OGC Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and nine component legal offices with attorneys located both at headquarters offices in the Washington, D.C. area and around the country at regional offices. The headquarters divisions are: Ethics, General Law, Immigration, Intelligence, Legal Counsel, Operations and Enforcement, Regulatory Affairs, Technology Programs, and Management. Our nine component legal offices include the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Office of Chief Counsel, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Office of Chief Counsel, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Office of Chief Counsel, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Office of Chief Counsel, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Office of the Chief Counsel, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Office of the Judge Advocate General, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Chief Counsel, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, and the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) Office of Chief Counsel.
Neither the OGC Management Division nor FLETC participates in the Honors Attorney Program.
About the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
The Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) is the largest legal program in the Department of Homeland Security, with over 1,100 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.