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Legal - Secretary's Honors Program Attorneys

Legal - Secretary's Honors Program Attorneys

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 experience in a variety of practice areas. 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 career, often handling highly visible or legally significant cases.


Honors Attorneys are hired for a two-year temporary term. During these two years, Honors Attorneys 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 have the opportunity to rotate into three of OGC’s component legal offices in Washington, DC, including FEMA, TSA, USCIS, USSS, CBP, ICE, and USCG. All of the offices in which Honors Attorneys will serve during their two-year term are located in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Rotational assignments are determined by Honors Attorney preferences and the funding and resource needs of the participating offices.


Honors Attorneys participate in the OGC-wide Mentor Program and are matched with a senior attorney through the Mentor Program. Honors Attorneys generally are also 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 whom obtained permanent employment with DHS at the conclusion of the Honors Attorney Program.

Permanent Employment

The Honors Attorney Program is the cornerstone for entry-level hiring within DHS OGC. Honors Attorneys will be eligible to apply for permanent positions after 18 months in the Program (under special circumstances, Honors Attorneys may be considered for permanent employment after one year). 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.


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 strongly encouraged (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; and/or
  • Specialized academic studies or post-graduate work or extracurricular activities that relate to the mission of DHS.

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 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.

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 2017 Honors Attorney Program from August 1, 2017 until September 15, 2017. Candidates are asked to submit a cover letter, resume, and law school transcript (unofficial copies will be accepted) to 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, and transcript must be attached as three 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).  Please do not use commas in the labeling of your documents.  

  • We will only accept electronic submissions.

    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 may also be sent separately to 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 15, 2017).  Writing samples and references will not be accepted or considered with the initial application submission, but may be requested later during the application process.  Please do not submit any application materials until the application period opens on August 1, 2017. Early applications will not be accepted.

    Initial telephone interviews will be conducted in October 2017.  Successful candidates will be invited for in-person interviews at OGC headquarters in November or December. Applicants are responsible for their own travel expenses, but DHS will arrange telephonic interviews for those candidates who cannot travel to Washington, D.C.

    OGC will notify successful applicants on or around December 15, 2017.  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 2018.

    Additional questions on the Honors Attorney Program can be addressed to the Honors Attorney Program Manager, at  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 more than 1,800 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 matter, 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 ten law divisions at OGC Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and eight 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, National Protection and Programs, Regulatory Affairs, and Technology Programs, and Management. Our eight component legal offices include the 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. FLETC does not maintain a Washington, D.C. legal office, and OGC Management Division does not employ Attorney-Advisors.
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.

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