Lifestyles and International Work

There is no question that international positions can alter one’s lifestyle more so than domestic government positions. International work can require long hours, and several alumni noted that it is not uncommon to put in 12-hour days in some federal positions. Getting to the top requires the same steady dedication, long hours, patience and ability to deal with frustrations and disappointments as are expected in large companies or firms in the private sector.

Travel and Living Overseas

For those who are intrigued by international work, but prefer to stay at home to work for government agencies on international assignments there are many opportunities in Washington, D.C., New York and other major cities. However, if you are looking for a permanent position in international law, it is always better to have worked overseas either as a summer intern or for a minimum of one or two years. Some positions such as the Foreign Service with the U.S. Department of State, or the USAID require overseas service. Liz Wilcox is an example of someone whose post law school career has been based entirely in D.C. On the other hand, Karen Doswell’s position at USAID as a Foreign Service Legal Advisor required her to spend her entire career overseas.

Job Satisfaction

Attorneys generally agree that for lawyers within the federal government, international work is thought of as glamorous and garners respect. Moreover, whether the work is international or domestic, alumni tend to report a high level of job satisfaction. Factors affecting whether people enjoyed their jobs included whether the office had high standards, was well managed and had good morale. One alumnus found that those happiest in government tend to be those who had previously worked in the private sector and understood the disadvantages of the lifestyle associated with firm life. Although it is not easy to discern the professional environment of an office in advance, contact classmates or alumnus who have recently worked there to learn more about the prospective work place. 

Salaries and Benefits

Generally, government lawyers are well paid relative to many public interest law positions, and the federal government pay scale allows for a salary commensurate with experience. An additional increment of “locality pay” is added for those employees working in areas with a high cost of living, including D.C. Of course, even senior attorneys and high-level appointees do not make salaries that rival those paid at law firms. Regardless of whether you are working in the U.S. or overseas, benefits with the government are often superior to benefits in the private sector and include excellent health care, family leave policies and retirement packages. A career with the government also guarantees a fixed pension that will provide a comfortable lifestyle in your later years.

For further information on federal government salaries see the Department of Justice website at www.usdoj.gov/oarm/arm/hp/hpsalary.htm or If you are working for the federal government on an overseas assignment, the State Department’s web site provides some information on salaries and cost of living. The Foreign Service Officer’s salary is usually lower to start than other government legal positions (in the low forties to the high seventies range), depending on educational level and prior work experience. However, benefits are provided for overseas allowances, including housing and financial incentives (e.g. hardship differential), which make for an attractive overall compensation package. Foreign Service Officer FAQs can be found at its Careers representing America site at: www.careers.state.gov/officer.

Last modified: December 13, 2011

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