LL.M. Public Sector Opportunities

LL.M. Public Sector Opportunities

Most years, several Yale LL.M. students pursue post-graduate legal practice opportunities in the public sector.  The majority of these opportunities are obtained via competitive, term-bound Yale- and YLS-sponsored Public Interest Fellowships at international non-profit organizations, courts, and tribunals.

LL.M.s are sometimes also interested in exploring post-graduate legal practice positions with U.S.-based non-profits, as well as with U.S. government employers, including federal agencies and judges.  Due to structural constraints within the U.S. legal market, U.S.-based legal practice opportunities within the public sector and government are often quite limited for LL.M. candidates.

If you are interested in post-graduate legal practice opportunities in the public sector, be sure to attend the many programs on pertinent topics that CDO, as well as other YLS organizations, convene each semester.  In addition to programs that take place during your time at YLS, you can view many CDO programs from prior years online via streaming video, by clicking here.  Students interested in exploring these opportunities should also connect with CDO’s Norma D’Apolito.

Post-Graduate Yale- and YLS-sponsored Public Interest Fellowships

Unlike academic fellowships (which tend to involve academic research, writing, or teaching), post-graduate Public Interest Fellowships involve legal practice. An assortment of Yale- and YLS-sponsored post-graduate Public Interest Fellowships are available to LL.M.s. See the YLS Public Interest Fellowships webpage for detailed information on Public Interest Fellowships, including:

  • A thorough overview of the post-graduate Public Interest Fellowships that are available to YLS students
  • Robust information about (and descriptions of) Public Interest Fellowships within and external to Yale and YLS
  • The names and contact information for the individual Administrators of Yale and YLS-sponsored Public Interest Fellowships
  • The common application for Yale and YLS Public Interest Fellowships
  • Fellowship application timelines
  • Lists of past recipients and host organizations for particular Public Interest Fellowships
  • Advice about researching Public Interest Fellowships and drafting applications
  • Numerous additional resources including sample fellowship applications.

Public Interest Fellowship applications require time to research and draft. LL.M.s interested applying to a particular Public Interest Fellowship should contact that Fellowship's YLS-based Fellowship Administrator in the fall semester in order to discuss the specific opportunity and application process. They should also be sure to attend the numerous Public Interest Fellowships programs convened for YLS students by Administrators of Yale- and YLS-sponsored Public Interest Fellowships.

International- and Human Rights-Focused Public Interest Fellowships

The Public Interest Fellowships that tend to be of greatest interest to LL.M. students are at international and human rights-focused non-profits, advocacy organizations, courts, and tribunals. They are:

A full description of each above-listed Yale and YLS-sponsored Public Interest Fellowship, along with the name and contact information for its YLS-based Administrator, is included on the YLS Public Interest Fellowships webpage under the “YLS Fellowships” tab.

Domestic U.S.-Focused Public Interest Fellowships

In addition to the above, LL.M.s are also eligible to apply for what tend to be domestic U.S.-focused YLS public interest fellowship opportunities through the YPIF Fellowship (full information for which is also available under the “YLS Fellowships” tab on the YLS Public Interest Fellowships webpage).

LL.M.s interested in exploring the YPIF fellowship can connect with CDO Director of Public Interest Norma D’Apolito in the fall or, at latest, early winter in order to discuss the specific opportunity and application process.

Non-Fellowship Public Sector Opportunities with U.S. Non-Profit Organizations

LL.M.s are occasionally interested in exploring non-fellowship legal practice opportunities at U.S.-based non-profit organizations. Despite LL.M.s’ many accomplishments and skills, it is quite challenging for LL.M.s who do not hold U.S. J.D.s and/or are not U.S. citizens to obtain these sorts of positions. There are several reasons for this, including:

  • The complications and expense of visa sponsorship
  • The fact that domestic non-profits are less equipped to provide entry-level training to new attorneys and to attorneys with less years of training in U.S. law than, e.g., private-sector law firms
  • For non-profits that specialize in litigation, a need for proficient English writing skills and a familiarity with common law
  • A general preference, given the nature of many domestic non-profits’ work, for 3 years of U.S.-based J.D. legal training v. a single LL.M. year

CDO convenes numerous programs at YLS on domestic U.S. public interest opportunities throughout the academic year, sometimes in conjunction with other YLS programs, centers, and organizations. If you are interested in learning more about these pathways, be sure to attend those programs. In addition to programs that take place during your time at YLS, you can view many programs from prior years online via streaming video, by clicking here.

CDO also cosponsors annual public interest-focused Interview Programs and Job Fairs each year at which there is often a combination of interviews and “table talks” with a large number of U.S.-based public sector employers. Details about programs and job fairs, along with select announcements regarding public-sector positions and opportunities, will be provided in weekly CDO email newsletters that are sent to LL.M.s, along with other YLS students.

If you are interested in pursuing non-fellowship public interest opportunities with non-profit organizations situated within the U.S., connect with Norma D’Apolito, Director of Public Interest, Career Development Office, in the first part of the fall of your LL.M. year in order to discuss your interests and job search.

Non-Fellowship Opportunities with International Public Sector Organizations

Norma D’Apolito, Director of Public Interest, Career Development Office, along with Schell Center Director Professor James Silk; Schell Center Executive Director Hope Metcalf; and International Law and Gruber Programs Director Mindy Roseman, work with and advise LL.M. students who are interested in pursuing legal practice opportunities with international public sector organizations.

U.S.-based Opportunities with Government Employers

Unfortunately for LL.M.s who are not U.S. citizens, the federal government gives strong priority to hiring U.S. citizens and nationals, although federal agencies and federal judges may hire international students under some very limited circumstances. See here for detailed information about the employment of international students by federal agencies.

There are several obstacles to overcome for LL.M.s who wish to work for any federal agency or as a law clerk to a federal judge:

  • Candidates must be able to obtain authorization to work under U.S. immigration laws (this tends not to be an issue for LL.M.s who are looking for short-term opportunities).
  • Many U.S. government positions for attorneys are either in the Competitive Service, the Excepted (and Senior Excepted) Service, or the Senior Executive Service, all of which have significant employment limitations for non-U.S. citizens.
  • The federal Appropriations Act bans agencies, in most cases, from paying non-U.S. citizens with appropriated funds. In 2009, Congress amended the Appropriations Act to limit more strictly the categories of qualifying internationals. According to the Act, appropriated funds may not be used to pay compensation to international employees with duty stations in the continental United States, unless they qualify for one of the following exceptions:
    • Persons who owe permanent allegiance to the United States (for example, natives of American Samoa and Swains Island).
    • Persons lawfully admitted for permanent residence and seeking citizenship as outlined in 8 U.S.C. 1324b(a)(3)(B).
    • Persons admitted as refugees under 8 U.S.C. 1157 or granted asylum under 8 U.S.C. 1158 and have filed a declaration of intention to become lawful permanent residents and then citizens when eligible.
    • Translators employed temporarily.
    • People employed up to 60 days on an emergency basis in the field service.
    • Nonresident aliens employed as wildland firefighters for not more than 120 days by the Department of the Interior or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, pursuant to an agreement with another country.
    • Persons who were officers or employees of the U.S. Government on December 16, 2009.

Thus, the Appropriations Act in its current form significantly limits the federal government from paying non-U.S. citizens.

Although federal judges and certain federal agencies have discretion to accept volunteers who have proper work authorization, many will not. Federal agencies often provide information about their hiring policies on their websites. When in doubt, LL.M.s should confer directly with the federal agency to understand their particular hiring criteria.

Judicial Clerkships

A post-graduate judicial clerkship is a one- or two-year position in which a recent law graduate works in a judge’s chambers to help the judge conduct legal research and draft written decisions.

International Clerkships
There are two international clerkship opportunities available to LL.M. students and graduates which are funded by Yale Law School. Those are with the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Applications for those positions are due in approximately February of each year for positions which will start the following fall. Further information can be found here, in the YLS Fellowships tab.

U.S. Clerkships
Practically speaking, there are no opportunities for LL.M. graduates to serve as paid law clerks in the United States.  Nearly every state and federal judge in the U.S. seeks to hire J.D. graduates to serve as their clerks. On very rare occasions, a judge may hire an LL.M graduate for an unpaid position in their chambers; however, paid clerkships for LL.M candidates are so vanishingly rare as to be non-existent.

Opportunities with U.S. Federal Offices and Agencies

Federal opportunities for noncitizen attorneys with U.S. governmental agencies and offices are extremely limited. Most simply put, this is because many U.S. government positions are either in the Competitive Service, the Excepted (and Senior Excepted) Service, or the Senior Executive Service.

The Competitive Service includes all civilian positions that are not specifically excepted from the civil service laws by Statute, by the President, or by the Office of Personnel Management. Hiring for competitive service positions must comply with Executive Order 11935 which bans the employment of noncitizens into Competitive Service positions unless there are no qualified citizens available. It primarily includes positions in the Executive Branch.

Since most legal positions fall into the Excepted and Senior Executive Service categories, their citizenship requirements are of the most interest for LL.M. students and graduates. The Excepted Service includes most positions in the legislative and judicial branches.

In addition, there are certain positions (including lawyers) and certain agencies (including the FBI, the CIA, and the U.S. Postal Service) which are in the Excepted Service by statute. Senior Executive Service is reserved for high-level management positions.

Hiring for Excepted Service and Senior Executive Service positions must meet the requirements of the Appropriations Act and immigration law.

The Appropriations Act prohibits the use of government funds to employ noncitizens within the contiguous U.S. except for certain groups of noncitizens. These groups include nationals of countries currently allied with the U.S. in a defense effort, as determined by the State Department. These excepted groups may be employed if they meet the requirements of U.S. immigration law.

However, many agencies with excepted positions have separate and more stringent agency authorizations relating to citizenship requirements. For example, the Department of Justice hires noncitizens only if necessary to accomplish a particular department’s mission and subject to strict security requirements. Such appointments are extremely rare.

Only U.S. citizens are eligible for employment with U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI, the U.S. Trustee Program, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Dual citizens of the U.S. and another country are considered on a case-by-case basis.

For more information, consult the discussion on federal employment of non-U.S. citizens on the USA Jobs website.

Opportunities with Domestic U.S. State Governments

Individual states have their own rules on employment of noncitizens; therefore, if you are not a U.S. citizen and are interested in working for a particular state court or agency, you should contact the entity to determine eligibility.