In recent years, state budget cuts have meant that entry-level attorney positions with Missouri state agencies are fewer and further between. One agency that has continued to provide a regular source of jobs for recent Mizzou Law graduates is the Department of Social Services.
The Division of Legal Services within the Department of Social Services provides comprehensive legal support to all programs and divisions within the agency. The Division represents the State, not individuals, and is organized into four major sections: Litigation, Administrative Hearings, Investigations, and the State Technical Assistance Team.
The Litigation section provides legal advice and legal representation. The attorneys assigned to this section represent the department before administrative tribunals and in the circuit courts, as well as in the Juvenile Courts in cases involving abused and neglected children. They work closely with the Children’s Division to ensure that children in the foster care system are placed in safe, appropriate and permanent homes. Attorneys with the Litigiation section can file petitions to terminate parental rights on behalf of the Children’s Division or defend the decisions in foster care licensure and adoption subsidy cases. The attorneys also provide legal services to the Division of Youth Services, MO HealthNet Division and the Family Support Division before administrative tribunals.
The Administrative Hearings section consists of hearings officers who conduct hearings relating to three different types of cases: child support enforcement and public benefits; due process determinations as to whether the denial or termination of public benefits was justified; and elderly persons facing eviction from nursing homes.
The Investigations section is divided into three units: the Welfare Investigations Unit, the Claims and Restitution Unit, and the General Assignment Unit. The Welfare Investigation Unit(WIU) investigates fraud and abuse committed by public assistance recipients. The Claims and Restitution Unit (C&R) operates and manages a system that tracks the establishment and collection efforts in all claims in the public assistance programs administered by the Department of Social Services. The General Assignment Unit(GAU) is responsible for conducting criminal, personnel, and internal investigations to strengthen departmental integrity. They also locate persons or other state agencies owing monies to the Department of Social Services, monitor payments and take appropriate action on delinquent accounts, as well as conduct background investigations and checks on prospective employees.
The State Technical Assistance Team helps to safeguard Missouri children by providing technical assistance and training to child fatality review panels throughout the State as well as assisting in the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse cases.
Hiring for each of the sections is done internally by the separate section. Although DSS will frequently list openings with us, it can also be helpful to reach out to recent Mizzou Law alums who work within the Division of Legal Services, as they will know of openings even before they are posted. This also helps to demonstrate your interest in working there when an opening arises. If you think you are interested in working for DSS, check with the Career Development Office to obtain the names and contact information of recent grads who work there. DSS will rarely hire students while they are still in law school, usually preferring students who have graduated and taken the bar exam; however, students have regularly done externships or internships with DSS during the school year and summer, and, as is the case with most state agencies, doing so greatly improves your chances of getting a job there after you graduate.
Also, the state of Missouri has a contract with a private national law firm to handle some of DSS’ caseload. This firm is called YoungWilliams Child Support Services. For details, see here: http://www.ywcss.com/
Like DSS, YoungWilliams will sometimes have openings for an entry-level attorney position as a hearings officer or something similar. Their job postings page is here: http://ywcss.myexacthire.com/searchjobs.php
Department of Social Service, Division of Legal Services, http://www.dss.mo.gov/dls/, (Accessed Oct. 15, 2012)