When I was interviewing for jobs during law school, I included the Missouri attorney general on my list of potential future employers, more for the ability to stay in mid-Missouri than any real interest in governmental law practice. Eventually I took a job with a small firm in Springfield, Missouri and began the typical associate attorney’s work of research, writing memos, drafting motions, and occasionally going to court on small matters. After about three years, I realized that although I enjoyed legal work, I wasn’t happy with the billable hours requirements and started to look for a job that allowed me to stay in the legal field with a slightly less demanding work schedule.
At the law firm, I had worked with a few governmental-entity clients, such as small hospitals and rural fire protection districts, that typically don’t have in-house counsel. During these projects, I learned a little bit about working for a governmental client, and I enjoyed the variety of legal questions and learning about the constitutional issues and other unique rules, like the Sunshine Law, that apply to governments. So when I saw a job posting for a litigation position with the City of Springfield (where I already lived), I was intrigued. I applied for the job even though I barely met the experience requirements. I was called in for an interview, but I was ultimately passed over for someone with more experience. A few months later, though, I got a call asking if I would be interested in another position at the City, representing the Airport. I met with the Airport Director and decided to take a chance on it, even though I had no clue what I was getting into as far as “Airport Law” was concerned (if there even was such a thing?!).
The airport was a great place to get a crash course in municipal law, because it’s like a little city unto itself — it has a police department, fire department, slip & fall claims, federal grant agreements, leases, HR issues with a wide variety of employees (from accountants to airfield maintenance workers), and it’s run by an administrative board (like a mini-City Council). While working at the Airport, I handled many interesting legal issues, including some major construction disputes related to the construction of a new airport terminal. (I am now the law department’s go-to person for prevailing wage questions, whether I like it or not!) Later on, I transferred office locations to City Hall and I’ve had the opportunity to represent the Public Works department, Health department, Information Systems department, and apparently I am finally qualified to handle litigation, since I started that assignment in the summer of 2013.
There are many reasons I enjoy working for municipal government — no billable hours! — but my favorite part is the variety of work, opportunities for learning many different subject areas without having to change jobs, the diversity of “clients” we represent (from airport to zoo and everything in between), and the novel legal issues that we get to work on. There are more opportunities for in-house governmental practice than I realized when I was a law student, so I would encourage you to seek out internships in that area or to speak with in-house governmental attorneys if you think you might like to work in this area of the law.