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They don't make many T.V. dramas about IRS attorneys. John Grisham has yet to write about the sexy world of EPA rule making. But that doesn't mean a job in a regulatory position isn't exciting. Working in government regulation, whether for a regulated industry or for the government itself, can be an engaging and rewarding career.
Your work in regulatory affairs can affect the operations of entire companies, industries and even whole government agencies. That is, if you know how to get the job.
Consider Which Side You Want to Be On
You don't have to work for the government to work for regulatory affairs. Plenty of attorneys work in-house or in firms on regulatory projects, from ensuring compliance, negotiating with licensing authorities, or litigating adverse government rules or actions.
On the private side, these jobs are not too dissimilar from their non-regulatory counterparts. In-house attorneys still get paid well and may have a slightly better work-life balance. Lawyers at firms still have to make hours and can still bring in big bucks, working with highly regulated clients such as pharmaceutical companies, financial organizations, and the like.
On the government side, federal and state regulatory agencies employ a small army of lawyers. These are great jobs -- if you can get them. You'll work closer to a nine-to-five than most attorneys ever will, with great benefits and all the glamor of being an attorney for, say ... the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Burnishing Your Resume
If you're still in law school, think about getting an internship at a state or federal agency. These can be helpful whether you end up on the private or public side of the law.
A specialized background in a non-legal subject area can also help, so consider broadening your studies beyond just the law. Speaking of law, get to know the Administrative Procedure Act. Besides the substantive areas of law -- the actual rules and regulations which apply to the industry -- much of regulatory work is administrative law.
If you're not in law school, don't worry. Plenty of people jump from private practice to government work -- and back again. In fact, if you've been working on the private side of a public field -- representing parties in litigation with the federal or state government, for example, you've probably already got a few contacts on the other side. Those can come in handy when you want to get noticed for a regulatory opening.
When it comes to applying, look for firms that have a large practice in regulatory areas. If you want to work for the public, federal jobs are listed on USAJOBS, the government's jobs site, and many agency's own websites. Most state jobs will be listed online as well, so check your state's website for information. Many agencies have honors programs and fellowships for promising lawyers.