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Eligibility for the Attorney General's Honors Program

Justice accepts applications for entry-level attorney positions during an annual recruitment cycle (July 31 through early September). Applicants must apply approximately a year in advance. Honors Program candidates are current J.D. law students seeking employment following graduation and recent J.D. law school graduates serving in judicial clerkships, legal fellowships, and LL.M. programs.

Who Is Eligible to Apply in 2024?

  • Law students (full or part time) who will graduate from law school with a J.D. between October 1, 2024 and September 30, 2025
  • Joint degree students simultaneously enrolled in and earning credits for both a J.D. program and another graduate degree program (legal or non-legal, e.g., J.D./MBA or J.D./LL.M.)
    • All academic requirements for both degrees must be completed and degrees conferred by September 30, 2025
    • When the degrees are not conferred at the same time, there cannot be a significant break in time between completion of one degree and the continuation of the second degree program  (e.g., no more than a normal interim between semesters/quarters or a regular summer break)
  • Recent J.D. law school graduates participating in or formally committed to an eligibility preserving activity
    • Participation in the eligibility preserving activity must be active through at least December 1 of the application year (may run later)
    • Applicants must continuously remain eligible throughout the hiring cycle: a change in circumstances (e.g., curtailing a clerkship, fellowship, or graduate law program) may impact eligibility
  • Citizenship and residency requirements apply

What Are Eligibility Preserving Activities?

Eligibility preserving activities are full-time activities starting after law school graduation that can preserve a law school graduate’s eligibility for the Honors Program and are defined as:

  • Judicial Clerkships (any U.S. jurisdiction)
    • Local, state, or federal courts; executive branch administrative law judges (please note the restrictions on 14-month law clerk/trainee appointments, as discussed in the next bullet)
    • Courts of federally recognized Indian Tribes
    • Time-limited court Staff Attorney positions
  • Federal agency Honors Programs
    • Individuals who enter on duty with an executive branch agency via a 14-month appointment as a law clerk trainee must be admitted to a bar, in any U.S. jurisdiction, within 14 months of their initial appointment.  An appointment that was initially made for less than 14 months may be extended for a period not to exceed 14 months in total duration. Individuals are only entitled to one such appointment per 5 C.F.R. §§ 213.101, 213.3102
  • Legal Fellowships (see requirements below)
  • LL.M. programs
    • Most recognized LL.M. programs can be completed within an academic year of full-time study; programs extending beyond this period will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis

What Are the Rules Governing Eligibility Preserving Activities?

  • The first eligibility preserving activity must begin within nine months of law school graduation
  • Eligibility preserving activities must be full time 
  • As a general rule, each eligibility preserving activity must be at least 12 months in duration (for LL.M. programs, an academic year)
    • An activity of shorter duration will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but exceptions are extremely rare
  • Applicants can have more than one eligibility preserving activity
    • Applicants with multiple eligibility preserving activities can preserve their Honors Program eligibility up to three recruitment cycles after law school graduation
      • The annual Honors Program recruitment cycle opens July 31 and closes in early September
      • The 2024 application deadline is Tuesday, September 3, 2024, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time.
    • Breaks between consecutive qualifying eligibility preserving activities cannot exceed 120 days
    • All eligibility preserving activities combined, including time before and between activities, must total no more than four years in duration (from law school graduation to December of the year in following the year in which you apply, subject to the requirement that the applicant apply by the third recruitment cycle post-law school graduation) 
  • The final eligibility preserving activity must run through at least December 1 of the year of the Honors Program application and applicants must be able to enter on duty at DOJ in the calendar year after applying (e.g., if applied in 2024, must enter on duty in 2025)

When and How to Apply to the Honors Program

  • The application period opens July 31 and closes Tuesday, September 3, 2024 at 11:59 p.m. EST
  • Applicants must apply approximately one year ahead of anticipated start date
  • Applicants must be able to enter on duty at DOJ in the calendar year after applying (e.g., if applied in 2024, must enter on duty in 2025)
  • Apply via the DOJ online application

Ineligibility:  Common Activities and Conditions that Terminate or Restrict Eligibility

  • Received J.D. prior to October 1, 2021
    • Law school graduates who received their J.D. prior to October 1, 2021, are not eligible
  • Not engaged in or formally committed to an eligibility preserving activity by the application deadline
    • Recent J.D. Graduates (October 1, 2023 - September 30, 2024) who are not engaged in or formally committed to an eligibility preserving activity starting within 9 months of law school graduation by the date they submit their application are not eligible this year
  • The first qualifying eligibility preserving activity starts or started more than 9 months after law school graduation
  • Part-time post-J.D. law school graduation activities
    • Part-time, post-law school graduation judicial clerkships, legal fellowships, or graduate law programs do not preserve Honors Program eligibility
  • Inability to enter on duty the year following application
    • Applicants must be available to enter on duty with the Department in the calendar year after applying (e.g., if applied in 2024, must be available to enter on duty in 2025) 
  • Failing to remain continuously eligible throughout the hiring cycle (e.g., curtailing a clerkship, fellowship, or graduate law degree program)
  • Gap years between law school graduation and the start of a clerkship or other employment 
    • Applicants with delayed clerkships (or other employment) starting one- to three-years after law school graduation may not apply to permanent Honors Program positions (i.e., may apply only to time-limited positions that will be fully completed prior to the start of the clerkship or other employment).  Click here for details.  
  • Permanent employment following law school graduation
  • Graduating with a non-U.S. baccalaureate law degree, then enrolling in a U.S. LL.M. program does not confer Honors Program eligibility.

Legal Fellowship Requirements

A number of legal fellowships may preserve Honors Program eligibility.  Candidates with legal fellowships may apply on a conditional basis.  Eligibility determinations will be based solely on the information provided on the application.  To qualify, fellowships must meet the rules applicable to all eligibility preserving activities and:  

  • Be publicly advertised as a fellowship at the time the candidate applied to the fellowship.  (Applicants are required to include in their application the website where the fellowship is advertised or a copy of the vacancy announcement for the fellowship.)
  • Have published eligibility criteria, application process, and application deadline applicable to all similarly qualified candidates
  • Have a formal sponsor (e.g., a public service organization, a foundation, a bar association, a law school, etc.) and an established legal mission (e.g., purpose, type of work)
  • Positions in private law firms, whether or not characterized as "fellowships" by the employer, do not qualify
  • Be at least 12 months in duration (a fellowship of shorter duration will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but exceptions are extremely rare)
  • "Bridge the gap" fellowships that require fellows to continue to seek other employment and that terminate when the incumbent secures permanent legal employment do not qualify

Updated February 28, 2024