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Lawyers who have been laid off by the private sector often look for relief in a federal government job. But in the current economy, demand has exceeded supply, as too many candidates apply for positions that haven’t opened up as quickly as usual. “Government jobs are not quite as affected as the private market in a downturn,” says Kristen McManus, career services director at Catholic University Columbus School of Law in Washington. “For that reason, people will look to the government. But also for that reason, people won’t leave government.” As of this past March, the federal government employed 25,470 attorneys nationwide, according to the Office of Personnel Management. Over the past few years, the number of new hires has increased, but slowly: from 1,174 in 1998 to 1,313 last year. In July President George Bush asked for an extra $100 million to hire more lawyers and accountants at the Securities and Exchange Commission. But other agencies aren’t hiring at all. The popularity of public sector jobs rises and falls with the economy. In the late 1990s the government saw many of its lawyers lured away by big-firm salaries and dot-com stock options. Now that the private sector is in turmoil, “the government is seeing some great resumes,” says legal recruiter Stuart TenHoor of TenHoor & Helffrich. Part of the attraction, adds headhunter Keith Barrett of Mestel & Co., is “a pretty good paycheck and job stability.” Patricia Bak, who heads the Members-in-Transition Committee of the Washington Metropolitan Area Corporate Counsel Association, says that more and more in-house attorneys have been trying to jump into government. With the “collapse of tech and the telecom business,” says Bak, “it’s been a very difficult time for our members.” Bak should know: A onetime D.C.-based lawyer for the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust, she’s applied for a number of government jobs herself.

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