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Government Lawyers Retiring en Masse

By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 31, 2017 4:00 PM

Nearly half of government lawyers can retire in the next two years, and the rest are already getting that sinking feeling.

It's that same feeling you get when your parents die, and you can no longer ask them for advice. It's real, like death and taxes.

"It's a huge problem," said a former county litigator in a new survey. "When one of these attorneys retires, it can throw a major wrench into things."

Baby Boomer Exodus

Thomson Reuters, surveying 238 government attorneys, says the lawyers are worried about the exodus of baby-boomers who are retiring. One third of the federal workforce is eligible to retire this year, and about half of state and local government employees will be eligible by 2019.

"In our office, we had one guy who had been around forever," one federal attorney said. "He was my go-to guy for everything. I have no idea what I would have done if he wasn't there."

The ABA Journal, reporting on the "White Paper: Government Law Departments 2017," said 75 percent of the lawyers seek help from senior colleagues every week. With the older lawyers retiring, the remaining government attorneys expect their workloads to increase.

Government lawyers already struggle with mounting case loads. Retirements, scare resources, and tight budgets are adding to the problem.

Scarce Resources

According to the survey, government attorneys have an average of 32 matters a week. By comparison to private practitioners, they handle a broader range of legal issues.

The typical government attorney may draft a new law on an emerging issue, such as data privacy and cybersecurity, while litigating civil complaints and enforcing compliance regulations at the same time. Unlike private attorneys, government lawyers cannot always turn clients away or refer them elsewhere.

Meanwhile, proposed budget cuts next year will not help. The Trump Administration wants to cut $1.1 billion from the Department of Justice for 2018.

On the other hand, the administration wants to increase spending on immigration enforcement. It may open opportunities for new jobs, but most government lawyers are feeling the pressure now.

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