Honor Law Graduate Program

The application period for the 2024 Honor Law Graduate Program is coming soon.

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What Is the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission?

In 1974, Congress created the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as an independent agency to enable the Nation to safely use radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while ensuring the protection of people and the environment. The NRC regulates commercial nuclear power plants and other uses of nuclear materials, such as in nuclear medicine, through licensing, inspection, and enforcement of its requirements.

In establishing the NRC, Congress abolished the Atomic Energy Commission and divided its responsibilities between two new agencies that ultimately became the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the NRC. Congress assigned the functions of promotion and development of nuclear energy sources to DOE and gave the NRC an exclusively regulatory mission.

The NRC is headed by five Commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for 5-year fixed, staggered terms. The President designates one of the Commissioners as the Chair and official spokesperson for the agency.

What Are the Functions of the Office of the General Counsel?

The General Counsel is the chief legal advisor to the NRC and directs all matters of law and legal policy for the agency. The Office of the General Counsel (OGC) consists of six divisions that provide advice and assistance to the General Counsel and the NRC staff, as well as a program support branch and a Solicitor. The Solicitor has primary responsibility for supervising litigation in courts of law.

The NRC is authorized by statute to represent itself in the courts of appeals to defend its issuance and amendment of rules, regulations, and licenses, and its attorneys represent the agency in court in coordination with the U.S Department of Justice.

What Is the Honor Law Graduate Program?

Each year, the NRC selects a small number of graduating law students or judicial law clerks to serve in the OGC Honor Law Graduate Program (HLG Program). Established in 1972, the HLG Program is the primary mechanism for hiring entry-level attorneys at the NRC.

As an Honor Law Graduate, you will be part of a two-year program designed to provide you with maximum exposure to the work of the Office of the General Counsel. You will experience the office’s diverse legal practice through rotational assignments to three different OGC divisions, with a broad range of assignments during each rotation.

The program allows you to collaborate with seasoned attorneys and work independently on a variety of assignments, such as the following:

  • participating in administrative litigation involving nuclear power plants
  • reviewing environmental impact statements with technical staff
  • drafting proposed regulations for new or revised safety standards
  • assisting in the review and litigation of personnel actions, equal employment opportunity cases, and government contract matters
  • working with the Solicitor in researching and preparing briefs for submission to the federal courts of appeals

What Does the Program Offer?

Career Stability:

After successfully completing the 2-year program, you will be placed as a permanent attorney in one of the OGC divisions without having to reapply through the traditional federal application process.

Competitive Salary and Incentives:

As an Honor Law Graduate, you will start at Government Grade (GG)-11, Step 10. Attorneys who have served as judicial law clerks may enter at a higher level. Please check OPM's salary tables for the most up-to-date salary information. You may also be eligible for repayment of federal student loans.

Career Advancement Opportunities:

After passing the Bar examination and one year of satisfactory performance, you will be eligible for a promotion to GG-12. Thereafter, based on your performance and years of employment, promotions to GG-13 and -14 are non-competitive.

Ongoing Professional Development:

The Honor Law Graduate Program is a developmental program designed to train attorneys to have a broad understanding of the NRC mission and legal needs. The program focuses on skill development across a broad range of legal regulatory advisory areas and includes rotational assignments designed towards gaining a variety of skills, competencies, and position experience.

Before you even arrive at the NRC, you will be assigned a peer mentor (most likely a former Honor Law Graduate) to help prepare you for the program and acclimate you to the NRC. When you arrive, you will meet with the Assistant General Counsel for the division to which you are first assigned to discuss expectations and initial work assignments. You also will meet with the General Counsel and Deputy General Counsels to welcome you to the NRC and answer any questions you may have. During your first several months, you will attend various introductory training courses and seminars, many conducted by senior NRC attorneys, that will provide foundational, NRC-specific legal and technical insights to inform your practice as an NRC attorney. You will receive mentoring and on-the-job training from seasoned attorneys throughout the program. During the two-year program, you will have periodic meetings to discuss your rotational assignments and your ultimate permanent placement. Upon program completion, you will be reassigned to a position in a division matching your interests and organizational needs.

You also will have the opportunity to attend formal training sessions offered by the NRC Professional Development Center, other federal agencies (including the Departments of Justice, Energy, and State), and outside organizations (such as the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and the American Bar Association).

How Do I Qualify for the Program?

In order to qualify for the Honor Law Graduate Program, you must meet all five of the following qualification criteria:

  1. Be a U.S. citizen and be in compliance with other generally applicable federal employment requirements (such as selective service registration requirements).
  2. Be ONE of the following:
    1. a third-year law student (3L) who will earn a J.D. degree no later than June of the academic year of application; or
    2. a graduate law student who will earn an LL.M. degree no later than June of the academic year of application with no significant post-J.D. employment preceding graduate study (due to the entry-level nature of the program); or
    3. a judicial law clerk with no other significant employment preceding graduate study (due to the entry-level nature of the program) who will be prepared for duty no later than the end of September of the year following application.
  3. Be in the upper thirty percent (30%) of your law school class and/or have an overall grade point average (GPA) of 3.25 based on a scale of 4.0. (These criteria may be waived if your school utilizes a non-traditional grading system, based on an explanation of the system.)
  4. Have employment or educational experience in nuclear energy law, NRC practice, environmental law, government contracts, employment law, labor relations, information law, federal administrative procedure, or regulatory law.
  5. Have experience performing legal analysis and communicating the results of that analysis orally and in writing (e.g., law review/journals, publications, trial practice/moot court, clinical law program, research assistantships, internships, judicial clerkships).

In order to qualify for the program, your complete application must be submitted during the open period (dates listed at the top of this page) and reflect how you possess all five of the qualification criteria listed above.

Admission to the Bar is not a prerequisite but is expected during the first year of NRC employment. Selectees who are not admitted to the bar will not be retained by the NRC.

How Do I Apply to the Program?

A complete application must include the following materials:

  • cover letter;
  • résumé;
  • list of three references, including at least one academic and one professional reference;
  • copy of your law school transcript and an explanation of your school's grading system, if necessary (please do not have your school send your official transcript separately from your application—an official transcript will be requested if you are selected);
  • list of your fall semester courses and intended spring semester courses, if they are not already included on your transcript; and
  • a sample of your legal writing, no longer than 10 pages, that reflects your own work and is unedited by anyone else (portions of longer writing samples may require separate written introductions to provide context).

To submit your application please visit: USAJOBS.

We value our veterans and their unique training and experience. Eligible veterans will receive preference afforded to them by the Veterans' Preference Act of 1944 and should submit appropriate documentation of service as part of their application. You may find additional information about Veterans' Preference at Feds Hire Vets.

The NRC provides reasonable accommodation to applicants with disabilities where appropriate. If you need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application or hiring process, please notify the Jessica Center, Reasonable Accommodation Program Coordinator at (301) 415-5888 or TDD: 240-428-3217. Determinations on requests for reasonable accommodation will be made on a case-by-case basis.

After I Apply, What Should I Expect Next?

OGC staff will review your application for the qualification criteria outlined above. The highest rated applicants are typically contacted in August for interviews. Interviews usually take place in late August or September, and final selections occur in November. Selectees typically begin work in August or September of the following year, pending their successful completion of the security clearance process.

We Hold Ourselves to the Highest Standards

The NRC will consider candidates based solely on merit. The agency provides equal opportunity for all applicants and prohibits discrimination based on race, color, gender, national origin, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or reprisal for participation in any activity protected by the various civil rights statutes.

What Are the Benefits of Working for the NRC?

In addition to the satisfying and rewarding work you will perform, a career with the U.S. government provides employees with a comprehensive benefits package. As an NRC employee you will enjoy excellent federal benefits, including: comprehensive health and life insurance plans; an optional Flexible Spending Account Program for health and dependent care; optional dental and vision insurance upgrades; retirement savings and investment plan choices similar to private sector 401(k) plans (Thrift Savings Plan); annual (vacation) and paid sick leave; family friendly leave policies; 11 paid holidays per year; and transit benefits. Learn more about federal benefits.

What Makes the NRC a Great Place to Work?

Our MISSION to protect people and the environment generates a real sense of commitment and camaraderie that permeates all levels of the NRC.

But our PEOPLE and ENVIRONMENT are what make the NRC such a great place to work. No matter your field or level of experience, NRC employees are always available and willing to lend a friendly ear and a helping hand.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Headquarters is situated in an area buzzing with activity. We are located in Rockville, Maryland, just a few miles from downtown Washington, D.C.

Here is a sampling of what the local area offers:

  • Popular Restaurants
  • Shops and Boutiques
  • World Class Entertainment
  • Historical Sites and Monuments
  • National Museums
  • Sporting Events
  • Scenic Parks
  • Cultural Activities
  • Airports and Train Stations
  • Public Transportation

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How many selections will be made?

Our recruitment efforts depend heavily on hiring needs and budgetary constraints. Typically, we expect to hire between two and four candidates each year.

How should I submit my application: email versus mail?

To submit your application please visit: USAJOBS. All applications to the Honor Law Graduate Program should be submitted through USAJobs. Paper applications will not be accepted unless hardship circumstances can be demonstrated. Requests for extensions WILL NOT be granted. If applying online poses a hardship for you, the Human Resources Specialist listed on the announcement will provide assistance to ensure that applications are submitted online by the closing date. Applicants must contact the Human Resources Specialist during business hours BEFORE the closing date of the announcement and speak to someone who can provide assistance for your online submission.

I have a competing offer for employment that requires a response before the NRC anticipates making its hiring decisions. What should I do?

We understand that many applicants are applying to positions with other agencies and organizations. Please notify us ahead of time, and we will check the status of your application. If possible, we may expedite the review of your application and provide you with a final decision. If you are no longer interested in being considered for a position with the NRC, please inform us of your intent to withdraw your application.

To whom should I address my cover letter?

Because your application may be reviewed by several staff members, we recommend that you address your cover letter generally to the Human Resource Specialist identified in the vacancy announcement as the contact point.

Do I need to submit an official transcript as part of my application?

You do not need to submit an official transcript as part of your application. Please do NOT have your school send an official transcript separately from your submitted application. An unofficial transcript or academic record that lists your courses and grades is sufficient for our review process. If you are selected for an HLGP position, an official transcript may be requested at that time.

Is it necessary that I submit a list of my current fall transcript and intended spring semester courses as part of my application? What if my school hasn't published its fall and/or spring course offerings, yet? What if I haven't decided on my final year's course schedule?

We understand that your final year’s course schedule may not be finalized at the time of application submission. However, you more than likely have a basic understanding of the courses for which you plan to register. We request that you, to the best of your ability, provide your academic plans for your final year. This will give our review staff an insight into your area(s) of study and career direction.

I am planning my law school coursework. Are there any recommended courses that may prepare me for consideration for the Honor Law Graduate Program?

We recommend courses such as administrative law, legislative law, statutory interpretation, environmental law, energy law, public interest law, and trial advocacy. However, these courses are not required to qualify for the program.

May I submit a writing sample that is longer than 10 pages?

We ask that you strictly adhere to the 10-page maximum. Our review staff have determined that a sample of 10 pages or less is adequate for assessing an applicant's writing skills. The 10-page maximum also helps us to streamline the review process, and ultimately make decisions more quickly.

What do you mean by “unedited by anyone else” for the writing sample?

We want to adequately assess your legal writing skills. We understand that legal course writing assignments may have undergone some minor revisions based on professor and/or fellow classmate reviews. However, we ask that you NOT submit group papers or official publications that have undergone significant editing.

Will I receive notification regarding the status of my application?

If you are selected for an interview, you will be contacted directly via the contact information you provided in your application. We do send final status notifications once recruitment is complete.

Is a security clearance required for this position?

An offer is contingent upon obtaining favorable pre-employment information and processing of an NRC security clearance. An HLG Program position requires an ANACI investigation ("L" clearance). In order to be processed for a security clearance, you will be required to submit a security clearance package, including the Standard Form 86 (SF-86), "Questionnaire for National Security Positions." This process may differ if you have held or currently hold an active security clearance. After an official offer is extended, the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer and the Office of Administration (Personnel Security Branch) will work with you to complete the necessary security investigation.

Selectees will be required to complete a "Declaration of Federal Employment", (OF-306), prior to being appointed to determine their suitability for federal employment and to authorize a background investigation. False statements or responses on your resume or questionnaire can jeopardize your employment opportunity and subject you to disciplinary action, including removal from federal service.

A transferable security clearance from another agency or a background investigation leading to a clearance is required for all new hires. To begin work at the NRC without a security clearance, you must be granted a temporary waiver of the required clearance, referred to as a 145(b) waiver. To be eligible for a 145(b) waiver you need favorable education verification, and reference, credit, and criminal history checks. If a wavier is granted, the successful completion of a background investigation and favorable adjudication is required for continued employment. If you have resided outside the U.S. for an extended period of time, the agency may not be able to (1) grant the 145(b) waiver where the required investigation cannot be completed in a timely manner, or (2) achieve timely completion of the background investigation required for a security clearance.

Is this position subject to drug testing?

All NRC positions are subject to random drug testing in accordance with the NRC Drug-Free Workplace Plan. All new NRC employees must sign a statement acknowledging that the NRC is a "zero tolerance" agency with respect to illegal drug use and accepting such as a condition of employment. Therefore, an official offer for an HLG Program position is contingent upon obtaining a negative reading on pre-employment drug testing and receipt of a signed "zero tolerance" statement, which is included with the security clearance package.

Will I need to serve a probationary or trial period?

As a new NRC employee, your employment is subject to satisfactory completion of a two-year trial period. This time period may be reduced or waived depending on whether you have served in the military or a position with another federal agency. This trial period is a general agency requirement separate from and in addition to the bar admission requirement described in the next FAQ.

Do I have to pass the bar exam?

Admission to the Bar is not a prerequisite to applying and being considered for the Honor Law Graduate Program but is expected during the first year of NRC employment. Recent law school graduates who join the NRC before bar examination results are available will provide evidence of Bar admission as soon as possible after admission. Selectees who are not admitted to the Bar will not be promoted to the GG-12 level. Those not admitted to the Bar within two years will be separated from the NRC.

How does the Student Loan Repayment Program work?

After one full year of employment with the NRC, you may be eligible to participate in the Student Loan Repayment Program as a retention incentive. Only federally insured student loans are eligible, and all loan amounts must be verified by your lenders prior to authorization of funds. You may be approved for up to $60,000 total (taxed) and payments are made directly to your student loan lender at a rate up to $10,000 per year (taxed). You must sign a three-year service agreement obligating you to remain with the NRC for each student loan payment. Yearly payments incur concurrent, not consecutive, service obligations. If you do not fulfill the terms of the service agreement, you may be required to repay the entire amount received (before taxes). This program is subject to availability of agency funding. For more information, go to the Federal Student Loan Repayment Program.

How does the Transportation Subsidy Program work?

The NRC will subsidize a portion of your monthly commuting costs if you use public transportation to get to work. You cannot receive a transit subsidy if you park at an NRC building, and transit subsidies cannot be used to pay for parking at any location. The “Smart Card” that the NRC provides for this purpose cannot be used to pay for local official travel, such as taking the metro to downtown D.C. for a meeting. This program is subject to availability of agency funding.

How may I receive reimbursement of my expenses associated with my relocation to Washington, D.C.?

Your offer will NOT include reimbursement for relocation expenses.

Will the costs associated with my travel for an interview at the NRC Headquarters be covered?

If you are selected for an interview (either virtually or in-person at the NRC Headquarters in Rockville, Maryland), you will be contacted directly by OGC staff to arrange a date and time. We will work with you, as appropriate, to make travel arrangements and cover your expenses. Such reimbursement is subject to availability of agency funding.

How much travel is involved with this position?

There is occasional travel associated with OGC attorney positions. The amount of travel depends on the type of work you are performing. Attorneys involved with litigation and hearings typically need to travel more often.

Is this position eligible for telework?

The duty station for this position is Rockville, MD. Telework schedules are approved on a case-by-case basis. If selected, telework will be determined in accordance with agency policy and the Collective Bargaining Agreement, as applicable.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Friday, February 16, 2024