Reading Government “Entrails” for Job Opportunities
Each year, federal government agencies issue thousands of reports, studies, hearing transcripts, and other mind-numbingly dull documents, the vast majority of which go unread by anyone, least of all by the congressional committees and subcommittees that ordered them in the first place. However, there are hidden gems inside many of them that enable savvy legal job-seekers to get a leg up on what’s likely to be hot and where the jobs (both federal and other) are likely to be.
A Brief History of Predictions
Three thousand years ago, the Etruscans relied on “haruspicy” to predict what was going to happen down the road. Political and economic decision-makers relied on this practice. A professional “haruspex” performed this divination by reading and interpreting the entrails of sacrificial sheep and chickens. Sometimes, serendipitously, these predictions even proved accurate.
As time went on, the prediction industry continued to be mostly hit-and-miss. Omens like ravens suddenly falling from the skies or Roman consuls being thrown from their horses just as they were beginning military campaigns were taken very seriously and frequently altered public policy.
You would think that in the modern era, silliness and superstition would have been expunged from prediction. That is true to an extent, but not completely. For example, the lions of Wall Street were predicting continuing, explosive stock market growth in the week before the October 1929 crash. As recently as the 1980s, Nancy Reagan would not allow her husband to travel without consulting astrologers.
Contemporary Forecasting Tools
Today, we don’t have to depend on entrail-readers or any comparable nonsense, much to the relief of the ovine and poultry communities and, we hope, presidents. We have a much better way of determining what is likely to occur, especially when it comes to divining where legal jobs might be: we can read and interpret government reports and studies, and do so with a high degree of precision.
Forecasting has become much easier and far more accurate today, thanks in large part to the collection of hard data (increasingly “big data”), much of which makes its way into these government documents. These can have immense value for legal job seekers looking for innovative ways to identify where today’s and tomorrow’s jobs are likely to be. Equally important, they can provide job hunters with a huge leg up on the competition.
Here are several examples of the utility of these dust-collecting documents for legal job diviners:
Example: The CFPB’s Monthly Compliant Report
On December 22, 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released its Monthly Complaint Report, which that month focused on money transfer complaints. According to the report, as of December 1, the CFPB has handled approximately 5,100 money transfer complaints, domestically and internationally. The most complained-about issues include difficulties with the safe and efficient transfer of money, as well as fraud allegations. Additional complaints include inadequate customer service and issues resolving refund errors. Similar to previous complaint snapshots, the report identifies the most-complained-about companies. The CFPB identified the District of Columbia and Delaware as having the highest complaint volume per capita in the country, and placed Georgia in its geographic spotlight, noting that as of December 1, consumers submitted more than 31,000 overall complaints, with mortgage-related complaints taking the lead.
Companies complained about—and their outside law firms—by the CFPB are prime candidates for legal services. Additional money-transfer companies (of which there are many) are also in the mix. Manta.com lists 2,346 such firms.
Example: The GAO Annual Report on the Dodd-Frank Act
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released an annual report required by the Dodd-Frank Act. The GAO interviewed community banks, credit unions, and industry associations. Those interviewed cited a large increase in compliance burdens associated with rules that Dodd-Frank required to be implemented. This included increases in staff, training, and time allocation for regulatory compliance and updates to compliance systems. The GAO stated that the full impact of the Dodd-Frank Act remains uncertain because many of its almost 400 rules have yet to be implemented, and insufficient time has passed to evaluate others.
There are almost 7,000 community banks and more than 7,300 credit unions in the U.S., as well as a significant number of industry associations that hire attorneys for an array of legal and law-related jobs. A check with one local community bank in a small town of 10,000 people revealed that they have had to hire one full-time and one part-time attorney for their new compliance department, solely due to Dodd-Frank.
This just scratches the surface of government reports that are available and that contain legal job-search gems.
Where to Find Relevant Government Documents
Government documents are ubiquitous. Frequently, the most difficult problem you face in extracting useful legal job opportunity information is identifying the best and most efficient sources. Here are the places where you might want to direct your search:
Annual Appropriations Committee and Subcommittee Hearing Transcripts and Videos. These hidden job-hunting gems are generally the best source of pending federal legal hiring intentions. These hearings usually take place in the spring of each year, when many of the particulars of agency requests for funds are addressed in detail, including, in some cases, how many new attorneys the agency wants to hire, and for what purposes. The information is pretty high-quality because it often comes directly out of the mouths of agency heads and the heads of agency subordinate units.
When reading such testimony, keep in mind that even if it does not drill all the way down to specific numbers of attorneys and law-related positions, you may find evidence of policy and regulatory initiatives that, with a little bit of “dot-connecting,” will alert you that additional lawyers might be required in order to implement these projects. See Senate Committee on Appropriations and House Committee on Appropriations.
There is no uniformity among appropriations subcommittees as to how—or even whether—they have this kind of information on their websites. If they do, it usually is presented as written testimony accompanying the agency representative’s oral presentation, or in the transcript of the oral testimony itself. Sometimes, there may also be a video of the testimony available on the subcommittee website.
Annual Federal Budget Appendix. Forget slogging through the massive, stultifying pages of the U.S. Government budget proposals for the coming fiscal year. The real meat of the administration’s budget requests are contained in the Budget Appendix. This is where, agency-by-agency, you will find indications of hiring intentions, if any. Note that there is no uniformity from one agency to another.
GAO Reports. The GAO is a congressional agency that issues hundreds of reports each year, including: audits of federal agency operations to determine whether federal funds are being spent efficiently and effectively; investigations of allegations of illegal and improper activities; how well government programs and policies are meeting their objectives; and policy analyses and options for congressional consideration.
Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports. The CRS is a congressional agency that reports on major policy issues, among other responsibilities. Its work often results in legislation. Despite being a taxpayer-funded organization, the CRS itself does not make its reports available to the public. For that, you have to go to the following (selected) organizations:
- University of North Texas (the most complete CRS report archive)
- Department of State—foreign policy reports only
- Federation of American Scientists
Reports and Studies Mandated by Law. These can generally be found either on agency websites or on the websites of the congressional committees and subcommittees that are the recipients of these documents.
Comparable information about state government legal hiring intentions varies widely, of course, from state to state. Nevertheless, comparable predictive information crops up from time to time and is worth pursuing.