Honor Law Graduate Program

The application period for the 2023 Honor Law Graduate Program is now closed.

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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 Chairman 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 seven divisions that provide advice and assistance to the General Counsel and the NRC staff. The Solicitor, in conjunction with legal counsel, has primary responsibility for supervising litigation in courts of law.

The NRC is one of the few Federal agencies authorized by statute to represent itself in conjunction 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 (HLGP). Established in 1972, the HLGP is the primary mechanism for hiring entry-level attorneys at the NRC.

As an Honor Law Graduate, you will serve in a two-year program consisting of rotational assignments through different OGC divisions in order to gain broad exposure to the diverse legal practice at the NRC.

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, Step 6. Thereafter, based on your performance and years of employment, promotions to GG-13 and 14 are noncompetitive.

Ongoing Professional Development:

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 General Counsel and Associate General Counsels to discuss expectations and your rotational assignments. During your first several months, you will attend various introductory trainings and seminars that will outline the inner workings of the NRC.

You will have the opportunity to attend formal training sessions offered by internal OGC staff, the NRC Professional Development Center, other Federal agencies (including the Departments of Justice, Energy, and State), and notable outside organizations (including the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, Duke University, and the American Bar Association). You will also receive ongoing on-the-job training from seasoned attorneys throughout OGC.

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.

  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; or

    3. a judicial law clerk with no other significant employment preceding graduate study who will be prepared for duty no later than the end of September of the year following application.
      Due to the entry-level nature of the program, graduate law students and judicial clerks should not have any significant post-J.D. legal employment.

  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 or you have unusual compensating qualifications, such as other academic degrees or pertinent work experience.)

  4. Have employment experience in areas of the law related to NRC practice and procedure (e.g., 10 CFR Part 2 or other NRC regulations, the NRC licensing, hearing or enforcement process or administrative law matters directly and significantly involving NRC enabling legislation and NRCadministrative authorities).

  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).

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

  • sample of your legal writing, no longer than 10 pages, that 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 Disability Program Coordinator at (301) 287-0727 or TDD: 301-287-0712. 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 will be contacted in October for in-person interviews at the NRC Headquarters. Typically, interviews take place in October, and final selections occur in November. Selectees begin work around Labor Day 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.

Because of our ongoing commitment to diversity,
the NRC has been selected as one of the

**The Best Diversity Companies are chosen by the readers of Diversity/Careers and Diversity/Careers Online as companies that support African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, veterans, women, and people with disabilities; are gay friendly; and have strong supplier diversity programs.

What Are the Benefits of Working for the NRC?

Unparalleled Holidays and Leave:
Federal employees enjoy 10 paid holidays each year. As a new employee, you will receive 13 days of paid annual leave and 13 days of paid sick leave per year.

Flexible Work Schedules:
You can choose from a variety of flexible work schedules, including options such as compressed hours, gliding start/end times, and teleworking.

Generous Retirement:
You will automatically be covered by the Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS)—a three-tiered plan that includes Social Security, a Federal annuity, and the Thrift Savings Plan, in which the NRC matches up to 5% of your contributions.

A Wide Selection of Health and Life Insurance Options:
Federal employees enjoy the widest selection of health plans in the country and the largest group life insurance program in the world. As soon as you start, you will have the opportunity to select from a number of major plans and coverage options in which the NRC pays a portion of the premium costs.

Convenience of Transportation:
The Washington, DC, metropolitan area has an extensive metro rail and bus system, with a stop at the NRC Headquarters building. The NRC also offers shuttle services between local NRC office sites, a ride-sharing network for commuters, transportation subsidies, and onsite parking.

Work/Life Balance:
At the NRC Headquarters, you will have access to many full-service, onsite amenities, including a credit union, cafeteria, general store, child care center, fitness center, and health center.

What Makes the NRC a Great Place To Work?

The NRC has been consistently
voted as a

in the Federal government!***

***The Best Places to Work rankings—the most comprehensive and authoritative rating of employee satisfaction and commitment in the Federal Government—are produced by the Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation.

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.

Furthermore, 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.

How should I submit my application: email versus mail?

To submit your application please visit: USAJOBS.

Please do NOT mail a hard-copy of your application. All mail received at the NRC is processed through security staff before being distributed, which causes an unnecessary delay in our application review process.

I will be in the Washington, D.C. area during a specific timeframe. May I request an in-person interview at the NRC Headquarters?

We understand that many applicants may be interviewing in the area 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 to accommodate your schedule.

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 “Honor Law Graduate Program Coordinator.”

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

You do not need to send 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 send 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 send a writing sample that is longer than 10 pages?

We ask that you 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.

There is no requirement regarding double or single-spaced writing samples. However, we prefer double-spaced writing samples, as they are easier to review.

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?

Please refer to our anticipated timeline for candidate selection. We receive hundreds of applications for this program each year, and do our best to review them as quickly and thoroughly as possible. You can help streamline the process by ensuring that you send ALL application materials electronically at the time of your initial application submission.

If you are not contacted by the end of November, it is very likely that you will not be selected for an interview. We do send final status notifications by the end of January 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 HLGP 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, Human Resources and Security Services 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 HLGP 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.

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). There is 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 your commuting costs up to $125 per month 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.?

If you live 50 miles away from Rockville, Maryland you may be eligible for relocation assistance. These relocation benefits may include payment for travel expenses for you and eligible family members to your duty station, and movement and of household goods. Before relocation expenses may be paid, you must establish a residence (e.g., rent an apartment) in the "new" commuting area. There is a service agreement obligating you to remain with the Federal government for 12 months. This program is subject to availability of agency funding.

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

If you are selected for an interview 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 to make appropriate travel arrangements and cover your expenses. This program 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.

Whom may I contact if I have any further questions?

You may send your inquiries to HonorLaw@nrc.gov.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Friday, June 30, 2023