Attorney Honors Program - Overview

Attorney Honors Program

Overview of Attorney Honors Program

The NOAA GC Attorney Honors Program is an exciting employment opportunity for entry level attorneys and a pathway to career employment at NOAA GC. It is a fantastic way to start a public service legal career and gain experience in a wide range of federal legal practice areas, including administrative law, environmental law, and natural resource management. NOAA is the premier federal ocean, weather, space, and coastal conservation and management agency. Through the Attorney Honors Program, you will work with other NOAA attorneys and staff to advise the NOAA Administrator and NOAA program offices on the legal aspects of NOAA's mission. NOAA attorneys work to advance that mission and provide sound judgment, thoughtful analysis, and constructive advice in a respectful, committed environment.

We welcome candidates with strong legal skills who are enthusiastic about working for NOAA and are keenly interested in a career in public service.  We encourage applicants from a wide variety of backgrounds to apply. Having a background in government or environmental law is not a prerequisite for acceptance into the Attorney Honors Program.


The Attorney Honors Program is an 18-month program that includes three six-month rotations in various sections of NOAA GC.  For more information about each section and our headquarters office, please visit our Offices page. During each rotation, you will have the opportunity to learn about aspects of NOAA GC's work, develop lawyering skills in different practice settings, gain exposure to various facets of NOAA's science-based programs, and work both independently and as a team member alongside experienced NOAA attorneys. During their rotations, previous Honors Program attorneys have:

  • Worked on administrative appeals, including appeals from written warnings issued by NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement and federal consistency appeals brought under Section 307 of the Coastal Zone Management Act
  • Participated in a formal rulemaking process under the Marine Mammal Protection Act before an administrative law judge
  • Worked on civil enforcement cases, including developing charging and settlement recommendations, participating in mediation, and assisting with hearings before an administrative law judge
  • Briefed senior agency leadership, including the NOAA Administrator, on legal issues related to agency actions, rulemakings, and the implementation of new statutory authority
  • Advised NOAA programs on rulemakings and other administrative processes, such as the promulgation of regulations governing commercial and recreational fisheries (ex: catch limits), the designation and expansion of national marine sanctuaries, the preparation of environmental analyses pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, and consultation and incidental take and harassment authorizations under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act 
  • Assisted NOAA and Department of Justice attorneys on litigation, including developing administrative records and reviewing litigation documents
  • Participated in international meetings, such as a preparatory committee meeting on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction at the United Nations and a meeting of the Arctic Council's Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment working group
  • Assisted NOAA programs in responding to emerging issues, such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and forced labor on fishing vessels

Permanent Placement

Once you complete these three rotations, you will receive a permanent placement as an Attorney Advisor in one of NOAA GC's thirteen legal sections. NOAA GC will make reasonable efforts to take your personal preferences into account when making a decision about your permanent placement.

(Note: Unless you are a preference-eligible veteran, you will be subject to a two-year trial period that begins running from your official start date with NOAA GC. More information about this trial period is available in Department of Commerce Department Administrative Order 202-315)


As an Honors Program attorney, you will be matched with an experienced NOAA GC attorney to serve as your mentor throughout the duration of the program. You may also be assigned an informal mentor in each of your three six-month rotations, and you will have access to the network of current and former Honors Program attorneys at NOAA GC.

Promotion Potential and Benefits

Law school graduates who are not yet admitted to the bar when they start in the Attorney Honors Program will be placed in Law Clerk positions at the GS-11 level.

  • Once successfully admitted to the bar, Law Clerks will be eligible for conversion to an Attorney position.
  • There is no promotion potential for the Law Clerk position.

Law school graduates who have been admitted to the bar when they start in the Attorney Honors Program will be placed in Attorney positions at the GS-11, GS-12, or GS-13 level, depending on prior experience.

  • Attorneys with at least one year of experience as a judicial law clerk or in a legal fellowship will start at the GS-12 level.
  • Attorneys with multiple years of experience as judicial law clerks or in a legal fellowship may be hired at the GS-13 level; this decision will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Attorneys at NOAA GC are eligible for promotion up to the GS-15 level, and may be considered for promotion every year, based on successful performance and the recommendation of a manager.

Attorneys and Law Clerks who are hired through the Attorney Honors Program are entitled to all of the benefits available to federal employees. Additional information about federal pay and benefits is available at the Pay & Leave and Benefits pages of the Office of Personnel Management's website.

Attorney Honors Program