My thanks to Sara Benesh for her kind introduction and for allowing me to guest edit this post.
The government has been preparing itself for the retirement of baby boomers (the “quiet crisis”)--including legions of lawyers. In 2007, Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act that, among other things, facilitates loan forgiveness to attract employees who have made 120 monthly payments on student loans while employed in public service. Is the financial incentive enough to lure lawyers and law students to public service?
Beyond financial incentives, a coauthor and I have been interested in the impact of public service motivation--an intrinsic, measurable personality characteristic--on job choice. Our articles are based on quantitative analysis of multiple data sets: (Article 1) primary data we collected from first year law students and (Article 2) analysis of secondary data “National Survey of Career Satisfaction” from the American Bar Association. ELS readers might be particularly interested in the policy capturing design used in the first article.
Very briefly, we find that, among lawyers, public service motivation positively predicts whether one's second job is in the public sector (school debt is probably the guiding factor right out of law school). Among law students, we find that public service motivation is actually a better predictor of job-fit than sector-fit. In other words, regardless of which sector a student plans to enter, students with stronger public service motivation are more likely to accept jobs that emphasize service to others.
For government recruiters, the task ahead seems to be one of attracting applicants using service-oriented work, rather than financial perks like loan forgiveness.