Administrative Law

Administrative law is the body of law and legal work that deals with government agencies. Lawmakers create government agencies to carry out laws and administer the functions of government. These agencies create, implement and enforce regulations. All of the work that goes into these activities falls under the category of administrative law.

Administrative law is a diverse area of law

The term administrative law is a broad term that encompasses many different types of law. A lawyer that practices administrative law might never see a courtroom. On the other hand, a different administrative lawyer might spend the vast majority of their practice filing legal documents and arguing to judges in a formal setting. Some administrative lawyers have a lot of interaction with people, while others spend most of their time drafting documents. As long as the person spends their practice carrying out government work or working with government regulations, they’re an administrative lawyer.

Where does administrative law come from?

Administrative law begins with a legislative body. At the federal level, it’s the U.S. Congress. At the state level, it’s state representatives. There are even local town councils and county commissions that can make rules. When these organizations create law, they either directly create the law or they create an agency that they task with creating the law.

Once the legislative body creates the law or the agency, the agency sets to work implementing the law or making rules. They may need to develop procedures such as creating official forms or timelines. They might also create regulations that have the same effect as laws.

An agency may develop standards and procedures for making claims to the agency or challenging the agency’s decision. Finally, they may need to enforce their regulations by bringing actions against violators. Examples of federal administrative agencies include the Department of Justice, Department of Defense, Federal Trade Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

The Administrative Procedures Act

The U.S. Administrative Procedures Act is the rule book for the way that administrative agencies function. The 1946 federal law creates strict procedures for administrative agencies to follow as they carry out their work. The purpose of the law is to keep administrative agencies transparent and accountable to the public. Lawmakers believe that the public should know what the agencies do. Lawmakers also think it’s beneficial and desirable for the public to be able to offer input into the work of these agencies.

Proposed regulations and public comment

When an agency proposes a new regulation, they publish the proposed rule in the Federal Register. This is a journal that serves as the place where agencies make their plans known to the public. Then, the public has time to comment. The agency must then take these comments into account before they create the final regulation. The final version goes in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

Who practices administrative law?

Working for the government

Administrative lawyers are both public and private attorneys. Public attorneys work within a wide range of disciplines within a government agency. Private attorneys might also work for a government agency on a contract basis rather than as an employee. An example of this might be an attorney that offers legal advice to a town council or a county sheriff’s department.

Working on behalf of private clients

Attorneys may also practice administrative law on behalf of private clients. For example, they may help a client navigate administrative procedures in order to make sure they succeed in making a certain claim to an agency. An example of this might be an attorney that helps a client make an appeal before a state driver’s license appeal board for reinstatement of their driver’s license. They might work with a client to bring a formal court proceeding after they’ve exhausted administrative remedies. An administrative law attorney might also represent a private client in an action to challenge the constitutionality of a regulation or the legislative authority for a rule or regulation.

Types of administrative law practice

There are a wide variety of tasks that administrative lawyers perform. The duties vary considerably within each agency and among specific duties within an agency. An administrative lawyer may do one or more of the following:

Writing

An administrative lawyer might write the laws. They might write policies and procedures that dictate how to carry out certain aspects of the agency’s duties. If a case goes to a hearing, they might prepare a court motion or a trial brief. When an attorney functions as an administrative law judge, they might draft opinions and judgments. Drafting might be an administrative law attorney’s primary job, or if may be just one aspect of their duties.

Counsel for agency leaders

When high-level officials and agency leaders set out to make rules and regulations, they need attorneys to help them understand the likely impacts of their decisions. They need to know if courts are likely to uphold their regulations. Administrative lawyers can help officials give proposed regulations the appropriate consideration. They can also evaluate public comments on proposed regulations and give officials guidance based on public input.

Evaluating claims

Many administrative agencies have a procedure for the public to make claims directly to the agency. An example of this is a state unemployment office. Claims examiners may need attorneys to evaluate complex cases. They may need to evaluate whether the law requires them to approve a claim, and they may also need to determine the risks involved in taking a certain course of action.

Representing the agency at hearings

Most administrative agencies have a process for an appeal of an agency decision. In most cases, this hearing starts within in the agency itself. A judge within in the agency hears the case and makes a decision before it ever gets to a court in the judicial branch. At these administrative hearings, an attorney may represent the administrative agency. This attorney is usually an employee of the agency. If the case moves beyond an internal hearing to the courts, administrative lawyers continue to represent their respective agencies in court.

Developing systems and processes within an organization

A government agency needs procedures for carrying out its work. They need forms, timelines and official guidelines for their tasks. Lawyers get involved to make sure that these procedures and policies comply with the agency’s legislative authority. They make sure that there aren’t constitutional or due process considerations that the agency is overlooking when they set a policy. Their work helps their agency run as efficiently as possible.

Administrative law judge

When agencies have internal procedures for hearing, an administrative law judge hears and decides the case. These judges are almost always attorneys. They have the important task of listening to the evidence and making a decision. The rules of evidence at an agency hearing may or may not coincide with the rules of evidence for hearings in the state or federal court where the agency is situated.

Enforcement

Government agencies make regulations. Inevitably, that means at some point, someone violates the regulations. When a violation occurs, the agency needs to have a procedure to identify it and effectively enforce their rules. Administrative law attorneys bring charges of violations and pursue mechanisms to enforce the agency’s requirements.

Challenging administrative regulations

A private person or corporation may want to bring an action to challenge the validity of an agency regulation. They might think that the agency didn’t have authority from the legislature to make a certain regulation. On the other hand, their challenge may be on constitutional grounds.

They might disagree with the decision of an administrative law judge and want to challenge the decision in a formal court. In any of these circumstances, the person or corporation works with their own administrative law attorney. The attorney drafts legal pleadings, presents evidence and makes arguments to the court on behalf of their client. An administrative law attorney for a private client may even bring a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Why practice administrative law?

Administrative lawyers have a great deal of influence over the way that people act each day. They make regulations that impact the way that people conduct their daily lives. Regulations impact when and how people can do business. Some people choose to work in administrative law because of this opportunity to make a difference.

Others enjoy administrative law practice because it allows them to use their legal skills. Whether they enjoy writing, claims processing and analysis or trial advocacy, there’s an administrative legal position that utilizes these skills. Administrative lawyers also have the important job of offering efficient and competent customer service to the public in the form of their legal work.

Many administrative attorney positions have flexible work locations. There are U.S. attorneys working throughout the United States and the world. Administrative attorneys may enjoy the structure of working for a government agency and earning pay that doesn’t depend on generating business or billing hours. Administrative law attorneys earn a living, perform interesting and meaningful work and benefit the public at large.