United States Office of Government Ethics, Preventing Conflicts of Interest in the Executive Branch

18 U.S.C. § 203: Compensation to Members of Congress, officers, others in matters affecting the Government

18 U.S.C. § 203 prohibits an executive branch employee from receiving any legal fees, partnership share, bonuses, or any other form of compensation derived from representational services of others in matters before the executive branch or the courts (when the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest). This bar applies to representations while the person is an executive branch employee, regardless of whether he or she receives the funds during or after Government service.


An employee may represent, with or without compensation, the following:

  • the employee (self-representation);
  • a parent, spouse or child of the employee; and
  • a person or estate that the employee serves as a guardian, executor, administrator, trustee or personal fiduciary.

Examples of Practical Effects of 18 U.S.C. § 203

Attorneys who join the executive branch from private firms may not keep a financial interest in a contingency fee case in which the United States is a party or has a substantial interest.

Government attorneys may need to ask their former law firms to maintain a bookkeeping arrangement that segregates funds received for representations before the Government from those in which they lawfully may share under a continuing compensation arrangement, such as deferred compensation or bonuses.