I know it's not like law and order, but it still sounds fun!
May 25, 2011 1:59 PM   Subscribe

What is being an assistant district attorney like? How does it differ from civil litigation?

I am currently a relatively new attorney ('09 grad) doing mainly civil litigation. I don't really like it and am considering looking for something else. The county I'm in (large urban county in the western US) is currently hiring ADAs. I sort of applied on a whim, thinking it might be interesting.

I only took the one required criminal law course during law school. I never took criminal procedure. I don't really know much about the day to day operations at the DAs office. It wasn't something I thought about doing while in law school. I figured I wouldn't get an interview since there was nothing on my resume to indicate an interest in criminal law.

Low and behold, I have an interview! So now I'm starting to put more thought into it. It sounds like it would be really interesting work. I like things to be fast paced. I like the idea of being in court a lot. There are ideas I have about that job that make me think I would really enjoy it. However, I don't really know that much about it.

So what do entry level ADAs do? What is the working environment like? What do they look for in the people they hire? What was your interview process like? How does it different from civil litigation? What do you do after being an ADA? Criminal Defense?

I know a few ADAs from a neighboring county, and plan on asking them about their experience. I don't know any ADAs from my county, and I figure the more input I get the better.

This question is anonymous since my current employer doesn't know I'm applying. I can memail people if they have specific followup questions.

tldr; Tell me everything you know about being an assistant district attorney.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've been on the other side a bit, so my observations are mostly about the in court side.of things. As you guessed, the work is fast paced. As an entry level attorney, you'll be handling lots of cases, probably misdemeanors maybe so minor felonies, lots of drug crimes, lots of things like disorderly conduct, shoplifting etc.

The day to day work for the ADAs where I was was like this: you were either in court or in the office each day. A day that was an office day consisted of preparing cases for maybe a week in advance. Preparing meant reading the police report, record for the defendant, figuring out what you thought you could prove, and coming up with offer.

Days in court are incredibly chaotic. You check in defendant and attorneys, witnesses, and officers. You have to manage a lot of cases at once (like 50 where I was) each day. You negotiate with defense attorneys and conduct sentencing hearings. Occasionally you'll conduct trials, when you can't work it out. It can be fun, but its.very fast paced and can be a little rote.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:28 PM on May 25, 2011

District Attorney's offices vary widely by location. It would be helpful to know what "large urban county in the western US" you were talking about -- your interview process, rotations, promotions, training, and duties depend on where you are to an extent. Things in San Francisco are nothing like Maricopa County, for example. Maybe update the mods with that info?

As far as what you do after being an ADA -- you could hop over to the U.S. Attorney's office, which usually pays better, may have a wider variety of cases. You could switch to the federal public defender's office, which has the same benefits as the U.S. Attorney's office, but you could experience the other side. You could work in the law enforcement wing of a federal agency (Treasury, SEC, ATF, etc.). You could go back into a different area of civil practice you like better and have an advantage of being the only person with significant trial experience. You could teach a clinical course at a law school. You could run for judge.
posted by *s at 2:37 PM on May 25, 2011

What was your interview process like?

Read this and pages 23-28 of this. You can assume the interview will revolve around hyopthetical questions like the ones described in those PDFs. I can give you a few more interview pointers if you email me.
posted by John Cohen at 2:38 PM on May 25, 2011

I haven't been an ADA, but I did civil litlgation for a while and then had a job that had me working pretty closely with ADAs. The dominant factor affecting their lives was that they had preposterously HUGE caseloads. If you're smart on your feet and enjoy working quickly in a fast paced, high pressure environment, it can be fun. But, there is the deep frustration of never, ever having enough time to give any case or task the attention that it needs and deserves. Everyone you deal with is perennially pissed at you for not having done the important thing that they wanted you to do. One ADA once told me that every case he touched was malpractice, cause he had no time to look at the file before making crucial decisions. If you think you can live with that, it can be a great way to get legal experience that would serve you well anywhere.
posted by Corvid at 2:41 PM on May 25, 2011

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