How to Become an Assistant District Attorney

Landing an assistant district attorney position does not require experience in private practice.
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Landing an assistant district attorney position does not require experience in private practice.

A career as an assistant district attorney is an excellent career option for lawyers who want to perform public service law while practicing criminal law and gaining extensive trial experience. Working under the supervision of the county's district attorney, ADAs prosecute those accused of crimes and represent the state, not individual victims. In addition to drafting legal motions and other trial work, ADAs help victims prepare for trial, work with law enforcement to help determine whether charges should be filed, negotiate plea deals with defendants, evaluate current trial procedures and help implement legal policy revisions.

    Earn a juris doctor degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. While in law school, study criminal law, criminal procedure, white collar crime, sentencing, evidentiary procedures, trial advocacy, appellate advocacy and criminal litigation. This will enable you to gain the doctrinal knowledge and practical skills needed to become an effective ADA.

    Apply for a summer internship after your first or second year of law school at the district attorney's office where you would like to work after graduation. District attorney offices typically hire ADAs fresh out of law school. Second year summer interns interested in a permanent position where they interned are often interviewed before other applicants. Experience working as a lawyer in the private sector is not necessary to become an ADA.

    Become a member of the state bar in the state where you plan to practice law. In most states, you must pass a bar examination and submit to a thorough background examination to become a member. There is no special examination needed to become an ADA.

    Visit the website of the district attorney's office to lean about the hiring process for ADAs. If this information is unavailable online, call and inquire directly. In addition to completing an application, you will likely be asked to submit a resume and cover letter. Stress your commitment to public service, and interest in criminal law. Highlight your advocacy and decision-making skills, as well as relevant work experience. Follow-up with a phone call or email. District attorney's offices are notoriously busy and your application may otherwise get lost in the shuffle.

    Be prepared to answer interview questions about your qualifications and why you want to be a prosecutor. Expect philosophical questions such as "What is your position on victimless crimes?" Ethical issues are often addressed in the form of hypothetical situations. You may be asked, for example, what you would do if a police officer privately admitted to you that he used a minor deception during grand jury testimony in a case where the defendant was clearly guilty. Other questions are aimed at determining if you will fit in with the office culture.


    • Ask about job advancement and typical case loads when applying.

      Look for district attorney offices that have training/mentoring programs.


    • Salary, support resources, procedures for assigning cases can vary widely from office to office. Choose wisely.

      As a new ADA, expect to initially handle low level cases including misdemeanors or driving under the influence.

2016 Salary Information for Lawyers

Lawyers earned a median annual salary of $118,160 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, lawyers earned a 25th percentile salary of $77,580, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $176,580, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 792,500 people were employed in the U.S. as lawyers.

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