How to Become a Prosecuting Lawyer

Written by barbara diggs
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Prosecuting lawyers (also called "prosecutors" or "district attorneys") bring and prosecute criminal cases on behalf of the people of a city, state or country. Their fundamental duty is to investigate and prosecute crimes with impartiality, ensuring that "guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer," according to Berger v. United States. Their basic responsibilities include deciding whether to initiate a criminal proceeding, arguing cases before the court and participating in Grand Jury investigations. Prosecutors tend to have heavy workloads, work long hours and often have relatively low pay. However, the position is a highly competitive one. You must have excellent qualifications to become a prosecuting attorney.

Skill level:

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    Graduate from law school. Anyone hoping to become a prosecutor must attend and graduate from an accredited law school. While in school, you should try to take classes that will prepare you for a career in prosecution. Such courses include criminal law, criminal procedure and Constitutional law. Participate in mock trials and legal clinics to boost your litigation skills.

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    Join the Bar. Graduates of law school must take and pass a state bar exam in order to practice law. This test usually spans two to three days (depending upon your state), and tests your ability to reason and write. Normally, one must prepare for this exam for several months, as it tests on a wide range of legal subjects from civil procedure to trusts.

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    Gain legal experience. In most cases, district attorney's offices do not hire recent graduates from law school, preferring those who have a significant amount of hands-on legal experience. You can get this experience at a law firm, via a judicial clerkship or working as an attorney for the government. It is important to enhance your litigation skills and get trial experience wherever possible. If you are working for a law firm, try to do pro bono (free) litigation work, which may allow you to gain more practical experience than work for paying clients.

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    Apply for a position. After you have obtained a few years legal experience, apply for a position in a district attorney or Attorney General's office that has job openings. Some offices may require candidates to take a written examination, a medical examination and undergo a series of interviews. A background check is also a standard part of the final vetting process. You can find job openings by searching the websites of district attorneys offices or county administrative offices.

Tips and warnings

  • The United States Justice Department has an Honors Program that hires recent law school graduates without any prior legal experience. This is one of the few ways to become a prosecutor directly out of law school. The Honors Program is, however, extremely competitive. Most candidates are at the top of their law school class.

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