How to become a district attorney

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District attorneys and prosecutors participate in criminal trials and present evidence in support of the state government. They handle cases where individuals are being tried by the government for breaking state/local laws, and often handle cases of drug trafficking, murder, and embezzlement, among others.

What is a District Attorney or Prosecutor?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in district attorney or prosecutor roles:

  • Review evidence submitted by detectives to determine if evidence justifies a trial
  • Work with police officers, detectives, witnesses, and other related parties to collect evidence to be used in prosecution
  • Review evidence, interview witnesses, and collect pieces of information that could prove guilt of an accused individual
  • Study laws, review similar historical cases and their rulings, and prepare a plan for prosecution
  • Present arguments in court in front of a judge and/or jury

A Day in the Life

District attorneys serve as the chief legal officer of their districts and are the only attorneys allowed to participate in trials that utilize a grand jury. Grand juries are used to determine whether or not charges should be brought against an individual, reviewing collected evidence to determine the likelihood of a verdict in favor of the prosecution in a criminal trial. District attorneys present evidence to grand juries and work to determine if it’s worthwhile to prosecute and try a suspect in a criminal trial.

Prosecutors work for district attorneys and represent the state or local government in criminal trials. Before a criminal trial, the district attorney has already determined that the outcome of a trial is likely in the prosecution’s favor, so the prosecutor presents evidence collected by detectives, forensic scientists, and witness interviews to guide the jury to a guilty verdict. They work to prosecute individuals for crimes that break laws, such as murder, drug trafficking, money laundering, embezzlement, and others.

To prepare for trials, district attorneys and prosecutors work with the police officers who discovered the crime and the detectives who were responsible for investigating it, collecting evidence that could prove guilt in court. The prosecutor puts together the plan for their case, often calling upon a variety of specialists to collect evidence. Forensic scientists may be employed to test DNA, or handwriting specialists to analyze texts. These experts may be called upon to testify about their findings in court.

Typical Work Schedule

District attorneys can either be elected or appointed by the government often for a 4-year term. They work full time for 8 hours per day 5 days a week. However, if you were chosen to this position, you will usually need to work additional hours. You need to represent the state by reviewing different evidence in criminal cases and determining whether these cases should be brought to trial. They usually have 1 year from the date of arresting a criminal to file charges or the crime will be considered as a misdemeanor. On average, district attorneys need to work additional 10 – 30 hours to their schedule per week to complete their work on time.

Projected job growth

The position of the DA requires specific set of skills and have a limited number of available opportunities. There are no specific qualifications for the position itself, however top lawyers with more experience with the public affairs have more chance to be chosen for such position. There are currently 94 districts in the US with 93 attorneys; one for each district except for Guam and the Northern Marianas who share single attorney. The demand for legal work is expected to continue for all levels of government which require legal services provided by the DA. Yet, the number of new positions will still be very small since the total number of districts in the US since there is limited turnover for such public positions. Competition for this job will be fierce because this public office holds great potential for many lawyers interested in the public life. Therefore, certain skills will be helpful for this competition like the willingness to relocate and to be licensed in another state which may require taking an additional state bar examination as well as proper communication skills to the public.

Typical Employers

District attorneys are employed the federal government at different levels by either being elected or appointed directly. The job is however considered temporary as a district attorney serves the position for a 4-year term only with no further extension. They are usually replaced whenever a new administration comes into office after the elections.

How To Become a District Attorney or Prosecutor

The first step in becoming a district attorney or prosecutor is to earn an undergraduate degree. The type of degree an aspiring district attorney or prosecutor pursues is flexible because the bulk of his/her law training will occur in graduate school. Popular undergraduate majors include political science, English, history, and philosophy, though pre-law majors may be available. Political science majors tend to be the most common because they focus on providing a thorough education in the legal and political systems of government.

After earning a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to apply for and be accepted into law school. Law schools are graduate programs that typically take three years to complete and result in a juris doctor (J.D.) degree. After graduating from law school, you’ll need to take the bar exam, offered through the American Bar Association. Passing the bar exam and holding a J.D. degree are common requirements for becoming licensed to practice as a prosecutor or defense attorney in your state.

Most begin their careers as public defenders, gaining experience and training in criminal trials before moving into prosecutor roles. Effective public defenders are often promoted into prosecutor roles. Individuals with many years of experience as prosecutors may qualify for promotions into district attorney positions, though in some states, district attorney is an elected position. Some move from prosecutor to assistant district attorney roles before pursuing promotion or election as district attorney.

District Attorney or Prosecutor Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

A District Attorney (DA) is an elected official. The DA’s main responsibility is to prosecute crimes in a designated county or district, but the DA also involves cooperating with law enforcement, managing the office of the prosecutor, considering the facts of a case against an individual to determine if there is enough evidence to file criminal charges, and gathering evidence to bring before a Grand Jury. It is therefore important that the district attorney have administrative as well as prosecutorial skills.

How to become a district attorney

Popular and long-running television shows have considerably glamorized the job of a DA so many enthusiasts are driven to ask how to become district attorney. But becoming a district attorney is not at all a walk in the park. Because of the amount of power that a DA yields, the requirements to become a district attorney go beyond the desire to prosecute criminals or an impeccable law degree. A DA must have great personal strength of character, eloquence and unquestionable ethics. Even the appearance of unethical behavior is enough to ruin any aspirant’s chances of being a district attorney.

Because it is an elected position, a DA must not only be publicly visible but also have the confidence of the constituency. Lawyers who wish to be elected must first have a public presence in some capacity, and excellent professional exposure.

One of the best answers to how do you become a district attorney is to apprentice as a legal assistant in the District Attorney’s office while still a law student. This will not only provide an insider’s view of how the system in a particularly county or district works and the dynamics of the bureaucracy, but also invaluable experience in what is required to prosecute a case. The criminal prosecution process is not glamorous; it entails a lot of backbreaking and often frustrating investigations, cross-checking and evidence analysis. Aside from prosecuting cases, DAs also have to manage a staff of other lawyers, called assistant district attorneys who have to be monitored in putting cases together, field investigators, researchers and legal assistants.

Passing the bar for a particular state is theoretically the first step in how to become a District Attorney. The first thing that you must do, of course, is to attend law school. This is a pre-requisite for all attorneys, so this should not come as a surprise at all. You must also excel while you are attending law school and it always looks better if you attend one of the more prestigious schools in the country. If you are able to get into one of these top notch schools you will have to work hard throughout your academic career, because even one small slipup can cost you all of your hard work. Never let your guard down and make sure that you are fully prepared for every exam. Also, keep in mind that these prestigious schools are looking for people with enough charisma to win important cases.

These schools are putting their reputation on the line with every student that they graduate, so they are extremely careful about the admission and graduation process. If you want to end up as a DA, try to get an internship with the district county while you are in school, as this will look good on a resume later on. In reality, most districts or counties look for candidates among the best performing law students; often there are honors program from which the pool of potential assistant district attorneys and district attorneys is drawn. But that is not always the case.

Next, you must decide on where you want to become an attorney, as you will only be licensed in one state at a time. It is best to look for an economy that is quickly expanding, as these places will probably have more need for district attorneys in the future. If you have interest in a particular city or area, research that city and find out how often they hire people of your skill set. If there are positions already available, then you are ahead of the game because you can get your name out there right away. Even if you lose out to a more experienced person, you can make a good impression, which could get you a job in the future.

Once you have found the place that you wish to practice in, you must pass the bar exam in that state. This exam is necessary in every state, but you must pass it in each individual state that you wish to work in, so it is best to take it after you have made a decision on your location. There is a bar exam website that you can browse in order to figure out exactly what this exam will include. Make sure that you check it out because different states will have different exams.

How does one become a district attorney if there is no honors program offered? The ideal candidate to become a district attorney would have at least one year of postgraduate experience in either general misdemeanors or appellate courts. Trial exposure is invaluable for preparing for district attorney interview questions which tend to deal with hypothetical situations which one may encounter in actual trials with defendants, evidence, arguments and judge’s opinions. The interviews would be the basis for being considered being put up as a candidate for the position of district attorney.

While it is not a prerequisite, obtaining the position as an assistant district attorney increases the chances both of exposure and experience in prosecution. It is easier to answer the question of how to become an assistant district attorney than it is to answer the question of how to become a DA because this is not an elected position. A qualified lawyer may apply to the district or county attorney’s office for an entry level position, and a determined ADA can work his or her way up to deputy district attorney, which is the second in command below the DA. Being part of the prosecuting team is the quickest way to the top slot.

How does one become an assistant district attorney? The application with the cover letter will be assessed by the deputy district attorney mainly on past courtroom experience, so how to become an ADA will depend on how much one has participated in a courtroom, preferably as the lead attorney.It is possible to become a DA without going through the ADA route, but it requires an impressive resume as a trial attorney. Many state and federal judges started their careers in the district attorney’s office. This illustrates how important trial experience is to qualify for a district attorney position.

On successful completion of these steps, you will be fully qualified to become an attorney for a district county. This will be a great step for your career because not only will you make a lot of money, but you will also be held in extremely high regard. Before you will be accepted for any job, however, you will be forced to undergo some rather thorough interviews and must be able to prove that you have the legal skills are that needed to excel. These jobs are usually given to people who have already practiced law in their state for a few years, and they are more likely to have developed these skills. The amount of time and effort that you put into your schooling will definitely be an influence here because the committee that hires you will want to see that you have the work ethic that is needed. While you might be able to smooth over any shortcomings that you might have in the interview, it is best to avoid having anything to explain and work as hard as possible when getting your education.

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A career as a district attorney (DA) is an excellent option for those who care about truth and justice and would like to work in public service. There are a lot of things you need to do to enter into this profession and succeed. Here is what we recommend.

Understand Your Role

In order to succeed in your career you must know what is expected of you at all times. As a DA, you will be required to prosecute criminals with the aim of rectifying their wrongdoings and making them better members of the public. You will be required to exercise your duties without fear or favor and work to promote truth and justice. Other duties will include analyzing and gathering evidence to identify facts surrounding a particular case and controlling proceedings at the court.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Most district attorneys begin their profession as lawyers who specialize in criminal law. To get an admission in law school, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree from a college or university recognized by the American Bar Association. The degree should be in law or anything related. Find a school that has a good reputation.

Obtain a Juris Doctor (J.D.) Degree

You need to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. The degree takes two to three years to complete. It may take more years if you attend part-time classes. The courses covered include trial experience, criminal procedure, best practices during prosecution and criminal justice. These courses will equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to gather evidence, run court proceedings and prosecute criminals.

Go for Internship

You need to seek an internship in a reputable institution to help you get practical experience. There are many places you can join, and each can help you acquire new skills and build your confidence in prosecution. Some places you can join include judicial clerkships, law review institutions, government law offices and private law firms.

Get Admitted to the Bar

Apart from obtaining a law degree, you need to be a member of the American Bar Association before you are considered an attorney. You will be required to take the bar exam, satisfy moral and character requirements and take the multi-state professional responsibility exam. The bar exams come in February and July and usually last for two to three days, depending on the state you live in.

Gain Trial Experience

The work of district attorneys is serious and more advanced, so you need to gain some work experience for you to perform well. Most district attorneys are selected from a list of assistant district attorneys. You might first need to apply for a position as an assistant district attorney to increase your employment prospects. You can also enhance your experience elsewhere, preferably in criminal justice and defense.

Put More Emphasis on Trial Experience

As a law professional who is looking to become a DA, you need to build a strong trial experience. You need to learn how the courtroom works and how to advocate for your clients in a clear and persuasive manner.

Find The Best District Attorney Jobs For You

Where do you want to work?

Working as a District Attorney

You’ve probably heard of the term ‘D.A.’ in crime shows and police movies, but what exactly does a D.A. or district attorney do?

By definition, a district attorney is a lawyer who is elected by local government officials to represent the state government in criminal cases that are brought in a judicial district. Their duties include reviewing police reports, determining whether to charge the arrested people and prosecuting cases in court.

As you would probably expect, the job of a district attorney is far from easy. They usually manage a large amount of caseload to prepare for hearings or litigation. On top of that, they also perform various admin tasks like issuing subpoenas and screening depositions apart from their main duties in court.

The road to becoming a district attorney is a long one. An aspiring D.A. will have to earn an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited bachelor’s degree, go to law school, complete an internship, pass the bar, get trial experience, and finally, succeed in enough cases to become selected as the district attorney.

If this sounds like a lot of work, consider it as an investment for a yearly salary that can go up to around $76,000 a year.

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to being a district attorney. For example, did you know that they make an average of $26.95 an hour? That’s $56,050 a year!

Between 2018 and 2028, the career is expected to grow 6% and produce 50,100 job opportunities across the U.S.

What Does a District Attorney Do

There are certain skills that many district attorneys have in order to accomplish their responsibilities. By taking a look through resumes, we were able to narrow down the most common skills for a person in this position. We discovered that a lot of resumes listed analytical skills, interpersonal skills and problem-solving skills.

When it comes to the most important skills required to be a district attorney, we found that a lot of resumes listed 12.9% of district attorneys included legal advice, while 11.7% of resumes included criminal cases, and 10.9% of resumes included pre-trial motions. Hard skills like these are helpful to have when it comes to performing essential job responsibilities.

When it comes to searching for a job, many search for a key term or phrase. Instead, it might be more helpful to search by industry, as you might be missing jobs that you never thought about in industries that you didn’t even think offered positions related to the district attorney job title. But what industry to start with? Most district attorneys actually find jobs in the health care and non profits industries.

How To Become a District Attorney

If you’re interested in becoming a district attorney, one of the first things to consider is how much education you need. We’ve determined that 26.6% of district attorneys have a bachelor’s degree. In terms of higher education levels, we found that 8.9% of district attorneys have master’s degrees. Even though most district attorneys have a college degree, it’s possible to become one with only a high school degree or GED.

Choosing the right major is always an important step when researching how to become a district attorney. When we researched the most common majors for a district attorney, we found that they most commonly earn doctoral degree degrees or bachelor’s degree degrees. Other degrees that we often see on district attorney resumes include master’s degree degrees or associate degree degrees.

You may find that experience in other jobs will help you become a district attorney. In fact, many district attorney jobs require experience in a role such as law clerk. Meanwhile, many district attorneys also have previous career experience in roles such as internship or legal extern.

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Discover how to become an assistant district attorney. Learn about job duties, education requirements, salary, and job outlook to determine if a job as an assistant district attorney is a good fit for you.

Career Information at a Glance

Assistant district attorneys are lawyers who work in a the district attorneys office and represent the government in criminal cases. They work with district attorneys in order to make decisions regarding what cases should be brought to trial and gathering of information in preparation for trial, and developing the arguments to be presented at trial. Check out the table below for quick info on the requirements and responsibilities of the career.

Degree Required Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Key Skills Communication skills, analytical skills, speaking and writing skills
Licensure State license required
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 6% (for all lawyers)
Median Salary (2018)* $120,910 (for all lawyers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Responsibilities of an Assistant District Attorney?

Assistant district attorneys support district attorneys, or prosecutors, as they prepare to file suit or charge an individual or group that has broken the law. ADAs may try their own cases or assist the district attorney in a larger case. The workload of an assistant district attorney includes tasks such as reviewing evidence, interviewing witnesses, preparing legal documents, and prosecuting accused criminals.

What Are the Educational Requirements?

To be an assistant district attorney, approximately 7 years of study is required. The first four years of study are spent earning a bachelor’s degree, which is needed prior to entering law school. Law school accounts for the about 3 years of study and results in a Juris Doctor (J.D.). Applicants are required to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) prior to entrance into law school as well.

What Are the Licensure Requirements?

Assistant district attorneys, like all lawyers, are required to take and pass the bar exam for the state where they will work. The specific requirements vary based upon the state and jurisdiction. For most states, graduation from an ABA-accredited law school, the passage of the bar exam, and approval of an admittance board are required before one can practice law.

How Much Can I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual salary of $120,910 for all lawyers as of May 2018. This rate reflects lawyers who worked full time, with many working more than 40 hours per week in order to conduct research and adequately prepare documents or cases. The top industries worked in were federal, state, and local government as well as legal services.

What Is the Job Outlook?

The BLS projects a growth of 6% among all lawyers between 2018-2028. This growth is on par with the average for all occupations. The prospects for lawyers are favorable as trends show there will be a continued need for prosecution of criminal cases. However, competition for a job as an assistant district attorney will likely be high due to an increasingly large number of qualified candidates graduating from law school and seeking employment.

Becoming a lawyer is an ambitious goal that is attainable when you know what steps to follow to achieve it. Over the following pages, you will learn how to become a lawyer in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as in the Canadian provinces and territories. All of the educational, experiential, entrance and licensing requirements as well as other factors needed to qualify to become a licensed attorney in each jurisdiction and to maintain that licensure are explained here.

View Your State Requirements

Education and Examinations Steps Necessary To Become a Lawyer/Attorney

Lawyers are needed today more than ever before, within a side variety of specialties that have arisen due to recent changes in technology, foreign and domestic policy, and health care. More and more attorneys are receiving specialized training to become immigration lawyers, intellectual property specialists, environmental lawyers, and employment and labor lawyers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a projected increase of four percent in the amount of job opportunities available for lawyers is expected over the next decade, adding 32,300 new jobs by 2029. As of May 2019, lawyers in the United States averaged $122,960 per year. However, this comfortable salary does not come easily. Becoming a lawyer in any jurisdiction requires years of undergraduate and graduate education, passing challenging examinations, and maintaining licensure through continuing education.

If you are interested in pursuing a career as a lawyer/attorney, choose the education level below that best suits your needs:

Featured Law School:

How to become a district attorney

The first step towards becoming a lawyer in any jurisdiction is to obtain pre-law education, or get your undergraduate degree. There are no undergraduate majors that are guaranteed to ensure your future success in law school or as an attorney. However, the ABA suggests certain undergraduate majors over others, such as English, history, political science, philosophy, business, or economics. When choosing your undergraduate institution, make sure that it is accredited by a regional or national accreditation agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education (USDE).

After completing your undergraduate education, you are ready to register to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). This standardized exam is offered four times per year at testing centers worldwide. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exam is being offered online as of 2020-21. View this page for more information on preparing to take the exam, what to expect on exam day, and what scores are necessary to be admitted to an ABA-approved law school.

Once you have passed the LSAT, you will apply for and be accepted into the ABA-approved law school of your choice. As of 2020, there are 199 institutions and programs that confer the Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree that have been approved by the ABA. When you registered to take the LSAT in Step 2 above, you will have created an account at LSAC.org. You also will have paid a fee to utilize the LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS) which will organize your admission documents and apply to ABA-approved law schools for you, streamlining the process.

Upon graduation from law school, you will become eligible to take the bar examination in the state in which you wish to become a licensed lawyer/attorney (as long as you meet all of your state’s other bar admission requirements, which you can find in the NCBEX Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements). You will wish to prepare well for your state’s bar exam, using resources that each state’s bar association suggests.

Now That You’ve Been Admitted to Your State’s Bar, make sure that you know your state’s continuing education requirements for maintaining licensure.

If your state offers legal specialization and this interests you, you might consider pursuing it. For example, California offers its own State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization that allows you to become certified in a variety of areas, including family law, maritime law and immigration law.

You should also consider joining elective membership organizations for lawyers in your state. Within most states, there are professional organizations for lawyers who specialize in certain areas, as well as for minorities such as women and African Americans.

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How to become a district attorney

A deputy district attorney is an attorney who works under the elected or appointed district attorney in a given jurisdiction. The district attorney’s office is responsible for prosecuting criminals at either the state or federal level within the United States. The path followed to become a deputy district attorney requires many years of formal education followed by licensing in the state where the individual plans to work.

Anyone who plans to become a deputy district attorney must first complete a four-year bachelor’s degree in the major of his or her choice. While there is no official “pre-law” major, common majors for students who plan to continue on to law school include business, political science, and philosophy. For a student who is certain that he or she plans to become a deputy district attorney, an undergraduate degree in criminology or a similar field is also an option.

After undergraduate school, a law-school hopeful must take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and apply. Admission to law school is highly competitive and is often based on the LSAT score, the undergraduate grade point average, and activities or work experience completed while in undergraduate school. The student must then complete three years of law school culminating in the receipt of a juris doctorate degree,

For a student who aspires to become a deputy district attorney, he or she should take advantage of any internship or clinic opportunities offered while in law school. Many law schools offer criminal law clinics where students have the opportunity to represent real clients under the supervision of a practicing attorney or professor. In addition, many local prosecutor or district attorney offices hire summer or school-year interns which can give a student valuable firsthand experience as well as an excellent reference.

After law school, the final step required to practice law is to become licensed with the state Supreme Court. Along with passing the state bar examination, an applicant must also pass the multi-state professional responsibility exam (MPRE). In addition, a character and fitness background check is also typically required.

Once licensed, an attorney who desires to become a deputy district attorney must then apply to a local or federal district attorney’s office when an opening becomes available. If an opening is not readily available with the district attorney’s office, an attorney may wish to consider applying for the local or federal public defender’s office. Experience as a defense attorney is often considered a valuable asset when applying to be a deputy district attorney.

How to Become a Police Cadet

There’s a lot of reasons to become an investigator: maybe you care about truth and justice, or maybe you are hoping that you’ll be another Sherlock Holmes. District attorney investigators conduct investigations, both independently and as part of a larger team. They must have solid intuition, strong initiative, and precise judgment to conduct their investigations. The ability to assess an investigation as “elementary” doesn’t hurt, either.

Step 1

Contact the district attorney’s office in your area to determine how much higher education you need for the job. The requirements may be different in certain states, but generally require at least two years of higher education with classes in criminology, police science, public administration, business administration, or fields that closely relate to these.

Step 2

Verify the work experience required by calling the district attorney’s office. For experience, you generally need at least three years of experience as a peace officer with responsibilities that include investigation. Years as a police woman or a soldier can help, but forget about lighter assignments — like your tenure as as mall security. For licensing, you generally need a valid state driver’s license and the equivalent of an intermediary certificate in your state’s peace officer training.

Step 3

Complete at least three years of classes as a police officer: this time will be a lot less fun than the Police Academy movies made it seem. If you do not already have all of the minimum requirements previously mentioned, you must complete them before you can search and apply for district attorney investigator jobs.

Step 4

Search for jobs. Check with district attorney’s offices in the local area, and consult any of your old contacts on the police force who may know of openings. Visit city, county and state websites to scope out openings. Determine which jobs require that you be a local resident: this can allows you to focus on jobs that might be easier to obtain.

Step 5

Apply for your chosen job. In your cover letter, do the usual song-and-dance about how your specific experiences and education concerning the law make you the best candidate. It doesn’t hurt to tug on their heartstrings a bit in your cover letter: emphasize the passion you have for safeguarding the law and ensuring the safety of your family and your community.