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District Attorney


The District Attorney is an elected or appointed non-partisan official that prosecutes criminal cases on behalf of city, county, state, or federal government. The D.A. is elected every four years.

These lawyers prosecute people on behalf of the government. Their client is society, and they represent us against people who are accused of violating US statutes or who have breached the Criminal Code through acts of theft, murder, and arson.

When a case is presented to the Office of the District Attorney the D.A. will examine the evidence, the witness testimony, and, after consulting with other employees of the Office of the District Attorney, recommend whether or not the trial will proceed.

The D.A. must collect evidence for the grand jury, decide which cases are worthy of trial and decide what charges should be filed against each accused offender. The D.A. has the authority to plea bargain with the accused person. It's the D.A.'s prerogative whether or not to offer a plea bargain or to take a case to trial.

Lawyers who work on behalf of clients will drop a case if requested. But if a victim or a victim's family wants a case dropped, the D.A. is required to carry on, due to the fact that they are not working on behalf of the victims, they are working on behalf of society in general. If the outcome of the case is not what the D.A. was hoping for, it may be re-tried at a higher level of court.

During high-profile cases, D.A.s are required to interact with the media, giving details and facts about the trial.

All lawyers have a very important role to play in the judicial system in the United States, and their jobs can be quite exciting. But the job of D.A. is special, in that these lawyers represent society. They are accountable not only to the government they represent, be it state or federal, but also to the public. Often, the cases they bring about and try are widely publicised, and followed by media and the public. This can be a high-profile, stressful job, and only dedicated, motivated lawyers are encouraged to join the field.
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  Interests and Skills  
All D.A.s need to be computer literate, analytical, and level-headed. They should be calm, able to deal effectively with stress, and to think logically and come up with good solutions on the spot. They should be ethical, moral, believers in the importance of justice, and willing to work hard to see it done. A D.A. needs to be trustworthy, and a sensitive, concise communicator. They should be tactful, firm, and respectful even during tense and heated arguments. D.A.s must have fantastic memories, and be able to call up details and past events while advising and representing clients. A D.A. needs to be persuasive, convincing, and sincere. They need to be excellent public speakers, as well as shrewd and competent negotiators.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Examine police evidence, determine feasibility of case
  • Sometimes required to do their own investigations to determine whether the case should go to court
  • Prepare arguments, rebuttals for court
  • Interview witnesses and victims, both inside and outside court
  • Negotiate plea bargains (this is when the suspect pleads guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence) with defendants and their lawyers
  • Ask judge for appropriate sentence, one which matches the crime
  • Work alongside other lawyers and judges
  • Give interviews with media
  • The D.A.'s job is different from a regular lawyer's, in that the position is dictated by society, and not the whims and needs of individuals. D.A.s will find themselves meeting with police and detectives, victims, and witnesses, in offices, police departments, or hospitals. A D.A. will spend a lot of time researching past cases in law libraries, negotiating plea bargains with lawyers, and consulting with other Attorneys, if appropriate. A D.A. will most likely work long hours, but as a government employee, holidays and weekends off can be expected. However, a D.A. may be required to work some evenings and weekends, depending on the case.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • A D.A.'s will work in federal, state, or territorial law offices, courthouses, and courtrooms. They will work long hours, in the library and writing reports as well as talking and listening at length in courtrooms. A D.A. will work alongside other lawyers, either pushing together for a verdict or hammering out plea bargains. A D.A. will also work in the limelight at times, especially if the trial is well documented.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Anyone working as a D.A. has plenty of options. They can move from state to federal government, they can leave government service and open or join a firm. They can then move up the ladder, eventually becoming a senior partner. Some move on to become judges, department heads in the government, or find work as government diplomats. Some lawyers go on to teach, write, or tour as a lecturer. Others still might choose to advise producers making lawyer shows for television and film.

  Educational Paths  
Aspiring D.A.s will need some undergraduate studies at a university; just how much depends on the law school they plan on attending. Some programs require only 10 full courses, while some require a full degree.

Many colleges offer "pre-law" programs and courses, but you can take your undergraduate degree in any major. You can choose a major in accounting, finance, economics, business, literature, history, political science, logic, philosophy, language, psychology or sociology.

A background in history and political science is helpful because our laws are a product of our culture, history and governmental structure. Psychology and sociology give a student an understanding of human interaction as both an individual and as part of society. Business majors may be helpful due to a large number of law courses that deal with business transactions. Course s that promote analytical thinking, such as philosophy, math and natural science courses is an asset in developing the skills of a competent lawyer. None of these subject areas are "required" for entrance to law school. However, a very important criteria for admission to law school is one's G.P.A. Choose a major that holds interest for you.

Before you can even apply to law school, aspiring lawyers must write the LSAT, a test which determines your aptitude. A person should not take the exam until the completion of three academic years of college. Depending on the LSAT score and university grades (GPA), students would go on to complete the three year law degree program. Once there, individuals can specialize in the area of law they want to study and practice.

After graduating from the law degree program, individuals must pass a bar exam to become a licensed lawyer.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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