The American legal system is an adversarial system. In criminal justice, the adversaries are the people, or society, standing against a defendant who's charged with a crime. While trial attorneys, more commonly called defense attorneys in criminal cases, advocate for defendants, the people are represented by prosecuting attorneys. Another name for a prosecuting attorney is district attorney, with DAs typically employing assistant district attorneys, or ADAs.
A district attorney is an elected official of a county or another municipal division who has jurisdiction over the prosecution of crimes. In most places, a DA has at least one assistant district attorney serving beneath him. Only the DA runs for elected office, though, while ADAs are public employees working within the DA's office. Many, though not all, ADAs come fresh from law school so that they can gain valuable trial experience while also serving society.
Assistant District Attorneys
If you're a new law school graduate or a practicing lawyer and want to work as an ADA you must find an opening. Yale Law School publishes a guide for aspiring prosecuting attorneys that is a useful resource. Lawyers seeking ADA positions typically supply resumes, law school transcripts, writing samples and academic and professional references. According to Yale, competition for ADA jobs is extremely high, and you must be a U.S. citizen and also undergo a thorough background check.
Finding ADA Jobs
Larger cities and more populous counties naturally have more assistant district attorney jobs available than their smaller city and county counterparts. If you are interested in an ADA position, check with district attorney offices in places you would like to work. DA offices hire new law school graduates as well as at-large attorney candidates and may solicit for applications or post job openings. Legal jobs websites as well as career employment websites and boards also may post ADA positions. Who knows whom counts, too, so if you have any family, school or political connections close to the legal system, ask for help.
Other DA Jobs
District attorney offices also employ investigators and support staff such as paralegals, law clerks and administrative assistants. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office, for example, manages investigator and support staff opportunities through its human resources division. Most employees of a district attorney's office are civil servants, and job applications may be posted online. Because district attorney offices are involved in sensitive legal work, you may undergo an extensive job application process, including background investigations.
District Attorney Salaries
Salaries in district attorney offices vary by position and years of experience and are typically pegged to civil service pay scales. For instance, Yale Law School lists 2010 salaries of new ADAs in several big city or county DA offices that range from $40,000 to $60,000 annually. "The Texas Tribune" website, however, shows Harris County, Texas, in which Houston sits, with median ADA salaries of $137,574. The Career Bliss website shows a North Carolina assistant district attorney salary at $85,000 yearly.
- The Free Dictionary: Adversary System
- Yale Law School: Criminal Prosecution
- Pueblo Colorado: What Does the District Attorney Do?
- Los Angeles District Attorney's Office: Prepare for a Career as a Deputy District Attorney
- ULaw Today: How I Got My Prosecution Job
- The Texas Tribune: Assistant District Attorney Salaries at Harris County
- Career Bliss: State of North Carolina Assistant District Attorney
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images