Interview with an Assistant District Attorney

Posted March 13, 2012 by

I am one of that rare breed: I work in the field that first fired my imagination. Some little boys want to be astronauts; I wanted to put criminals in jail. Two years ago, I graduated from law school and took a job as a law clerk for a trial court judge. One year after that, I took a position with the District Attorney’s office. Every day I go to work, stand up in front of a judge, and try my best to put criminals in prison.

Most of the work I do is fairly routine. Television fosters the idea that prosecutors spend every waking moment grandstanding for the jury. The reality is much more mundane – jury trials are difficult and time consuming. If every criminal in the United States faced a jury before being sentenced, the justice system would grind to a halt. We sign plea bargains in well over ninety percent of our cases; we do not have enough resources or personnel to do anything else.

Still, the work is extremely satisfying. Unlike those in corporate or personal injury law, most prosecutors find their jobs satisfying and their lives fulfilling. One of my professors in law school told me, “Look, if you work in prosecution, your job will be stressful, and you won’t get paid a lot. But every once in a while, you’ll get the chance to nail a bad guy to a wall, and nothing compares to that feeling.” I often think back to that conversation.

There are frustrating cases, however. Most of the time, when you are prosecuting a case, you wind up with an outcome that feels right. The bad ones, the career criminals and violent offenders, they wind up spending a lot of years in a tiny cell, while the people with the capacity to change their lives usually get the second chance they deserve. Occasionally, however, decent, law-abiding people wind up sitting in court. Usually it’s just a bizarre set of circumstances, and everyone can agree they did little, if anything, wrong, even though they technically broke the law. But some of these people, they are so convinced they were in the right, they will not listen to reason. They refuse to apologize, show remorse, or take a plea bargain. As a result, they get hit much harder than they should.

Prosecutors do not get wealthy; I have over $100,000 in student loans, and earn just under $55,000 a year. As for vacation time, I am like most government employees – I am underpaid in comparison to what I could earn in the private sector, but the job is economically feasible because of the excellent benefits package. Last year, I had twenty-five paid days off. My sick days come out of that number, but I still had twenty days in my account at the end of beach season, and I am certainly not going to complain about a three week vacation.

To those considering a pursuing a career in law, I would say this: The legal field is sickeningly overpopulated. Many of the lawyers I graduated with still have not found a solid job. As much as I love my job, I struggled through painful months of debilitating rejection before getting my first offer. Practicing law can be thrilling, but it is difficult and stressful. Jobs are scarce, and the paychecks are not commensurate with the sacrifices the profession requires. Law is satisfying only if you pursue it because it fascinates and excites you. It is a nightmare for those who pursue it because they think it is an easy ticket to a fat paycheck.

Good lawyers can have very different skill sets, but one movie stereotype is true – if you do not want to work in contract law or spend your days filing income tax returns, you will need to be good with words. We are not all silver-tongued Perry Mason clones, but all of us spend the bulk of our waking hours manipulating the language. You have to be good at it, and you have to enjoy doing it.

For all its pitfalls, one of the exciting things about the legal profession is the freedom it offers. I could take a job practicing law in a dozen different subjects. I could travel to any state that will recognize my license. Every day, I meet new people, and have to wrap my head around the intricacies of another batch of cases. In a few years, I could take a job in Manhattan with a big firm, or work in a storefront office down the street from the courthouse. To be honest, however, in five years, I will probably be exactly where I am right now. I do not want to be anywhere else.

This is a true story as told to JustJobs Academy which houses career interviews and job search advice for professionals in any industry.  Visit to read about how to search for the perfect job and get promoted once you’ve found it.

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