How To Become A Prosecutor
Career Video: Prosecutor
Do you have an investigative prowess and desire to seek justice? Are you evidence-oriented, capable of putting your personal biases aside for the sake of upholding the truth? Are you a gifted and eloquent communicator, using passion and persuasion to prove your points? If you can identify with these questions and you have a desire to protect the public from criminal predators, you may find a career as a prosecutor rewarding.
Why Become A Prosecutor
A prosecutor, or prosecuting attorney, works on behalf of the district attorney’s (DA) office for which he or she works. When a crime occurs, the alleged assailant (future defendant) is arrested and charged with the offense. It is up to the prosecutor to build a case against the defendant in order to obtain a criminal conviction on behalf of the DA’s office, which is the legal representative of a city, county, state, or federal government.
There are varying types of prosecutors, depending on the types of criminal action and level of government. The president of the United States appoints U.S. attorneys, who work with assistant U.S. attorneys to investigate and prosecute federal crimes, consisting mostly of corruption, trafficking, and white-collar criminal cases. State, county, and city (municipal) district attorneys prosecute the majority of cases. Many municipalities are large enough to divide criminal cases up into various departments. The size of the prosecutorial team depends on the crime committed and size of jurisdiction. Each case has a lead prosecutor and deputy, or assistant, attorneys to support this role.
The ultimate job of a prosecutor is to convince a judge or jury that the accused is guilty of the crime, beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the government’s burden to gather evidence and present it to all parties involved. To perform their jobs, prosecutors are responsible for conducting interviews, finding witnesses, investigating details of the case, creating an angle regarding motive, presenting the facts of the case, and communicating with the courts’ many officials (defense and judge). Their role requires prudent investigative skills and other esteemed qualities:
- Sense of authority
- Excellent communicator
- Legal expert
- Critical thinking and analytical skills
- Emotional strength
Prosecutor Work Environment
Prosecutors’ home bases consist of government offices; however, because of the nature of their work, they travel among various locations to conduct interviews and review evidence. Often, their jobs consist of stressful circumstances, and they may have to travel to prisons, jails, youth homes, hospitals, or shelters. Conducting interviews with victims may be a difficult task, and researching the events of a crime may be emotionally distressing.
The work day of a prosecutor is typically long, and even when they are not “on the job”, they are usually preparing for their cases. When prosecutors work larger or more serious cases, the preparation stage may be all-consuming.
The median annual salary of a prosecutor is $62,241. Salary is typically contingent on years of experience. Prosecuting attorneys can earn a salary from $53,000 to $102,000, per year. Geographic location and level of responsibility may also alter salaries. Most entry-level positions will pay toward the lower end of the pay scale.
Prosecutor Career Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that occupations for all lawyers will increase by 10 percent for the next few years. Government budgetary constraints may make finding a job as a prosecutor more difficult than that of a defense attorney working for a private firm.
Any person wishing to practice law must have a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. This law degree can be acquired after completing a bachelor’s program. In order to practice, lawyers must also have a state bar license.
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. There is no specific pre-law bachelor’s program; however, many aspiring lawyers earn degrees in English, philosophy, business, or political science. It is imperative that lawyers have excellent communication and debating skills. For these reasons, it is important to take courses that will improve one’s reading, writing, speaking, and problem-solving skills.
Step 2: Obtain a Juris Doctor degree. After earning a bachelor’s degree, aspiring prosecutors must attend law school and earn a Juris Doctor degree. This degree typically takes students three years to complete. Admission into law school is contingent upon students’ Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores.
Law school prepares students to practice law, providing basic knowledge and opportunities to hone specific skills. Toward the end of law school, students will take courses that help them to specialize; prosecutors will most likely take courses in criminal law.
Step 3: Obtain a state bar license. Each state has its own requirements for licensure; however, every prosecuting attorney must pass the written bar exam. In many states, the requirements also include passing the Multistate Bar Examination as well as various other exams that test ethics and other aspects of practicing law.