Prosecutors are government employees at the local, state, or federal level.
Criminal lawyers are employed by law firms that provide criminal defense services to clients. Others own their own firms.
Public defenders work at the local, state, and federal level. As employees of the government of a county or state, they work out of a designated public defender’s office, often handling 100 or more cases at a time. Those working at the federal level handle about 30 to 50 cases at a time. Though federal public defenders are responsible for fewer clients at time, their cases are often more complex. Public defenders can also find employment at nonprofit agencies, such as the Legal Aid Society. These holistic or community-based agencies offer legal representation and other services including social service and education.
Job seekers can learn about employment opportunities via their law school’s career services office, networking events, membership in professional bar associations, legal industry job sites, and by visiting the Web sites of court systems, law firms, public defender offices, and nonprofit organizations that employ criminal lawyers.
Local and state prosecutor offices seek experienced attorneys, but may consider new graduates with extensive clerkship or internship experience. The District of Columbia’s Office of the Attorney General, for example, has positions available for those completing honors programs at Washington, D.C., law schools or clerkships at the local or federal level. The U.S. Department of Justice seeks experienced attorneys, especially those with extensive courtroom experience. Some positions also demand specialized experience or knowledge. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice’s intellectual property division may require its attorneys to have expertise regarding information technology. Visit http://www.usdoj.gov/oarm and https://www.justice.gov/usao/career-center for more information on employment with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Assistant prosecutors may advance by becoming supervising prosecutors. All prosecutors may seek to advance by earning higher pay, taking on more complex or demanding cases, or by achieving recognition from professional associations or the public. Some prosecutors go on to become judges, FBI agents, politicians, and law professors. Others pursue lucrative and rewarding careers as lawyers in the private sector.
Defense attorneys advance by earning higher pay, taking on managerial duties, moving to more prestigious firms, becoming partners at their firms, or opening their own law practices. Some become judges or law professors.
Attorneys working as public defenders have an edge over those in other specialties because they have the opportunity to gain litigation and courtroom experience almost from the start of their careers. Many use this experience in public defense as a background to pursue other options including teaching, private practice, or government office. Others find the work both challenging and rewarding, and choose to devote their entire careers to public defense—enjoying the work atmosphere and camaraderie with their coworkers. They either continue to work as public defenders or seek promotion or election to the position of chief public defender.
Tips for Entry
As an undergraduate, participate in an internship at a courthouse, law firm, or other legal employer
Conduct information interviews with criminal lawyers and ask them for advice on preparing for and entering the field.
Use the NALP Directory of Legal Employers (http://www.nalpdirectory.com) to search for employers by location, employer type, practice areas, and other criteria.
Visit the following Web sites for job listings:
Visit https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/careers/docs/legal-careers-brochure.pdf to read Choose Justice: Guide to the U.S. Department of Justice for Law Students and Experienced Attorneys.