Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail

Ask the Experts

Q:I am a former paralegal as well as a former Albuquerque cop and former DEA special agent. I will be finishing law school in California and then be ready to take the New York bar. I would love to work at a District Attorney's Office, but my problem is that my training has all been academic with no real hands on experience. I would like to know how to go about getting a position as an Assistant District Attorney office and whether my lack of hands on experience will hurt my chances.

A: Working as a prosecutor can be an incredibly rewarding career path, and obtaining a position as an ADA will require significant career planning on your part. In hiring recent law school graduates for ADA positions, a DA's office typically seeks applicants with a superior academic record, strong legal research and writing skills, an interest in criminal law, and a commitment to public service. Most ADAs are hired directly out of law school, while a few are hired as laterals. The deadline for applying directly from law school is usually in the fall of the third year of law school, around October or November. You mentioned that you will be finishing law school in California, so if you are in your third year then you should be ready to apply in the next couple of months. You should contact the district attorney offices you are interested in to learn their application procedures and deadlines.

It should be noted that given the current state of the economy, securing a position as an ADA will be especially tough. Hence, in addition to focusing on presenting a strong application, you might also consider alternatives to immediately applying for an ADA position. First, regarding your application, you should highlight your prior experience as a police officer and special DEA agent as it gives you a competitive edge by demonstrating a strong commitment to criminal law and prosecution. As for alternatives to immediately applying for the ADA position, volunteering at a DA's office is a good way to learn the process of investigating, preparing and prosecuting a case. In today's economy, many law students and lawyers are seeking out volunteer work with a DA's office or other public interest organization so as to hone their research, writing and advocacy skills while they hold other positions and wait for hiring to pick up again. Finally, this is a good time to start developing networks, particularly with other lawyers doing criminal prosecution. A good place to start would be the city or state bar association along with law school alumni events. These are good venues, not just to seek out networks but also to find potential mentors with whom you can further discuss your career plans and who can point you towards additional steps that you must take to obtain an ADA position.