How To Become a District Attorney

District attorneys (DAs) are required to hold a Juris Doctor degree, in addition to passing a state bar exam. Working to prosecute criminal offenses, DAs must either be elected or appointed by the government.

The district attorney career involves reviewing evidence in criminal cases and determining whether cases should be brought to trial. Eligibility to become a district attorney requires a legal education and state licensure as an attorney. After building legal experience, potential district attorneys can seek appointment or election in their districts and typically serve 4-year terms, but the length can vary between jurisdictions.

An aspiring D.A. will have to earn an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited bachelor’s degree, go to law school, complete an internship, pass the bar, get trial experience, and finally, succeed in enough cases to become selected as the district attorney.
  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree. …
  2. Get an internship. …
  3. Take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) …
  4. Apply to law school. …
  5. Pursue a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. …
  6. Gain experience during law school. …
  7. Gain admission to the bar exam in your state. …
  8. Meet other jurisdiction requirements.

The Path to Becoming a District Attorney

What does a district attorney do?

District attorneys represent their states government in their local area through a variety of duties. Here are some common district attorney duties:

What is a district attorney?

A district attorney is a lead prosecutor that represents the state government in a local government area. Theyre also lawyers who represent the state in a variety of criminal cases. Depending on their jurisdiction, district attorneys may supervise attorneys and various administrative staff.

Salary for district attorneys

Since district attorneys are also lawyers, they need to meet several education requirements before applying for their state licensure as an attorney. Understanding the requirements and what they involve may improve your chances of securing employment as a district attorney. Use these steps to pursue a career as a district attorney:

1. Earn a bachelors degree

Start your educational path toward becoming a district attorney by pursuing a bachelors degree. While you dont need to complete a specific bachelors degree program for law school, some common majors for this profession include English, history, criminal justice, philosophy and political science. These majors include general studies and both core and elective major courses. To gain admission into law school, make sure to choose a degree program thats recognized by the American Bar Association.

2. Get an internship

Consider getting experience by completing an internship during your undergraduate years. While not always required, an internship at a law firm or a government office such as the district attorneys office provides you with real-world experience and a preview of what to expect after law school.

3. Take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)

Prior to taking the LSAT, consider signing up for a preparatory course. You can also hire a tutor to help you prepare. Once you feel prepared, take the LSAT. If youre not satisfied with your score, you can take the test again.

4. Apply to law school

Apply to a law school and aim to maintain strong reputation. While it helps to earn an education from a reputable school, it doesnt decide your future if you choose a less prestigious school.

Keep in mind that the American Bar Association doesnt accredit all law schools. Some schools only permit graduates from accredited law schools to take the bar exam. Review your states policy if you plan to attend a non-accredited law school.

5. Pursue a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree

Earn a J.D. degree. This degree program involves you foundational coursework in bar-tested subjects, as well as a variety of electives. Make sure to perform well in classes like criminal procedure and trial practice. You can include your high grades on your resume when you seek employment later on.

6. Gain experience during law school

Look for ways to gain professional, industry experience during law school. The workforce offers many opportunities for you to gain practical experience and grow your professional network.

For example, you can intern for a government office or a private firm, work at a clinic, pursue a judicial clerkship, join a club or an association or write for your schools law review journal. Making connections through these avenues may lead to job offers or referrals after your law school graduation.

7. Gain admission to the bar exam in your state

Take the bar exam in your state. While you need to earn a law degree to become a district attorney, you also need to pass the bar to practice law in your state. You can take the bar exam in February or July. It typically lasts for two or three days, though, this timeframe depends on your state. Consider taking a bar preparation course to help you prepare. Keep in mind that if you dont pass the exam, you can try again.

8. Meet other jurisdiction requirements

In addition to passing the bar exam, youre subject to other requirements from your jurisdiction. Each jurisdiction reviews your moral character and the fitness of each bar applicant. It also reviews any criminal issues, untreated illnesses such as substance abuse or mental illness, your financial responsibility and your truthfulness. Keep these in mind as your prepare to enter the field. Some jurisdictions also require you to take the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam or a judicial ethics exam.

9. Gain professional experience

Acquire professional experience to prepare you for a career as a district attorney. Typically, district attorneys get elected or appointed as assistant district attorneys whove worked their way up in their workplace. Aim to secure employment as an assistant district attorney in a district attorneys office. Keep in mind that you may need at least 10 years of experience as an assistant district attorney before becoming a district attorney.

If you cant secure employment as an assistant district attorney, gain legal experience in a related field like criminal defense and continue to apply for jobs in the districts attorneys office.

10. Get elected or appointed district attorney

Depending on your jurisdiction, you may get elected or appointed district attorney. Create a platform that addresses important issues to the public. Tailor your message to voters and let them know why its important for them to vote for you.

Then, file with the local election board and run a strong campaign. Keep in mind that your state and its state bar have different campaigning rules. Contact your local election board to review these rules.

Depending on your jurisdiction, you may have to apply to the district attorneys office for appointment consideration. Contact the office or person who plans on making the appointment for their guidance and instruction.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about becoming a district attorney:

How can you improve your chances of securing employment as a district attorney?

There are many ways for you to increase the likelihood of getting hired as a district attorney. For example, you can focus on gaining trial experience or aim to get assigned high-profile cases. Gaining trial experience can help you argue cases before a judge and jury, while volunteering high-profile cases can get your name recognized in the community.

How often do district attorneys run for office?

District attorneys run for office every four years. Their elections are held at the same time as the election for governor in a local area.

What is the work environment like for a district attorney?

District attorneys spend most of their time in the district attorneys office. They also spend time in courtrooms, in law libraries and in various legal offices.

FAQ

How are US district attorneys selected?

U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and they serve terms of four years or at the President’s discretion.

Where do district attorneys get paid most?

District Attorneys make the most in San Francisco, CA at $113,727, averaging total compensation 47% greater than the US average.

How can I become a district attorney in India?

To become a district attorney, legal education, a membership in any state bar council and state licensure as an attorney is required. 10+2 or its equivalent and any degree from a recognized university are the minimum qualifications required for joining 5 year LLB course and 3 year LLB course respectively.

Is being a prosecutor hard?

With a high number of eligible candidates and a limited number of positions, securing a job as a prosecutor can be very difficult. Hard work and experience are crucial; diverse personal, educational, and professional backgrounds may also be sought in the hiring process.

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