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Prosecuting Attorney: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Prosecuting attorneys require a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the undergraduate and law school education, job duties and state bar licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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A prosecuting attorney must have their Juris Doctor degree, which is earned after completing law school. They must also pass the state bar exam and be licensed to practice law in their state.

Essential Information

Prosecuting attorneys represent local, state or federal governments in criminal court cases. In addition to trying cases, they also interview witnesses or victims, evaluate police reports and perform legal research to plan the prosecution of each case. Becoming a prosecuting attorney requires earning a bachelor's degree and a J.D., which involves a minimum of seven years of post-secondary education. After graduating from law school, attorneys must pass their state's bar exam and fulfill any other requirements for licensure before they are permitted to practice law.

Required Education J.D.
Other Requirements State bar license
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for all lawyers
Median Salary (2016) $66,166**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Prosecuting Attorney Duties

Depending on the size of the municipality a prosecutor serves, job duties can vary. In larger offices, prosecuting attorneys may be assigned to specific areas of the law, such as traffic violations or juvenile offenses. In smaller offices, they may be responsible for all aspects of criminal prosecution.

Prosecuting attorneys begin a case by reviewing police reports and performing research. They may meet with witnesses or victims. They use their gathered information in court to present the case against the accused defendant. Prosecuting attorneys must follow cases through each stage of the judicial process and communicate with all involved parties. At times, this requires coordination with additional attorneys, the police and other professionals.

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Prosecuting Attorney Requirements

Prosecuting attorneys, like all lawyers, need to obtain bachelor's degrees, complete law school and pass the bar exam. While there is no required undergraduate major, students may benefit from taking courses that improve their reading, writing and critical-thinking skills. Many pre-law students earn degrees in political science, English or philosophy.

Following undergraduate studies, prospective prosecutors must attend three years of law school to earn their Juris Doctor (J.D.) degrees. Admission to law school is competitive and contingent on students' Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores. This test measures necessary qualities for law school by assessing reading comprehension, analytical and logical-reasoning skills, according to the Law School Admission Council.

Law School is a 3-year commitment for full-time students. During the first half of law school, students gain core knowledge by learning about necessary components of the law, including contracts, torts and civil procedure. In the final half of law school, students study topics in specializations of their choosing, such as tax or corporate law. Prospective prosecuting attorneys may want to consider studying criminal law to prepare for the career.

Licensure

Attorneys must become licensed by passing the written bar exam upon completion of law school. The exam is administered through each state. According to the BLS, most states require passage of the Multistate Bar Examination, and some states also require attorneys to pass ethics exams and other state-specific tests.

Additional Skills

Prosecuting attorneys must feel comfortable in courtrooms, so trial experience may be beneficial. They must also have an understanding of their communities' needs and the motivations driving law breakers. Successful prosecution can lead to an individual's loss of rights, and so a prosecuting attorney must use discretion, perform careful research and seek justice. This career also requires a sense of civic duty and fairness as well as strong analytical skills.

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have a specific listing for prosecuting attorneys, it reported in May 2015 that the average annual salary for lawyers overall was $136,260. PayScale.com reported the median salary for prosecutors was $66,166 in January 2016. The BLS predicted that job opportunities for lawyers, including prosecuting attorneys, would increase 6% from 2014-2024.

Prosecuting attorneys pursue criminal cases on behalf of local, state or federal governments. They seek convictions in criminal proceedings and may be involved in questioning witnesses, reviewing evidence, arguing their case in court or negotiating a plea with a suspect. While earning a law degree, students should seek out criminal law courses to prepare for a career as a prosecutor.

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