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 Juris Doctor (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.
|Other Requirements||State bar license|
|Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)*||8% for all lawyers|
|Average Salary (2019)||$65,123**|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com
What Does a Prosecuting Attorney Do?
Depending on the size of the municipality a prosecutor serves, the responsibilities of a prosecutor 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.
How to Become a Prosecutor
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 three-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.
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.
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 criminal prosecution lawyer 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 2018 that the average annual salary for lawyers overall was $144,230. PayScale.com reported the average salary for prosecutors was $65,123 in July 2019. The BLS predicted that job opportunities for lawyers, including prosecuting attorneys, would increase 8% from 2016-2026.
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.