District Attorney: Career Info and Education Requirements
Learn about a career as a district attorney. Research the job description, and the education and licensing requirements to make an informed decision about starting a career in criminal prosecution.
Career Info for District Attorneys
District attorneys (DAs) are either elected or appointed by the government to prosecute criminal offenses. They're responsible for reviewing evidence in criminal cases and determining whether cases should be brought to trial. Other duties DAs may have include educating the public and law enforcement officials about crime prevention, providing job-related legal advice to state officials, working with the state legislature on revising or creating legislation and training and advising local law enforcement about investigation procedures and filing proper charges. Depending on the jurisdiction, they could have hundreds, or even thousands, of other employees working under them, including attorneys and administrative staff.
To become a district attorney, a legal education and state licensure as an attorney are required. After building legal experience, potential district attorneys can seek appointment or election in their districts. Once they've secured their positions, district attorneys typically serve 4-year terms, but the length can vary between jurisdictions.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to PayScale.com, the majority of district attorneys earned annual wages between $45,201 and $167,675 as of November 2013. In 2012, most lawyers earned from $54,310 to over $187,199 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), meaning that, on average, district attorneys could earn less than other types of lawyers.
Although data specifically pertaining to job prospects for district attorneys isn't readily available, the BLS predicted that jobs for lawyers would increase 10% from 2010-2020, which is about as fast as average for other jobs during this period. There's stiff competition for jobs, and the BLS indicates that candidates can increase their job prospects through a willingness to relocate and get licensed to practice in another state.
Since district attorneys are first and foremost lawyers, they're required to follow a rigorous educational path before applying for state licensure as attorneys. Almost every state requires that individuals complete a high school diploma and a 4-year college degree, as well as earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from an ABA-approved law school, before sitting for the state bar examination and applying for licensure as attorneys.
According to the American Bar Association, there's no one bachelor's degree program that individuals are required to complete to enroll in law school. Common majors include English, philosophy, history, economics and political science, which combine general studies requirements with core and elective major courses.
Specific course requirements vary between law schools, but all law schools offer programs designed to prepare students to pass the state bar exams and become licensed attorneys. Some foundational courses that law students might take include civil procedure, constitutional law, criminal law, legal writing, torts and property law. Schools may allow students to tailor their studies by choosing electives or specializations in criminal law, which can be beneficial to aspiring district attorneys. In addition to coursework, students often participate in legal externships to gain hands-on experience.
After graduating from law school, students are required to pass their state's bar exam to become licensed to practice law. Some states also require that aspiring attorneys pass a judicial ethics exam or multistate performance test. In addition to passing the required examination(s), an aspiring attorney typically has to pass a state bar review of his or her character. Most often, the bar exam must be taken in each state where the lawyer seeks to practice, though many states have reciprocity agreements. These agreements permit lawyers who meet certain requirements, which may include some number of years of experience as a practicing attorney and passing a test on state-specific laws, to practice in a different state without sitting for a separate bar exam.
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