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The hierarchy in district attorney's offices is similar in every state. The district attorney is at the top of the hierarchy, and may be appointed or elected. The chief deputy district attorney is second in command. Many offices have senior assistant district attorneys who supervise the entry level assistant district attorneys. Regardless as to position within the hierarchy, lawyers in a district attorney's office work as prosecutors on behalf of the state.
If you're interested in becoming an assistant district attorney, you must first acquire a bachelor's degree -- the major doesn't matter -- and take an admission exam called the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) prior to entering law school. The LSAT tests three primary skills necessary for the practice of law: analytical and logical reasoning and reading comprehension. LSAT scores fall between 120 and 180. A score above 160 is considered excellent -- most ivy league law schools only accept applicants with LSAT scores above 160. It's still possible to gain entry to a good law school with an LSAT score below 160, provided your undergraduate GPA is relatively high.
Criminal Law Focus and Internships
It takes three years to complete law school. The first year consists of required courses; however, law students have the freedom to choose courses in the second and third years. Because district attorneys prosecute defendants charged with crimes, aspiring assistant district attorneys should focus on criminal law during law school. Law schools offer coursework in criminal law and criminal procedure, and most provide internship opportunities with a criminal law focus. Many district attorney's offices offer internships to law students -- these provide an excellent opportunity for networking and gaining practical experience. Keep in mind, however, that internships with district attorney's offices are competitive. Thus, maintaining good grades is a must.
After graduation from law school, graduates must take their chosen state's bar exam and pass it. If you wish to become an assistant district attorney in your own state, you must pass the bar exam there. If you want to join a district attorney's office in another state, you'll need to be bar-admitted in that state. In nearly every state, the bar exam is administered over a three-day period, and tests the taker's knowledge of subjects such as criminal law, constitutional law, contract law and professional responsibility, among other things. Once you pass the bar exam, you will be bar-admitted after taking an oath as an officer of the court.
Generally, district attorney's offices are county-based. Visit the district attorney's website in the county where you wish to practice, as it's likely the website will have information concerning job description and income range. Many offices require aspiring assistant district attorneys to have a modicum of courtroom experience in order to be considered for a position. Although it varies from district to district, district attorney's offices typically accept applications regardless of whether there's a current opening. Generally, resumes and cover letters can be submitted to the deputy district attorney or another contact person listed on the office's website.
- Law School Admission Council: About the LSAT
- Law School Admission Council: Inside Law School
- National Conference of Bar Examiners: Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements 2013
- LawCrossing: How to Become a District Attorney
- San Diego County District Attorney: Deputy District Attorney Jobs
- Office of the Fulton County District Attorney: Employment as an Assistant District Attorney
Andrine Redsteer's writing on tribal gaming has been published in "The Guardian" and she continues to write about reservation economic development. Redsteer holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Washington, a Master of Arts in Native American studies from Montana State University and a Juris Doctor from Seattle University School of Law.