I Hate Being a Prosecutor, but I’m so Damn Good at It

QI graduated from a tier-1 school in 2003.  I spent the entire three years of law school fighting with my (now ex-) wife, and my grades suffered for it.  I finished in the middle of my class with a 2.75.

Though I concentrated heavily on international law classes, I simply did not have the GPA to get one of those BigLaw jobs out of school.  Following an internship, I landed a job as a prosecutor—even though I never cared for criminal law.

Now, seven years later, I am still prosecuting people and can’t stand the job.  However, I am surprisingly good at it.  I’ve only lost two jury trials in my career.

I have looked for opportunities in other areas of law that I’m more interested in, but despite what I was told in law school, law firms STILL only consider applicants with better class ranks.  They could care less about what I’ve accomplished since.  So, after some time, I gave up and began looking for a way out of the profession entirely.

Then, I found a niche that sparked my interest in the law again.  Because I did not have the necessary background for it, I began a Master’s program at an Ivy-caliber university part time.  I’m now almost finished, and I’m looking for jobs in that sector.  However, all of the ads still require a high class rank and a law school transcript—even after 10 years of experience.

It seems like I am wasting my time.  Am I doomed to a limited practice no matter what I do from here on out?  Should I just save my money and get out of the Master’s program?  Must I leave the practice all together? Thanks.

ANewsflash: The legal profession is snobby.  However, it’s never snobbier than when you’re coming out of law school and trying to land your first job.  As for your question, you say you’re a prosecutor, but you don’t like criminal law, yet you’re really good at it…

To he honest, I have no goddamn idea what kind of job you’re looking for (or what type of law you want to practice), so it’s tough to give specific advice here.  But I’ll assume you’re tired of making government wages and want a job in the private sector.

Hate to say it, but I can see the 2.75 GPA in your writing?  It’s vague, ambiguous… Not great attributes for a lawyer.  Especially a lawyer looking to work in BigLaw.

Anyway, here’s the deal: Being a prosecutor for seven years gives you great courtroom/life experience.  It makes you an interesting chap to hang out with at a dinner party, but it doesn’t make you an interesting chap to a BigLaw Hiring Partner because courtroom experience is damn near irrelevant for associates.

BigLaw wants associates with writing and research ability.  That’s the skill set they covet for litigators—and that’s the skill set that prosecutors don’t develop well.  For the most part, criminal law motions are very standard and pro forma.  Courtroom presence and “thinking on your feet” are valued more than elegant and nuanced legal writing.  So, unfortunately, your years at the DA’s office don’t count for much in the area you’re looking.

My advice is to look for a job at an insurance defense firm.  They’re in court all the time, trying cases and arguing motions.  It’s not glamorous, but you can make decent money—and your DA background will actually help you get in the door.

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Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

16 Comments

  1. Alma Federer

    March 9, 2010 at 4:07 am

    Congratulations!  For once, a Bitter Lawyer post that doesn’t focus on sex, woman’s boobs, banging secretaries, or BJ’s.  Finally, we can talk about a topic as lawyers, not as sex maniacs.  Thank goodness somebody woke up at Bitter Lawyer and figured out we are Lawyers, not sex addicts!  I also agree with the ExBitter, here.  I could not imagine why someone with courtroom presence, like a DA, would want to work in BigLaw, but believe me, it is not a bunch of roses.  The managing partner at my firm always respects me, but it is a difficult thing to have to keep everyone satisfied all of the time.  As a result, I often work straight through from the time I come in at 9:00 am until I leave at 7:30 pm, with lunch being a sandwich I call out for every day.  Once a week, I do go out for a smoothie, but that is all that I have time for.  I would love to get more in court experience, like a DA gets, but my courtroom experience has been limited so far to doing a couple of pro-bono cases with an international adoption agency that is affiliated with the U.N.  So be careful what you wish for.  To have a career in BigLaw requires alot of dedication and it takes alot of your personal time to do the job well.  But keep at it and don’t be discouraged by people who think they are smarter than you.  As long as you have your J.D. degree, and are a member of the bar, you are equal to the next person.  Gpood luck to you.

  2. Craig

    March 9, 2010 at 7:06 am

    Stick with being a prosecutor.  You seem like a “grass is always greener” type of guy to me.  No matter what you are doing, you will always think there is something better. You went to a T1 school and have a steady job that you are good at. But you are still not happy because your gpa was not great and you think there are better jobs out there.  As for constantly fighting with your ex wife, you probably didn’t appreciate her enough either, like everything else in your life (too harsh?).  Be happy with what you have and where you are at, instead of being miserable thinking something else out there is far better.  It is not better and you will be just as miserable there.  It is just who you are.

  3. KateLaw

    March 9, 2010 at 8:51 am

    I want to know what he went back to school for?? This post is dumb, he asks a question without giving enough info to receive an adequate answer (although BL did a decent job at responding).

  4. R Smith

    March 9, 2010 at 9:17 am

    So you you want to become a private lawyer? Where you can bang secretaries, buy breast implants for your legal assistant, flirt with summer associates and otherwise annoy Alma? Follow the DA’s and AUSA’s that have done it.  First, clean up your career.  Get away from those messy murder cases, DUI’s and Third Strike cases against low lifes. Polite people don’t want to hear about them.  Focus on financial frauds. Learn the state and federal laws, write some articles and volunteer to make a speech every 5 months at some tedious bar function on financial fraud cases. You know: “The Supreme Court’s New Approach to scienter,” “16B’s new life in the Blah, Blah court,” or some similar vacuous title. Better yet, give that speech to the Chamber of commerce in your area. Talk about possible clients. Menton “one of my recent cases” a few times.  Second, my guess is you’ve let yourself go in the metal desk arena: lose some weight, buy a good suit and tie (think Brioni ) and try to act like you’re already in a private firm when you meet private firm people 9don’t talk like a criminal prosecutor): and remember, only doctors and firefighters look good in work clothes.  You wouldn’t dress like a slob on a date would you? So save the unpressed suit broker suits for the office, and dress for the firms.  And get a good photo taken for use by media when they publish your articles.  Keep all this up and they will approach YOU to defend their CEO types who backdated some options or let solvents fill an unlined pond. When they approach you, hint that other firms have also approached you and play it cool. Wait for a top partner to make an approach, not some recruiting functionary.  The top man or woman will know they want you and care less about a transcript. In no time you’ll be sipping Cristal at some private club and be calling from poolside to the harassed associates back at the office. Don’t knock over my mai tai.

  5. I Object!

    March 9, 2010 at 10:08 am

    I clerked for a DA once because I too thought it might be interesting. Ha! The trial deputies carried guns for fear some former scumbag now out of prison would try to off them in a parking lot. The offices were “civil service” offices and showed it. The head deputies were political appointees, and you know who runs the office as a result.  The men were unimpressive and the women hard the smoker, hard drinker types with cynicism to match.  You move up just so high an salary and then stop as private firms increase their pay. They talk all day about “perps” and criminal cases-ugh.  No thanks.

  6. Friend

    March 9, 2010 at 10:53 am

    You do not seem like a lazy person, so good for you.  Why not take a try at opening your own shop and defend these perps your prosecuting?

  7. Magic Circle Jerk

    March 9, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Seriously, they actually care about our transcript 7 years later?
    I thought that shit stopped mattering after 4-5 years.

  8. Friend of Friend

    March 9, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Friend hits the nail on the head.  With your experience and contacts you can make twice as much money (and probably work half as hard) working on your own as a criminal defense attorney.  All your promo materials will have to say is “Former Prosecutor.  Only lost two jury trials in my career.  Let me put that experience to work for you.” And then count your lucky stars (and send a thank you note to your ex-wife) for keeping you out of the soul-sucking dead end that is BigLaw practice.

  9. I object Again!

    March 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    People telling you to go into private criminal defense don’t tell you: That you’ll have to defend scumbags that are almost always guilty. That drug dealers and many violent criminals do not like to lose, so forget working “half as hard.” Some clients will require a meeting in state prison or jail. Other will come to your office.  That as years pass, you’ll bump into your former clients at the damndest places.  And unfortunately, most criminal defendants are not beautiful women, or desperate men with an open checkbook.

  10. Harry

    March 9, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    HA!  You think you’re a good trial attorney just because you won most of your trials?  You were a DA!  You were able to cherry pick your case.  You bargained down your loser cases and only took the winner to trial.
    Try being a criminal defense lawyer.  We actually have to work for a living.  We have to go to trial on loser cases and still win them!

  11. Brett

    March 10, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Lots of interesting comments from people who have no idea what it’s like being in the trenches as a “lowly” civil servant prosecutor.  Here’s what you do; stick to the job you have.  Kick ass at it and build a reputation.  The US Attorney’s Office is always hiring prosecutors for 2 year contract work; if you don’t suck, you get to join the big leagues full time.  Keep working your way up the ranks.  After you get a few more grey hairs and a few more decades older; go become a lateral partner at a frim.  Sound impossible?  Look up the name of one of my friends…B. Todd Jones.  Went through JAG, went through the US Attorneys Office (as the US Attorney for Minnesota).  Left to become a managing partner (white collar crime, among other things) at one of the big firms in MN (RKMC).  Guess what he did?  He LEFT RKMC to take the appointment as US Attorney…again.  Basically, brush up on your white collar crime and get in with the big boy prosecutors.  All of those white collar crime defense attorneys at big firms come from somewhere; and it has nothing to do with them being able to write well.  It might not be the subject matter you wanted to practice, but you’ll be in a big firm.  Hell, I wanted to fight the Man and do things for the environment.  I ended up being a prosecutor and loved the job (even though I was working for the Man).

  12. Guano Dubango

    March 10, 2010 at 3:07 am

    Why you want to give up DA gig?  DAs always are with the hot women in the bar on Reade Street when I go there.  I cannot get close to these women, yet the DAs are heading home with them.  I would like to be a DA, if only to be able to go home with these hot women.

  13. Son of Guano

    March 10, 2010 at 9:02 am

    For heaven’s sakes Guano, just TELL them your a DA.  Watch a few episodes of Law and Order or SVU and tell them policy prohibits giving out cards except on official business.

  14. Alma Federer

    March 10, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Personally, I am not interested in Criminal Law, so I can understand why this person wants out from that kind of work.  I also have met men who work for the Bronx and Manhattan DA’s offices, and they all have heavy New York Accents.  I do not find that attractive, either.

  15. dave

    March 13, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    What a narcissistic prick. A DA,who has the ability to choose what cases ultimately go to trial and still manages to lose some of them is a fuck up, not a “good trial lawyer.” To much to write here on this topic, have a much more detailed response on my blog at http://concurrentsentences.blogspot.com/2010/03/prosecutors-fallacy.html

  16. george

    June 4, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Maybe he is just tired of fighting and realizing that no how many cases he plea bargains or ultimate has to try (cherry pick or not, if you try a damn case, you have to be prepared and work your ass off, either side) there is always going to be another and another and another, all like the same before. All lawyers work hard, don’t dog prosecutors or criminal defense attorneys or attorneys in general, in any capacity. Our life’s work is difficult, constantly fighting or arguing with someone, usually each other. The rest of the world picks on us and says how horrible attorneys are. We shouldn’t do the same to each other. Acknowledge the fact that your co-attorneys work hard. Whatever it is they are doing to make a living. Don’t dog them to make yourself feel better. We shouldn’t do that to each other. That’s what the media is for.

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