How to Become a

District Attorney or Prosecutor

The complete career guide to be a District Attorney or Prosecutor: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $136,260
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 5.6%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Investigative
    Career Attribute

District attorneys and prosecutors participate in criminal trials and present evidence in support of the state government. They handle cases where individuals are being tried by the government for breaking state/local laws, and often handle cases of drug trafficking, murder, and embezzlement, among others.


What is a District Attorney or Prosecutor?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in district attorney or prosecutor roles:

  • Review evidence submitted by detectives to determine if evidence justifies a trial
  • Work with police officers, detectives, witnesses, and other related parties to collect evidence to be used in prosecution
  • Review evidence, interview witnesses, and collect pieces of information that could prove guilt of an accused individual
  • Study laws, review similar historical cases and their rulings, and prepare a plan for prosecution
  • Present arguments in court in front of a judge and/or jury

A Day in the Life

District attorneys serve as the chief legal officer of their districts and are the only attorneys allowed to participate in trials that utilize a grand jury. Grand juries are used to determine whether or not charges should be brought against an individual, reviewing collected evidence to determine the likelihood of a verdict in favor of the prosecution in a criminal trial. District attorneys present evidence to grand juries and work to determine if it’s worthwhile to prosecute and try a suspect in a criminal trial.

Prosecutors work for district attorneys and represent the state or local government in criminal trials. Before a criminal trial, the district attorney has already determined that the outcome of a trial is likely in the prosecution’s favor, so the prosecutor presents evidence collected by detectives, forensic scientists, and witness interviews to guide the jury to a guilty verdict. They work to prosecute individuals for crimes that break laws, such as murder, drug trafficking, money laundering, embezzlement, and others.

To prepare for trials, district attorneys and prosecutors work with the police officers who discovered the crime and the detectives who were responsible for investigating it, collecting evidence that could prove guilt in court. The prosecutor puts together the plan for their case, often calling upon a variety of specialists to collect evidence. Forensic scientists may be employed to test DNA, or handwriting specialists to analyze texts. These experts may be called upon to testify about their findings in court.

Typical Work Schedule

District attorneys can either be elected or appointed by the government often for a 4-year term. They work full time for 8 hours per day 5 days a week. However, if you were chosen to this position, you will usually need to work additional hours. You need to represent the state by reviewing different evidence in criminal cases and determining whether these cases should be brought to trial. They usually have 1 year from the date of arresting a criminal to file charges or the crime will be considered as a misdemeanor. On average, district attorneys need to work additional 10 – 30 hours to their schedule per week to complete their work on time.

Projected job growth

The position of the DA requires specific set of skills and have a limited number of available opportunities. There are no specific qualifications for the position itself, however top lawyers with more experience with the public affairs have more chance to be chosen for such position. There are currently 94 districts in the US with 93 attorneys; one for each district except for Guam and the Northern Marianas who share single attorney. The demand for legal work is expected to continue for all levels of government which require legal services provided by the DA. Yet, the number of new positions will still be very small since the total number of districts in the US since there is limited turnover for such public positions. Competition for this job will be fierce because this public office holds great potential for many lawyers interested in the public life. Therefore, certain skills will be helpful for this competition like the willingness to relocate and to be licensed in another state which may require taking an additional state bar examination as well as proper communication skills to the public.

Typical Employers

District attorneys are employed the federal government at different levels by either being elected or appointed directly. The job is however considered temporary as a district attorney serves the position for a 4-year term only with no further extension. They are usually replaced whenever a new administration comes into office after the elections.


How To Become a District Attorney or Prosecutor

The first step in becoming a district attorney or prosecutor is to earn an undergraduate degree. The type of degree an aspiring district attorney or prosecutor pursues is flexible because the bulk of his/her law training will occur in graduate school. Popular undergraduate majors include political science, English, history, and philosophy, though pre-law majors may be available. Political science majors tend to be the most common because they focus on providing a thorough education in the legal and political systems of government.

After earning a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to apply for and be accepted into law school. Law schools are graduate programs that typically take three years to complete and result in a juris doctor (J.D.) degree. After graduating from law school, you’ll need to take the bar exam, offered through the American Bar Association. Passing the bar exam and holding a J.D. degree are common requirements for becoming licensed to practice as a prosecutor or defense attorney in your state.

Most begin their careers as public defenders, gaining experience and training in criminal trials before moving into prosecutor roles. Effective public defenders are often promoted into prosecutor roles. Individuals with many years of experience as prosecutors may qualify for promotions into district attorney positions, though in some states, district attorney is an elected position. Some move from prosecutor to assistant district attorney roles before pursuing promotion or election as district attorney.


District Attorney or Prosecutor Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range

$76,300

Average

$136,260

High Range

---

National Hourly Wage

Low Range

$37/hr

Average

$66/hr

High Range

---

How do District Attorney or Prosecutor salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, District Attorney or Prosecutor's can make an average annual salary of $136,260, or $66 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $76,300 or $37 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #22 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally


Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming a District Attorney or Prosecutor. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.


Highest Education Among District Attorney or Prosecutors

  • 91%   Doctorate
  • 4.1%   Masters
  • 3.5%   Bachelors
  • 0.5%   Associates
  • 0.4%   College
  • 0.4%   High School
  • 0.1%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs

778,700

2024 Est. Jobs

822,500

Job Growth Rate

5.6%

Est. New Jobs

43,800

How does District Attorney or Prosecutor job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 43,800 jobs for a total of 822,500 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 5.6% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #401 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally


What Companies Employ The Most District Attorney or Prosecutors

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Legal services 376,100 22,100 22%
Self-employed workers 165,500 -1,800 -2%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 55,600 5,300 5%

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