Deputy District Attorney Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of becoming a deputy district attorney? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a deputy district attorney is for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Deputy District Attorney

Deputy district attorneys - sometimes called assistant district attorneys - work in government law offices under the direction of elected district attorneys. Read the pros and cons of becoming a DDA to decide if this is the right career for you.

PROS of a Deputy District Attorney Career
Above-average salary (average annual earnings of about $85,000 in 2014 for lawyers working in state government)**
Opportunity to serve the public good*
Earlier trial experience than lawyers working for firms*
Variety of cases (will typically start with misdemeanors then move on to higher levels of crime)*

CONS of a Deputy District Attorney Career
Competition for jobs is high*
At least seven years of postsecondary education is required (4-year bachelor's degree and 3-year Juris Doctor)**
Education is typically very expensive***
Hours can be long**

Source: *Pace Law School, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ***Columbia Law School

Job Duties, Salary and Career Info

DDAs can expect to interact with clients, interview witnesses, conduct legal research, prepare legal briefs, analyze legal strategy and prosecute cases in court. District attorney offices are often large, employing hundreds of DDAs and other legal staff. They are often divided into numerous divisions encompassing criminal, civil or family law. Success in the field depends on certain skills, such as being able to analyze facts, interpret laws and statutes, and evaluate complex information.

Your duties will vary depending upon the size of the office and within which division you practice. In smaller offices, DDAs can handle all of the duties that are divided among criminal and civil attorneys in larger urban offices. Future DDAs often gain an advantage by working as law clerks or interns while still in law school. Clerks assist attorneys with research, trial preparation, legal writing and sometimes get the opportunity to gain courtroom experience under the direction of a DDA.

Job Prospect and Salary Info

Competition for DDA positions is high, as the number of available jobs is much less than the number of attorneys applying. The growth rate for attorney jobs, which encompasses DDAs, is expected to be ten percent from 2012-2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That's about average when compared to all other careers. While experience may not be a major factor in landing a job as a DDA, previous work in a private firm or another district attorney office can increase your chances.

Wages for DDAs vary depending upon the particular state, but they are less than those of attorneys working in private practice. The average salary for attorneys working in state government, which encompasses DDAs, was about $85,000 in May 2014, according to the BLS. Attorneys working in other areas, however, earned an average salary of about $133,000 in 2014.

What Are the Requirements?

Prospective DDAs can expect to spend a minimum of seven years in school before entering the field. Before you can begin the competitive process of being accepted into law school, you must first complete a bachelor's degree. Upon receiving your Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, you must also pass the bar examination in the state in which you want to practice before being considered for a DDA position.

A certain skill set is necessary to work in this demanding field. DDAs must have a combination of excellent analytical skills in order to successfully litigate their cases, as well as the people skills necessary to work with clients, interview witnesses and argue cases to juries and judges. A desire to serve the greater good of the public at the expense of long hours is also a key ingredient to persevering in this field. Among the skills you will need in the field are:

  • Willingness to work long hours
  • Ability to analyze the law
  • Organization and execution of effective arguments
  • Patience
  • Ability to multi-task
  • Effective writing and speaking

Job Postings from Real Employers

Candidates can expect to undergo a rigorous application process that often requires several interviews and testing before being considered for a DDA position. Applicants must have at least a J.D. and must be admitted to the state bar. To give you an idea of the skills and experience district attorney offices are seeking, the following are a few DDA job listings from the internet in March 2012:

  • Dougherty County in Albany, Georgia, was attempting to fill a full-time assistant attorney position with an annual salary range of about $43,000-$64,000. The core duties included conducting prosecution in court on behalf of the city, county, state and federal governments. Requirements included a law degree and a state bar association license. Some trial experience was preferred.
  • The Western District of Pennsylvania advertised for an assistant district attorney to work in its criminal division. The position's duties included prosecuting violent crimes and child exploitation, dismantling drug trafficking groups and prosecuting fraud and corruption. While only one year of post-graduate experience was required, three years working as an attorney was preferred.
  • An assistant district attorney position available in the Southern District of Texas required at least three years experience as a licensed attorney, and five years of civil litigation experience was preferred. The successful candidate would work in the district's civil division and be responsible for the full range of plaintiff and defendant litigation on behalf of the United States.

How to Stand Out

One way to stand out and get a foot in the door in this competitive field is to complete a law clerkship or internship while still in law school. Some district attorney offices guarantee positions after completion of your law degree if you finish their internship or law clerk program. However, like the field itself, getting into these programs is competitive. Experience working in private practice or another area of law can also help you stand above other applicants. Many advertised positions indicate a preference for experienced attorneys.

Gaining experience within a particular area of the law can also be helpful. Since the duties of DDAs vary depending on the office and legal arena, being specialized in a specific area, such as civil litigation, criminal prosecution or family law, can help you stand out. Additionally, depending upon the job, proven success as a legal researcher or a trial attorney can improve your chances for success.

Other Career Paths

Attorney

The extensive educational and financial commitment involved in practicing law could allow you to reap better salary benefits by pursuing a career as an attorney in private practice or another area of the legal field. Attorneys must complete the same educational requirements as a DDA, but instead work in private or corporate law offices. Careers are available in all areas of law, including civil and criminal, private and government counsel, and law enforcement. General practice attorneys can also expect to work long hours and handle a wide range of tasks under high-pressure conditions.

Job growth for attorney positions is about 10% from 2010-2020, which is about average for all other careers. Competition is strong throughout the attorney field because graduates outnumber the available jobs. According to the BLS, the median pay in 2011 for all attorneys was about $113,000 per year. Associate attorneys who eventually become partners, which are owners of law firms, can expect to earn more money depending upon the success of the firm.

Judge, Mediator or Hearing Officer

Experienced attorneys can move on to become judges, mediators or hearing officers. These positions require application of the law in resolving legal disputes. Judges work in courtrooms rendering decisions in criminal and civil cases and ensuring that the law is correctly applied during cases. Mediators assist people involved in legal disputes in reaching an agreement short of formal litigation, and hearing officers generally help resolve administrative disputes and parties hoping to negotiate settlements. The educational requirements are the same as for attorneys, but most judges, mediators and hearing officers must have extensive legal experience. Many judges are elected.

Despite the experience requirements, people working in these fields generally earn less than general practice attorneys and more than DDAs. According to the BLS, the median salary in 2010 within this area of the legal field was about $92,000. From 2010-2020, the BLS estimated that job growth within this field will be seven percent, which is slower than average.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Legal Studies
  • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
  • AAS in Legal Support and Services
  • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal

Which subject are you interested in?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
  • Master of Public Administration - Government and Policy

What is your highest level of education?

Widener University

  • Dual Master of Jurisprudence in Corporate and Business Law / Master of Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Legal Studies
  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Paralegal

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Argosy University

  • Compliance (ML)
  • Bachelor - Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Lewis University

  • MS in Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?