How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

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BruceWayne
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How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby BruceWayne » Sun Nov 28, 2010 3:32 pm

I've been searching google and looking through the DOJ website but I'm still not getting a real concrete description of the logistics involved in becoming an assistant US attorney. Are you hired as part of the Honor's program? Are you payed on the same GS payscale as new DOJ Honors hires? Since you're working with a US Attorney does that mean that your work spans both criminal and civil just like the actual US attorney?

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Lonagan
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby Lonagan » Sun Nov 28, 2010 4:22 pm

USAOs do not hire new graduates. I am sure there is some exception somewhere, I think I remember some California office hiring through DoJ Honors, but as a rule they don't.

USAOs hire experienced attorneys. I believe "experienced" means 2-3 years minimum. Common paths are transferring over from DoJ after an Honors hire, working for a state / local government, and private practice. E.g. if you want to be an AUSA doing criminal prosecution a common path is to be a state prosecutor for a few years and then make the jump.

USAOs are not on GS. They have more flexibility. Otherwise they offer the same federal benefits as others. My understanding is that if you get hired as an AUSA you will get at least the GS equivalent of your experience, or more. I am not 100% positive on how that works though.

I believe AUSAs tend to specialize.

Bottom line is that if your goal in life is to be an AUSA you should have a plan for the step between now and then.

Renzo
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby Renzo » Sun Nov 28, 2010 4:34 pm

Lonagan wrote:USAOs do not hire new graduates. I am sure there is some exception somewhere, I think I remember some California office hiring through DoJ Honors, but as a rule they don't.

USAOs hire experienced attorneys. I believe "experienced" means 2-3 years minimum. Common paths are transferring over from DoJ after an Honors hire, working for a state / local government, and private practice. E.g. if you want to be an AUSA doing criminal prosecution a common path is to be a state prosecutor for a few years and then make the jump.

I believe AUSAs tend to specialize.

Bottom line is that if your goal in life is to be an AUSA you should have a plan for the step between now and then.

Yep. USAOs only hire experienced lawyers, most coming from biglaw shops or local/state prosecutors' offices. Every office I'm familiar with hires you either into civil or criminal division, not both (although transfer between is possible, at least in some offices).

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BruceWayne
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby BruceWayne » Sun Nov 28, 2010 5:05 pm

Thanks for the replies. So even for the assistant US attorney positions they require WE? What are the advantages to working as an assistant US attorney as opposed to one of the litigating divisions at DOJ? As far as them not being on the GS payscale but having more flexibility, just how flexible are we talking? Can they ignore the time in grade requirements for salary promotions etc. ?

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Blindmelon
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby Blindmelon » Sun Nov 28, 2010 5:10 pm

Typically transfer from Main Justice (DOJ, often Honors-program), post-clerkship (fed district + some ADA work would likely be sufficient), firm work (prestigious or not depending on the district).

In Mass, about 80% of the AUSA (rough ballpark) are from firms in NYC/Mass - ones I've heard were Goodwin Proctor, WilmerHale, Choate Hall, Davis Polk, Skadden.
I knew of quite a few who went from ADA -> AUSA, 2 post-DOJ Honors, a handful from DC AUSA (which is a huge office because they prosecute all crimes in the District), some public defenders, at least 1 or 2 from state AG's offices.

Anecdotal, but I hope thats helpful. They draw a diverse crowd.

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Blindmelon
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby Blindmelon » Sun Nov 28, 2010 5:12 pm

BruceWayne wrote:Thanks for the replies. So even for the assistant US attorney positions they require WE? What are the advantages to working as an assistant US attorney as opposed to one of the litigating divisions at DOJ? As far as them not being on the GS payscale but having more flexibility, just how flexible are we talking? Can they ignore the time in grade requirements for salary promotions etc. ?


Most lawyers in the gov. get special exemptions for time-in-grade requirements, etc. I'm pretty sure AUSA's are on the GS system though, all federal employees are. I think only agencies like the Fed. Reserve may be off the GS scale.

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vanwinkle
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby vanwinkle » Sun Nov 28, 2010 5:15 pm

It definitely varies by office. I know many of the larger offices divide themselves up into distinct criminal and civil divisions, and you work in either one or the other; I don't know how it goes in smaller districts. However, just because it's a criminal division doesn't necessarily mean you need criminal experience to get there. It varies by location what the requirements and preferred paths are.

The SDNY and EDNY offices do a lot of corporate investigation and litigation, so even for their criminal divisions they will often favor people with BigLaw training and the experience of poring through corporate files. I've met several AUSAs there who have gone BigLaw->AUSA. Of course, those are two of the most competitive offices to get hired for anyway.

A lot of places will base it on the job position (civil litigation experience for civil side, prosecutors or PDs for the criminal side). Some civil divisions will take corporate attorneys for their corporate law experience, and use them as investigators or train them to be litigators as necessary.

Your workload will vary based on the location. As I mentioned, SDNY/EDNY do an awful lot of investigation into corporate activity, which makes sense since they cover parts of NYC and the various corporate empires based there. EDVA is based across the Potomac from DC and has handled quite a few high-profile criminal cases including prosecuting John Walker Lindh and Zacarias Moussaoui. Border states will see a lot of federal immigration actions (criminal prosecutions of border smugglers, etc) that you wouldn't see much of elsewhere.

No matter where you end up, expect to have 3-4 years of experience and as much on your resume as possible to distinguish you from other applicants. Building a positive and distinguished academic/employment history, whether it's focused on criminal or civil practice, is crucial. It's also beneficial to have had a federal clerkship if possible since you'll be regularly dealing with federal courts. They'll look at everything (law school attended, grades, honors/awards received, clerkship experience, current and past employers) when evaluating candidates.

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vanwinkle
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby vanwinkle » Sun Nov 28, 2010 5:19 pm

BruceWayne wrote:What are the advantages to working as an assistant US attorney as opposed to one of the litigating divisions at DOJ?

I know at least two examples:

1) Geographic considerations. If you don't want to live in Washington, but want to work for the DOJ, AUSA is about all you can do. Also, DOJ often sends its people out to support the various US Attorney's offices; there's a bunch of folks from DOJ who got shipped from DC to Arizona to help with that immigration bill battle, for example. Being an AUSA means you only take care of things in your district.

2) Opportunities on the job. The US Attorney and his AUSAs prosecute all the cases in their district. Not every department of the DOJ in Washington gives you regular litigation experience. Even if you do get litigation experience, it may be flying to a part of the country to support the US Attorney's office there, while his office actually brings the case.

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Lonagan
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby Lonagan » Sun Nov 28, 2010 5:21 pm

--LinkRemoved--

Regarding how they are paid.

Renzo
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby Renzo » Sun Nov 28, 2010 5:22 pm

vanwinkle wrote:
BruceWayne wrote:What are the advantages to working as an assistant US attorney as opposed to one of the litigating divisions at DOJ?

I know at least two examples:

1) Geographic considerations. If you don't want to live in Washington, but want to work for the DOJ, AUSA is about all you can do. Also, DOJ often sends its people out to support the various US Attorney's offices; there's a bunch of folks from DOJ who got shipped from DC to Arizona to help with that immigration bill battle, for example. Being an AUSA means you only take care of things in your district.

2) Opportunities on the job. The US Attorney and his AUSAs prosecute all the cases in their district. Not every department of the DOJ in Washington gives you regular litigation experience. Even if you do get litigation experience, it may be flying to a part of the country to support the US Attorney's office there, while his office actually brings the case.


Yep. More variety, as well. If you work at main Justice, you'll be assigned to one specific division and basically do only one kind of case all the time. AUSAs get a little variety, because they handle what walks in the door; even where they are specialized (EDNY organized crime div, for example) they still get some variety.

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Lonagan
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby Lonagan » Sun Nov 28, 2010 5:25 pm

Renzo wrote:
vanwinkle wrote:
BruceWayne wrote:What are the advantages to working as an assistant US attorney as opposed to one of the litigating divisions at DOJ?

I know at least two examples:

1) Geographic considerations. If you don't want to live in Washington, but want to work for the DOJ, AUSA is about all you can do. Also, DOJ often sends its people out to support the various US Attorney's offices; there's a bunch of folks from DOJ who got shipped from DC to Arizona to help with that immigration bill battle, for example. Being an AUSA means you only take care of things in your district.

2) Opportunities on the job. The US Attorney and his AUSAs prosecute all the cases in their district. Not every department of the DOJ in Washington gives you regular litigation experience. Even if you do get litigation experience, it may be flying to a part of the country to support the US Attorney's office there, while his office actually brings the case.


Yep. More variety, as well. If you work at main Justice, you'll be assigned to one specific division and basically do only one kind of case all the time. AUSAs get a little variety, because they handle what walks in the door; even where they are specialized (EDNY organized crime div, for example) they still get some variety.


Of course you use organized crime as an example, given your 'tar ~

UCLAtransfer
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby UCLAtransfer » Sun Nov 28, 2010 5:33 pm

All the following applies strictly to Criminal Division, as I have no experience with Civil.

Above posters are correct. You typically need at least 2 years of WE in order to apply for an AUSA position. There seems to be some persistent rumors floating around that DOJ Honors people can get a job without WE, but I have never heard of this in reality.

From what I have seen, the vast majority of AUSAs (at least in more desirable locations) have clerked for a year (federal) and then worked in biglaw for a couple/few years. At the two offices I interned at, I would say 75% of the AUSAs fit this description, while the other 25% came from state AGs offices or ADA positions. Almost all of them came from T14 schools or well-regarded local/regional schools.

Also, MANY of the AUSAs who I worked with as an intern had themselves interned with that USAO their first summer in law school and then come back post-clerkship/biglaw associate.

AUSAs absolutely specialize. The breakdown of "groups" is a little different depending on the jurisdiction, but AUSAs are each in a specific group, unless they are transitioning to a different group or simply assisting with a case outside of their group. The two offices I have interned at seemed to hire most of the new AUSAs into the less high-profile groups, such as immigration and violent crime, where it is more high volume case work, and then they would transition over to other groups such as national security, white collar, and organized crime/drug enforcement (if desired after a couple of years).

Pay is between about $50-80k to start (depending on location) and maxes out in the low six figures ($120k-$140k maybe).

As far as advantages b/w AUSA and DOJ, the main difference seems to be twofold: (1) the "size" of the matters involved-DOJ typically prosecutes huge cases that are the product of very long-term investigations, while USAOs are prosecuting more of the regional run of the mill type federal crimes that stem from FBI and DEA investigations (mortgage fraud/wire fraud cases, immigration-deportation, larger scale drug distribution rings, etc.); and (2) the frequency of court appearances/trial work-AUSAs are in court day in and day out, and even if a case they get assigned early on ends up going to trial, they will generally be the one trying the case.

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Blindmelon
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby Blindmelon » Sun Nov 28, 2010 5:37 pm

UCLAtransfer wrote:
From what I have seen, the vast majority of AUSAs (at least in more desirable locations) have clerked for a year (federal) and then worked in biglaw for a couple/few years. At the two offices I interned at, I would say 75% of the AUSAs fit this description, while the other 25% came from state AGs offices or ADA positions. Almost all of them came from T14 schools or well-regarded local/regional schools.


In Mass, oddly enough, most of the attorneys I met went to BC, BU, Northeastern and New England. I guess this depends a lot on the local, but Mass pulls overwhelmingly from the local schools, to the exclusion of T14 students (alumni network I guess?). I knew people who went to UVA, Duke, Columbia, but for every T14 student, there seemed to be 2 from New England Law. It was surprising to say the least.

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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby Renzo » Sun Nov 28, 2010 6:33 pm

Blindmelon wrote:
UCLAtransfer wrote:
From what I have seen, the vast majority of AUSAs (at least in more desirable locations) have clerked for a year (federal) and then worked in biglaw for a couple/few years. At the two offices I interned at, I would say 75% of the AUSAs fit this description, while the other 25% came from state AGs offices or ADA positions. Almost all of them came from T14 schools or well-regarded local/regional schools.


In Mass, oddly enough, most of the attorneys I met went to BC, BU, Northeastern and New England. I guess this depends a lot on the local, but Mass pulls overwhelmingly from the local schools, to the exclusion of T14 students (alumni network I guess?). I knew people who went to UVA, Duke, Columbia, but for every T14 student, there seemed to be 2 from New England Law. It was surprising to say the least.

My impression has been that grades more than school matter to AUSA hiring, and to gov't jobs in general.

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BruceWayne
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby BruceWayne » Sun Nov 28, 2010 6:59 pm

Thanks for the responses!

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vanwinkle
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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby vanwinkle » Sun Nov 28, 2010 9:32 pm

Blindmelon wrote:In Mass, oddly enough, most of the attorneys I met went to BC, BU, Northeastern and New England. I guess this depends a lot on the local, but Mass pulls overwhelmingly from the local schools, to the exclusion of T14 students (alumni network I guess?). I knew people who went to UVA, Duke, Columbia, but for every T14 student, there seemed to be 2 from New England Law. It was surprising to say the least.

I suspect alumni network does have something to do with it, but also self-selection and ties. After all, for someone who's sure they want to work in MA when they graduate, BC/BU was traditionally the smart choice even over T14. T14 numbers could get you scholarship $$$ and you'd still do well placing in the Boston area when you graduate. (All of this was true pre-ITE at least.) Folks who chose T14s instead were probably looking elsewhere more often. Relative to BC/BU students, not that many folks would go to UVA or Duke if they planned on shipping up to Boston for jobs.

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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby Grizz » Sun Nov 28, 2010 9:52 pm

UCLAtransfer wrote:Also, MANY of the AUSAs who I worked with as an intern had themselves interned with that USAO their first summer in law school and then come back post-clerkship/biglaw associate.


Spoke to the US Atty. of a large, desirable federal district and he said that this helped separate out the people who REALLY wanted to be there from the chaff. He said this was actually pretty important to him.

Then again, 1 US Atty. in 1 district, so there ya go.

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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Nov 29, 2010 12:18 am

What can also be highly influential is the hiring preferences of the US Attorney. For instance, in the district I'm familiar(Middle District of Florida, which covers Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville), when the US Attorney was a career prosecutor, the new hires were former assistant state attorneys from T1 schools. When the new US Attorney, who had exclusively private law experience, was in charge, the new hires were T14 and BigLaw alums w/o prosecution experience.

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Re: How does working as an assistant US attorney work?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Nov 29, 2010 12:44 am

Anonymous User wrote:What can also be highly influential is the hiring preferences of the US Attorney. For instance, in the district I'm familiar(Middle District of Florida, which covers Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville), when the US Attorney was a career prosecutor, the new hires were former assistant state attorneys from T1 schools. When the new US Attorney, who had exclusively private law experience, was in charge, the new hires were T14 and BigLaw alums w/o prosecution experience.


I know the "new US Atty." (now former) of that district personally. He has no clue what T14 is and he didn't go to one haha. I bet the reason for new hires from biglaw came from talented laid off biglaw attys. and his emphasis on mortgage fraud, which is a lot more research/document intensive. Let's be honest, ASAs in State Court down here aren't know for that sort of very detail-oriented work; the office is so understaffed.




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