How competitive is USAO Civil?

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How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 19, 2012 3:53 pm

Assuming top 15% at a T10, and a year or two at a V5, how competitive would I be for USAO civil?

Additionally, how much would a couple of years at USAO civil help article III clerkship chances? (yes I realize I would be 4-5 years out at that point, but I'd really like to clerk and figure it wouldn't hurt to do it a bit later)

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 19, 2012 4:08 pm

Every Civil AUSA that worked at the office (secondary market) I interned at was an Art III clerk (except one transfer from Criminal due to the hiring freeze), and the majority were clerks on a CoA. The firms they were from varied, but 3-5 years civil litigation at V20-V100 is a good range. The things that office looked for were 1) a way to really evaluate your work (personal connections help tremendously), and 2) a clerkship. Obviously this might be different in flyovers versus secondary markets versus primary markets.

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 19, 2012 4:18 pm

That's very helpful. It makes sense also - of course the clerkship would help get the AUSA position. Don't know why I was thinking of it in reverse.

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 19, 2012 4:18 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Assuming top 15% at a T10, and a year or two at a V5, how competitive would I be for USAO civil?

Additionally, how much would a couple of years at USAO civil help article III clerkship chances? (yes I realize I would be 4-5 years out at that point, but I'd really like to clerk and figure it wouldn't hurt to do it a bit later)


Whether you get a federal clerkship will probably be the deciding factor. The one's I met had federal district clerkships. They were at a secondary market USAO (but a highly desired secondary market). Some went to the regional school but they all had excellent grades. The top 10 thing won't mean that much unless you're talking about HYS. They care more about having stellar grades and a fed clerkship. I doubt having a fed dist clerkship as opposed to a COA will hurt you. As an AUSA you are a litigator; unless you are in the appellate section at the USAO the fed dist clerkship would be more applicable. Try to volunteer at the USAO you want to work during 1L summer. I would also be careful about the "V5" thing. Since AUSA's are litigators they will be more attracted to firms where you get hands on litigation experience, or at least one known more for lit. The "V5" are mainly mega corporate NYC firms--not lit firms. Something like Paul Weiss, Covington DC, Kirkland, or Williams and Connolly would be more attractive to them.

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 19, 2012 4:24 pm

Assuming top 15% at a T10, and a year or two at a V5, how competitive would I be for USAO civil?


You probably wouldn't be, at least in most markets. Two friends applied a few years ago (pre-ITE). Both were top 20% or so (honors but not coif) from a CCN and working at a V15 firm. The one with 6 years (including lots of substantive trial experience) got it; then one with 4 years (with lots of substantive motions experience) didn't. These days it's even more competitive. I'd suspect that you'd really probably need 5+ years with a lot of substantive experience at a top firm, OR a COA or competitive USDC clerkship plus 2+ years.

One big problem that you are going to run into is that either the USAO is in a big market, in which case there are literally hundreds of well-qualified biglaw litigators gunning for the AUSA spots (it's the preferred escape hatch for litigation associates who aren't going to make partner), or it's in a secondary market or even rural area, in which case the pay differential between firms and government is relatively small, and the AUSAs never, ever leave (and when they do, people from all over the country apply). Tough, tough gig.

Additionally, how much would a couple of years at USAO civil help article III clerkship chances? (yes I realize I would be 4-5 years out at that point, but I'd really like to clerk and figure it wouldn't hurt to do it a bit later)


You would likely be the top candidate among a handful of judges who like more experienced (i.e., more than a couple of biglaw years) clerks. I was basically you -- slightly better school, slightly worse grades, a few years at a slightly worse firm, and then a few years of interesting non-USAO government litigation experience. I applied to a few dozen USDC judges, got several interviews, and ultimately accepted a clerkship in a more competitive district.

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby imchuckbass58 » Thu Jan 19, 2012 5:04 pm

Any reason you're only interested in Civil? In addition to what the other posters have said, I'd point out that the civil division of most USAOs is usually considerably smaller than the criminal division. In SDNY, I think there are 3x-4x as many AUSAs in the criminal division.

I imagine more people are interested in criminal, but with so few spots in either division I imagine you're lowering your chances if you only go for civil.

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 19, 2012 6:59 pm

imchuckbass58 wrote:Any reason you're only interested in Civil? In addition to what the other posters have said, I'd point out that the civil division of most USAOs is usually considerably smaller than the criminal division. In SDNY, I think there are 3x-4x as many AUSAs in the criminal division.

I imagine more people are interested in criminal, but with so few spots in either division I imagine you're lowering your chances if you only go for civil.


All I can speak to is the office I was at, but the criminal AUSAs were generally former prosecutors, and I think the few exceptions did like white-collar defense. So the civil and criminal sides aren't necessarily in the same hiring pool.

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 19, 2012 9:38 pm

I can speak from my experience at a major market USAO (civil division). Specifics may not translate from market to market, but my guess is that the basics don't change much.

1. School rank was virtually meaningless. Far more important was school location (nearly every USAO went to a regionally local school, whether T10 or TTT) and, to a lesser extent, performance in law school.

2. I don't think I met one USAO who did a clerkship at any point. This seemed to apply to both civil/criminal. Don't know if this was a quirk of this particular office though.

3. From what I could see there were two paths to take to get there: Biglaw (avg. 3-7 yrs experience) or Gov't, usually DA or AG (avg. 5-15 yrs experience). A small handful came from other DOJ/USAO posts. Those prior histories probably covered 99% of the attorneys there.

4. For Biglaw laterals the constant refrain was: get trial experience. Full trial experience is better than motions practice, and having control of your own cases is ideal. Almost every Biglaw lateral did some kind of pro bono work to get this experience, which obviously tends to be difficult as a junior associate. This factor is very important, since USAO's are expected to come in day one, get handed their own case load, and try a case before a jury on day two (and that's not always much of an exaggeration).

The other piece of advice I can give is to get into the local USAO "circle." In my market there are a handful of firms that have strong ties with the USAO office, with attorneys regularly moving back and forth. Get to know these people, and ideally get to one of those firms, and you will have a much greater chance. Also, especially with hiring freezes these days, USAO's often hire for a small window every few months or few years. Identifying those windows, and applying quickly when they come open, is key. For some attorneys who got inside information when a window was coming open, they applied and were hired in 6 weeks. For others who fell outside the window, some had to wait anywhere from 2-5 years before they were ultimately hired. Just something to keep in mind.

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 19, 2012 9:52 pm

SDNY is a different beast as compared to most other offices. You pretty much need a clerkship. Although I'm sure some people don't at least have a District Court clerkship, there wasn't one AUSA I worked with who didn't have one.

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 19, 2012 10:24 pm

Thanks above commentator. You said that all the AUSAs you know have done a clerkship. Have the majority done DC or is it more random between COA and DC? Or in other words, given the practical trial focus of an AUSA job, does a less practically useful COA hurt your application? My plan currently is to apply for a COA in my target market, but I also do not want to hurt my chances of applying to an AUSA down the road. I may also apply for a second clerkship following this at the DC level, but this seems to not be as clear of a decision, for economic reasons. For what its worth, I am probably competitive for a court of appeals clerkship somewhere.

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Coco_Local » Fri Feb 10, 2012 7:17 pm

I'm an AUSA in the civil division is a very desirable office (Last announcement we got ~4000 applications. For one spot).

I just want to echo what others said. You need a clerkship and real litigation experience. Our office routinely passes over V-5 types because their litigation departments do very little to train young attorneys and are not trial firms. Try Quinn or Boies.
Last edited by Coco_Local on Fri Feb 10, 2012 10:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 10, 2012 7:23 pm

I just want to echo what others said. You need a clerkship and real litigation experience. Our office routinely passes over V-5 types because their litigation department do very little to train young attorneys and are not trial firms. Try Quinn or Boies.


Hey, I PM'd you.

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 10, 2012 7:55 pm

Last year, the USAO in my hometown (secondary market) had 500 applicants for 1 spot.

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:34 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Thanks above commentator. You said that all the AUSAs you know have done a clerkship. Have the majority done DC or is it more random between COA and DC? Or in other words, given the practical trial focus of an AUSA job, does a less practically useful COA hurt your application? My plan currently is to apply for a COA in my target market, but I also do not want to hurt my chances of applying to an AUSA down the road. I may also apply for a second clerkship following this at the DC level, but this seems to not be as clear of a decision, for economic reasons. For what its worth, I am probably competitive for a court of appeals clerkship somewhere.


Coco, do you mind answering this? When you say clerkship do you equally value COA and DC? or is a (local) DC more valuable than a (local) COA? How about a local COA over a non-local DC? Thanks!

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Re: How competitive is USAO Civil?

Postby Coco_Local » Fri Feb 10, 2012 10:48 pm

I think for a Civil Division, a district court clerkship in the office's district is more helpful than a random appellate clerkship. But either is helpful if you can explain that you know how to write well and produce briefs quickly.

I think the biggest skill an applicant needs is the ability to juggle. You have up to 50 active matters as the lead attorney. Many district clerks do a lot of docket management, so they have more experience moving cases along than an appellate clerk might have. But it varies, of course. Basically, you don't have time to write the most gorgeous brief in the history of briefs. You need to be quick, effective, and concise.

One big thing -- use real writing samples. By that I mean -- use briefs. Civil AUSAs don't write law review articles. Using it as a writing sample is useless.

The interviewing process is nutty and varies dramatically by office. I interviewed for spots in five different offices in major cities. The interviews ranged from nice talks about work experience to combative interrogations. Also, you have to pay for the interview travel expenses yourself. So, save up.

I'm leaving for the night in a bit but will try to take a look at this thread when I go in on Sunday.




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