Anonymous User wrote:OP here. Attended a conference recently where I talked to a couple of AUSAs in a high-profile district. Here were my takeaways:
ADA's have a bad rep for being shoot-from-the-hip hacks. It wouldn't be a good investment of my time to work/volunteer as an ADA because it wouldn't be very good trial training. They shoot fish in a barrel against opposing counsel who are generally not that good. Trial law isn't simply about getting reps - it is about being faced with an incredibly strong opposing trial counsel and meeting them at their level. This is why AUSA is so good. You get to do a couple of trials a year if you're lucky - but that's a ton more than whatever you'll get in big law. But more importantly, you go up against big law partners who were former AUSAs and who know how to try cases. And the cases you try as AUSA, at least after you're done with the low-level stuff your first year, are big complicated cases.
ADAs do very little research/writing, and it is essentially a dead-end career which doesn't allow you to rotate back into civil litigation. DO NOT do ADA work for trial experience - it is not the type that is useful for big law. And DO NOT do ADA work with any expectation of "rotating back" into big law. The type of slapdash trials at the local prosecutor's office do not resemble the type of trials conducted by AUSAs - which are closer to what happens in civil litigation.
One AUSA who worked in big law for a few years said that there was a marked difference between the skills he brought to cases than former ADAs - who were simply not equipped to "manage" cases. This "case management"/"quarterbacking" aspect seems significantly more important than courtroom time, which ADAs have plenty of.
How this applies to me? Not sure. I don't want to work in a big law firm. I don't much care if my eventual profession is looked at as a "hack" by anybody. But I don't want to do "exclusively" slapdash trial work in slam-dunk cases. So, I'm even less sure of where to take my career at this point. Maybe I'll just quit law altogether and start a dunkin donuts and cross-examine the customers.
A couple of things: the "quality" of trials and opposing counsel at the state level is very jurisdiction-dependent. In many places this is true; in places with really good public defense organizations, you'd be going up against HYS grads who turned down biglaw/clerkships. It also depends heavily on the level of the charge. After a few years, if you're prosecuting felony murders and such, you can expect to compete against really high-quality, experienced defense attorneys.
Also, volunteering isn't to get good at trials, it's to get a line on your resume you can point to as a demonstration of your commitment, and to have something to talk about in your interviews.
ETA: LOL at biglaw partners trying a criminal case (as defense attorneys).