Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 20, 2016 11:19 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:^The above is probably largely true, but unsophisticated cases are great for getting the kind of experience being a trial attorney and running investigations that can make you more competitive for a bigger/more sophisticated office. And I think there's probably a bit more of a spectrum (from unsophisticated to NCDA) rather than just a binary (either/or).

But it is probably worth thinking about whether you want to be an AUSA because you want to try cases but in the federal system (usually more resources/time to devote to cases than in state court, for instance), or because you want to prosecute high-level terrorists or complex white collar fraud or the like. In many places being an AUSA is not actually that fancy a job. (Speaking as someone in a non-sophisticated district.)


Not op but grad who posted and is clerkig right now. I'm curious as to what the consensus would be on "major city" then, at least in terms of sophisticated work. I'm not super elitist about it (though I would rather not do immigration all day or whatever) but figured Boston, LA, DC, SF, Chicago, NYC, San Diego, Seattle, philly, Denver, and the like would all get fair share.

First AUSA above. Boston, SF, Chicago, and NYC are probably the only offices where you'll do a fair amount of sophisticated work. My understanding is that the DC USAO is actually just a DA's office given that they're in charge of prosecuting all local crimes. San Diego is a border district with a military base, so enjoy your hefty caseload of illegal reentries and government contractor theft. I know people in Philly and Denver, and they mostly do drug trafficking and violent crime. No idea about Seattle.


EDVA is probably the place you do the most sophisticated work and it is sorta DC.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Mar 06, 2017 7:42 pm

Anonymous User wrote:T20. top 1/3, cum laude (barely made it), EIC of secondary. Current v50 1st year associate in DC. I want to be an AUSA in SF or LA (where I have family). No clerkship exp.

Do I have a shot in 2 or 3 years? If not, what can I do to become more competitive?


I am the OP. Revitalizing my old thread.

Since last posting, I've continued at my firm doing white collar/securities work. Second year now. No trial experience, but I've taken 10+ depos, and argued 2 hearings.

I've also taken the advice of posters here and applied to several clerkships. I've gotten an offer to clerk starting fall 2017, not a flyover, but not a big major city either. Think: Atlanta, Miami/Orlando, Detroit, San Antonio, etc.

I also have an opportunity to lateral to another v50 firm's white collar group in SF.

Two questions for you all: (1) Should I take this clerkship (with AUSA goal in mind) or lateral to SF or stay in DC? (2) What else can I do to get closer to becoming an AUSA in California? I realize my chances have not drastically improved but I'm doing what I can...

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby rpupkin » Mon Mar 06, 2017 8:32 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I also have an opportunity to lateral to another v50 firm's white collar group in SF.

That's impressive, as there isn't much white collar work in SF. Before accepting, I'd make absolutely sure that you're actually going to be doing all (or mostly) white collar lit, and not just commercial lit with some white collar stuff mixed in here and there.

If this offer is the real deal—if you’re actually going to be doing lots of white collar work at the firm—then I recommend accepting it, doing great work at the firm, and then trying to get a district court clerkship in ND Cal after a couple of years.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby foregetaboutdre » Mon Mar 06, 2017 8:40 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:T20. top 1/3, cum laude (barely made it), EIC of secondary. Current v50 1st year associate in DC. I want to be an AUSA in SF or LA (where I have family). No clerkship exp.

Do I have a shot in 2 or 3 years? If not, what can I do to become more competitive?


I am the OP. Revitalizing my old thread.

Since last posting, I've continued at my firm doing white collar/securities work. Second year now. No trial experience, but I've taken 10+ depos, and argued 2 hearings.

I've also taken the advice of posters here and applied to several clerkships. I've gotten an offer to clerk starting fall 2017, not a flyover, but not a big major city either. Think: Atlanta, Miami/Orlando, Detroit, San Antonio, etc.

I also have an opportunity to lateral to another v50 firm's white collar group in SF.

Two questions for you all: (1) Should I take this clerkship (with AUSA goal in mind) or lateral to SF or stay in DC? (2) What else can I do to get closer to becoming an AUSA in California? I realize my chances have not drastically improved but I'm doing what I can...


A lot of those clerkship options honestly look pretty desirable and if you could wiggle into an AUSA position in those markets..they are not bad at all. I'm from Detroit, so I know that one is different, but still.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby rpupkin » Mon Mar 06, 2017 8:45 pm

foregetaboutdre wrote:A lot of those clerkship options honestly look pretty desirable and if you could wiggle into an AUSA position in those markets..they are not bad at all. I'm from Detroit, so I know that one is different, but still.

For the record, my advice in the previous post is based on the assumption that OP is still wedded to the goal of being an AUSA in California. If OP is willing to work as an AUSA in a less competitive region (which he or she should strongly consider), then I agree with forgetaboutdre's advice.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Mar 06, 2017 8:48 pm

foregetaboutdre wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:T20. top 1/3, cum laude (barely made it), EIC of secondary. Current v50 1st year associate in DC. I want to be an AUSA in SF or LA (where I have family). No clerkship exp.

Do I have a shot in 2 or 3 years? If not, what can I do to become more competitive?


I am the OP. Revitalizing my old thread.

Since last posting, I've continued at my firm doing white collar/securities work. Second year now. No trial experience, but I've taken 10+ depos, and argued 2 hearings.

I've also taken the advice of posters here and applied to several clerkships. I've gotten an offer to clerk starting fall 2017, not a flyover, but not a big major city either. Think: Atlanta, Miami/Orlando, Detroit, San Antonio, etc.

I also have an opportunity to lateral to another v50 firm's white collar group in SF.

Two questions for you all: (1) Should I take this clerkship (with AUSA goal in mind) or lateral to SF or stay in DC? (2) What else can I do to get closer to becoming an AUSA in California? I realize my chances have not drastically improved but I'm doing what I can...


A lot of those clerkship options honestly look pretty desirable and if you could wiggle into an AUSA position in those markets..they are not bad at all. I'm from Detroit, so I know that one is different, but still.


Thanks! I'm pretty much only interested in being an AUSA in California (that's where my family is) so I wouldn't try to be an AUSA in the district of the clerkship at all. My goal with the clerkship would be to apply to SF/LA big law firms after the clerkship and then look for AUSA opportunities that popped up. Does that change your opinion?

rpupkin wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I also have an opportunity to lateral to another v50 firm's white collar group in SF.

That's impressive, as there isn't much white collar work in SF. Before accepting, I'd make absolutely sure that you're actually going to be doing all (or mostly) white collar lit, and not just commercial lit with some white collar stuff mixed in here and there.

If this offer is the real deal—if you’re actually going to be doing lots of white collar work at the firm—then I recommend accepting it, doing great work at the firm, and then trying to get a district court clerkship in ND Cal after a couple of years.


Thanks, rpupkin. I wasn't aware that SF white collar was rare, interesting. During CB interviews, it seemed like the role would be white collar/securities litigation. Any thoughts on that?

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby rpupkin » Mon Mar 06, 2017 8:54 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Thanks, rpupkin. I wasn't aware that SF white collar was rare, interesting. During CB interviews, it seemed like the role would be white collar/securities litigation. Any thoughts on that?

Yeah, my thoughts are that you might be doing 90% securities litigation involving tons of doc review. I have decent familiarity with the few strong white collar practice groups here, and I doubt that your V50 is one of them. I bet it's mostly sec lit.

Before you accept, I'd really, really try to understand/investigate the kind of work that junior associates do in the practice group. It sounds like you're getting decent substantive experience at your current firm. If you're not going to get early substantive opportunities at this new firm, don't go.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Mar 06, 2017 10:26 pm

OP, would you consider clerking in E.D. Cal.?

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby jess » Tue Mar 07, 2017 2:04 am

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Last edited by jess on Thu Oct 26, 2017 10:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby los blancos » Tue Mar 07, 2017 8:56 am

Anonymous User wrote: My goal with the clerkship would be to apply to SF/LA big law firms after the clerkship


Others should chime in, but given firms' feelings about mid-career clerks Id be careful.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby FascinatedWanderer » Tue Mar 07, 2017 10:20 am

I think the best bet is to take the clerkship, try to be an AUSA in that district, then apply to CDCA/NDCA AUSA positions down the road.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Mar 07, 2017 10:23 am

los blancos wrote:
Anonymous User wrote: My goal with the clerkship would be to apply to SF/LA big law firms after the clerkship


Others should chime in, but given firms' feelings about mid-career clerks Id be careful.


Care to elaborate? I'm not familiar.

jessuf wrote:Are you already barred in CA


I passed the CA bar but I'm not actually barred though because I need a higher ethics exam score (haha). Will get around to it at some point. Most CA firms have been satisfied with just my exam passing though.

Anonymous User wrote:OP, would you consider clerking in E.D. Cal.?


Absolutely. I applied to two and didn't get them though. . .

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Mar 07, 2017 10:43 am

rpupkin wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Thanks, rpupkin. I wasn't aware that SF white collar was rare, interesting. During CB interviews, it seemed like the role would be white collar/securities litigation. Any thoughts on that?

Yeah, my thoughts are that you might be doing 90% securities litigation involving tons of doc review. I have decent familiarity with the few strong white collar practice groups here, and I doubt that your V50 is one of them. I bet it's mostly sec lit.

Before you accept, I'd really, really try to understand/investigate the kind of work that junior associates do in the practice group. It sounds like you're getting decent substantive experience at your current firm. If you're not going to get early substantive opportunities at this new firm, don't go.


This is interesting. Woudl you mind expanding? The white-collar that I'm familiar with, involves a lot of a doc review too. I've been on a misleading disclosure case, illegal stock promoter case, and a ponzi scheme case. All 3 were pretty heavy on the doc review (mostly emails).

Is securities lit a whole different level of this (aka even more emails)?

on that note, would you mind name dropping a few firms that have strong white collar teams in the SF area? aside from the elite boutiques (KVN) and firms that I dont have a shot with. (if any). edit: is the chambers guide an accurate reflection in your opinion: http://www.chambersandpartners.com/1205 ... torial/5/1

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Mar 07, 2017 11:13 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:T20. top 1/3, cum laude (barely made it), EIC of secondary. Current v50 1st year associate in DC. I want to be an AUSA in SF or LA (where I have family). No clerkship exp.

Do I have a shot in 2 or 3 years? If not, what can I do to become more competitive?


I am the OP. Revitalizing my old thread.

Since last posting, I've continued at my firm doing white collar/securities work. Second year now. No trial experience, but I've taken 10+ depos, and argued 2 hearings.

I've also taken the advice of posters here and applied to several clerkships. I've gotten an offer to clerk starting fall 2017, not a flyover, but not a big major city either. Think: Atlanta, Miami/Orlando, Detroit, San Antonio, etc.

I also have an opportunity to lateral to another v50 firm's white collar group in SF.

Two questions for you all: (1) Should I take this clerkship (with AUSA goal in mind) or lateral to SF or stay in DC? (2) What else can I do to get closer to becoming an AUSA in California? I realize my chances have not drastically improved but I'm doing what I can...


Never saw this thread previously. With your stats, it sounds like you are me, 9 years later. I left biglaw first for a middling USAO, then later Main Justice.

I'm not sure I would recommend the path of clerkship -> AUSA in clerkship district -> wait for AUSA in your preferred market. You are far from guaranteed to get the AUSA gig in SF just because you've been an AUSA elsewhere.

As for whether to do the clerkship at all, I'm a little agnostic. I could be persuaded if you are otherwise lacking AUSA-type things on your resume (like federal criminal clinic in law school, USAO/DOJ summer internship, etc.), because your USAO interviewers will want to see some evidence of commitment to the cause. Having been a district court clerk counts because it lets you explain how fascinating and great it was to see devoted AUSAs pursue justice.

That said, one of the most important things you can do is to build connections in your target USAO. I know of AUSA openings where there have been hundreds of applicants, many quite qualified, and the US Atty *still* reached out to alumni of the office to ask if they knew of associates at their firms who were interested. Not saying that's the only way positions get filled, but those connections matter a lot. You need something to get your resume "off the pile." So even after your clerkship, you would want to look for the white collar gig in SF before you have your best shot at an opening in that USAO.

As for the lateral offer you have, I'm not as worried about other posters about the substantive work, whether it's "real" white collar, securities lit, or FCPA or something. USAOs aren't hiring you for your subject matter expertise. The main question, for me, would be whether the firm has alumni of the USAO you are targeting. If it does, and you go there, become indispensable to them. Most former AUSAs think it was the best job they ever had and love to help people they like get the job.

A second question is whether it's a good pro bono firm. USAOs know that biglaw practice -- whether it's securities, "real" white collar, or patent litigation -- aren't making you into David Boies in your third year, or ever. They just want to see some initiative in pursuing as much real litigating as you can and getting responsibility beyond your years. So if it's a firm where associates get to have substantial roles in pro bono trials, that helps a lot on the "can he do trials? does he take initiative?" questions.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby jess » Tue Mar 07, 2017 12:05 pm

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby OutCold » Tue Mar 07, 2017 2:33 pm

I've seen EDVA thrown around as one of the offices that does more complex work, including earlier in this thread. Can anyone shed some light on the types of cases that pass through that district? I've been pretty gung-ho New York, but I'm looking to expand my targets. Also curious about Boston, Chicago, and other offices that are sometimes grouped apart from other standard major cities.

Similarly, I know that DDC has the pseudo-DA component, which I understand new hires generally start out in, but how do things shake out with a bit of seniority? People tend to shy away from DC for that reason, but I don't see why a year or two of DA work--which I imagine translates to more time on your feet in court--is necessarily a bad thing so long as its not a permanent.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby FascinatedWanderer » Tue Mar 07, 2017 3:09 pm

I think it's 4 years of DA work.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Mar 07, 2017 3:52 pm

OutCold wrote:Similarly, I know that DDC has the pseudo-DA component, which I understand new hires generally start out in, but how do things shake out with a bit of seniority? People tend to shy away from DC for that reason, but I don't see why a year or two of DA work--which I imagine translates to more time on your feet in court--is necessarily a bad thing so long as its not a permanent.


It's generally four years of Superior Court (i.e. state court) rotations. The official word is that in rare cases that process is accelerated for people with specialized experience; the unofficial word is that it's more common and not all that rare for people with more years out of law school with decent experience to get through the rotations more quickly.

I didn't come through that office but I agree with you, it sounds like a blast. Lots of trials, in court all the time, etc. You generate the kinds of experience and war stories that really help you with whatever your next move in your career is (e.g. main justice or something). And it doesn't last forever unless you want it to.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby XxSpyKEx » Tue Mar 07, 2017 3:55 pm

I wonder if OP's best shot would be to become an AUSA in a less desirable location, like Fresno, be an AUSA there for half a decade to a decade, and then try to move to LA or SF? I think even Fresno USAO would be a pretty longshot based on OP's current credentials, but could see that type of move being a billion times more realistic than him/her clerking at the 9th Cir, CDCA, or NDCA, and then moving into one of these insanely competitive USAOs. I've certainly heard of AUSAs getting hired in places like Atlanta and using their experience there to help them move to a major city (not that I'm saying ATL is as bad as Fresno).

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Mar 07, 2017 3:58 pm

As someone in a relatively fly-over USAO, almost everyone who's left has gone to another USAO (or to main justice), so in a lot of offices you definitely get an advantage having USAO experience. Unfortunately I don't know the California offices' hiring practices so can't comment on that specifically.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Mar 07, 2017 4:04 pm

OutCold wrote:I've seen EDVA thrown around as one of the offices that does more complex work, including earlier in this thread. Can anyone shed some light on the types of cases that pass through that district? I've been pretty gung-ho New York, but I'm looking to expand my targets. Also curious about Boston, Chicago, and other offices that are sometimes grouped apart from other standard major cities.


"Complex" is an easy word to throw around, so I'm not sure I can provide much intel there. But the office handles some big drug and gangs cases, more national security cases than most USAOs, and a reasonable amount of financial crime. I think the last few weeks of press releases on their website provides a decent overview: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/pr

And it has a reputation within the broader DOJ/USAO community as a very strong office; coming from there is a good pedigree, certainly on par with EDNY/NDIL, for example. It all depends on your goals and aspirations but I think Maryland is a solid office right now, too. And Baltimore is actually pretty great. (Or you are assigned to Greenbelt and live in the DC region.)

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Mar 07, 2017 6:59 pm

OP here, I really appreciate all the responses in here.

I'd like to add one more wrinkle.

A friend/mentor of mine is an AUSA in a 9th circuit district (but not California). He has told me that his office is considering hiring a "Special AUSA" for 1 year exactly. The SAUSA pay would be an annual contract for between $40k and $65k based on experience. According to him, this should not be taken with the expectation of becoming an AUSA after.

Would this be better than the (1) current job, (2) SF job, (3) district court clerkship? I don't care about money.

Anonymous User wrote:
Never saw this thread previously. With your stats, it sounds like you are me, 9 years later. I left biglaw first for a middling USAO, then later Main Justice.

I'm not sure I would recommend the path of clerkship -> AUSA in clerkship district -> wait for AUSA in your preferred market. You are far from guaranteed to get the AUSA gig in SF just because you've been an AUSA elsewhere.

As for whether to do the clerkship at all, I'm a little agnostic. I could be persuaded if you are otherwise lacking AUSA-type things on your resume (like federal criminal clinic in law school, USAO/DOJ summer internship, etc.), because your USAO interviewers will want to see some evidence of commitment to the cause. Having been a district court clerk counts because it lets you explain how fascinating and great it was to see devoted AUSAs pursue justice.

That said, one of the most important things you can do is to build connections in your target USAO. I know of AUSA openings where there have been hundreds of applicants, many quite qualified, and the US Atty *still* reached out to alumni of the office to ask if they knew of associates at their firms who were interested. Not saying that's the only way positions get filled, but those connections matter a lot. You need something to get your resume "off the pile." So even after your clerkship, you would want to look for the white collar gig in SF before you have your best shot at an opening in that USAO.

As for the lateral offer you have, I'm not as worried about other posters about the substantive work, whether it's "real" white collar, securities lit, or FCPA or something. USAOs aren't hiring you for your subject matter expertise. The main question, for me, would be whether the firm has alumni of the USAO you are targeting. If it does, and you go there, become indispensable to them. Most former AUSAs think it was the best job they ever had and love to help people they like get the job.

A second question is whether it's a good pro bono firm. USAOs know that biglaw practice -- whether it's securities, "real" white collar, or patent litigation -- aren't making you into David Boies in your third year, or ever. They just want to see some initiative in pursuing as much real litigating as you can and getting responsibility beyond your years. So if it's a firm where associates get to have substantial roles in pro bono trials, that helps a lot on the "can he do trials? does he take initiative?" questions.


Thanks for this. My current firm is REALLY good about giving pro bono experience. I've billed something like 25% of my total billables to pro bono over the last 1.5 years and like you said, its how I've gotten most my real substantive experience. New firm? Unlikely to be as pro bono friendly. I believe their policy was 100 hours pro bono hours counted towards billables but thats it.

XxSpyKEx wrote:I wonder if OP's best shot would be to become an AUSA in a less desirable location, like Fresno, be an AUSA there for half a decade to a decade, and then try to move to LA or SF? I think even Fresno USAO would be a pretty longshot based on OP's current credentials, but could see that type of move being a billion times more realistic than him/her clerking at the 9th Cir, CDCA, or NDCA, and then moving into one of these insanely competitive USAOs. I've certainly heard of AUSAs getting hired in places like Atlanta and using their experience there to help them move to a major city (not that I'm saying ATL is as bad as Fresno).


I would be completely okay with this.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Mar 07, 2017 9:36 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP here, I really appreciate all the responses in here.

I'd like to add one more wrinkle.

A friend/mentor of mine is an AUSA in a 9th circuit district (but not California). He has told me that his office is considering hiring a "Special AUSA" for 1 year exactly. The SAUSA pay would be an annual contract for between $40k and $65k based on experience. According to him, this should not be taken with the expectation of becoming an AUSA after.

Would this be better than the (1) current job, (2) SF job, (3) district court clerkship? I don't care about money.


I would be completely okay with this.


SAUSA positions are probably the single best onramp to the USAO that I know of. Both USAs in my home district started as SAUSAs. I'd say SAUSA>AUSA in Idaho will move your chances from 0% to possible in the abstract, but I don't know exactly how much more competitive California is.

In general, the best strategy for getting in anywhere is to apply everywhere then look to transfer. If you wanted to be in, say, Houston, the best strategy would be to try to get into the Corpus Christi office and transfer. You'll have a paper trail, you'll have applicable experience, and you can start way sooner because you will already have a clearance, be in HR, etc.

I get that the purpose of this thread is to get info about 2 very specific and very competitive offices, but I would actually much rather be in Corpus Christi than Houston, Yuma than Phoenix, and so on. In a huge office you're going to be completely specialized, have fewer trials, be more vulnerable to politics, among other things. I would bet that LA/SF would be 2 of the harder offices to actually work in.

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Mar 07, 2017 11:01 pm

I get that you're just picking examples to make a point, but no, no, no, no one would want to be in Yuma over Phoenix. In part because Yuma sucks, in part because some of the very small offices are specialized outposts that do only a few things (Yuma doesn't really do felony trials, for instance - it does mostly immigration intake and the trials are done in Phoenix anyway). Not that Fresno is likely to be exactly analogous to Yuma, but my point is more that you need to research what a given office does and not just make assumptions that small (or big) means the same thing everywhere.

I also don't think office politics have to do with size so much as with the culture of the office/USA, though I suppose it depends a little what you mean by politics.

(Lastly, if you don't have prosecution experience before going to the USAO it can be nice to be in a bigger office where there are a lot more resources for learning. But that's probably about temperament as much as anything else.)

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Re: Is it hard to be an AUSA in California?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Mar 08, 2017 9:23 am

OutCold wrote:I've seen EDVA thrown around as one of the offices that does more complex work, including earlier in this thread. Can anyone shed some light on the types of cases that pass through that district? I've been pretty gung-ho New York, but I'm looking to expand my targets. Also curious about Boston, Chicago, and other offices that are sometimes grouped apart from other standard major cities.

Similarly, I know that DDC has the pseudo-DA component, which I understand new hires generally start out in, but how do things shake out with a bit of seniority? People tend to shy away from DC for that reason, but I don't see why a year or two of DA work--which I imagine translates to more time on your feet in court--is necessarily a bad thing so long as its not a permanent.


I think for people on east coast, who don't want to be in NYC, EDVA is probably the best office in terms of quality of work. Hiring standards there are insane though, especially in Alexandria, and its a relatively small office compared to DC/SDNY/EDNY



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