USAO directly after law school?

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Emersonman

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USAO directly after law school?

Postby Emersonman » Tue Jun 12, 2018 4:53 pm

I want to talk with someone who actually went from law school directly to a US Attorney's office. Yes, I know it is "impossible" but I know of at least one avenue of possibility, and that is through the Attorney General's Honors program where a USAO is a participating component. Who knows if there are others or if there exist exceptions.

Is there anyone out there that can fill us in on the process? How did you get there? Was it through the Honors program? etc. etc.

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Re: USAO directly after law school?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:30 pm

Straight Answer

Outside of DOJ Honors there is no direct route to a USAO coming straight out of law school. There may be an outlier here or there because of a political connection, but for the vast vast majority of applicants it's not a route. Keep in mind that AUSA's are typically young-ish (3-6/7 years) attorneys who possess basic knowledge of how to run a case (whether through observation or actual practice), can perform above-average to excellent legal research, and are still flexible enough to be trained to become a criminal trial attorney (unless civil is your thing). The idea here is that the federal government will be willing to "train" you to a degree to account for deficiencies in your prior experience, but they won't build a trial attorney from the ground up. The case volume, brisk pace of criminal practice, and logistical issues (remember that assistant you had or shared in private practice?...not so much here) prevents that in these offices. A smart, motivated law school graduate from even the most preftigious law schools doesn't possess a multifaceted skill set . . . yet. At the end of the day, briefing cases and talking legal theory just does not prepare you to understand the bump and grind of directing an investigation preceding an indictment. It makes a decent case for a thorough change in the focus of legal education but that's a topic for another thread.

Typical Experience & Routes

The absolute minimum requirement to apply to these offices is one year's experience. Three to five years experience is the typical baseline threshold for application. More than five years and you start running into scenarios where you might be too expensive for the office to afford. How applicants build their 3-5 years are varied (AG/DA->USAO//Fed. Clerkship [District preferred] -> Biglaw Assoc.->USAO). Sometimes alternative/off-beat scenarios work as well - like having non-practice-related legal research or investigation experience. This means that you could have practiced for 1-2 years post-clerkship or pre-clerkship then transitioned into a non-litigation research position for a think tank etc. and then transitioned back. It makes for a compelling application that stands out. Most successful candidates, however, share common professional elements like a federal clerkship and some degree of practice experience (ie. they've argued motions, taken deps, and tried cases to varying degrees). If you are fed. appellate clerk applying for line AUSA positions most offices will rate that clerkship in the prestige category because it does not give that office significant exposure to what it needs which is someone who knows their way around a district court courtroom. If you're applying for an appellate section position that's a different consideration.

Law School Curricula

Internships with a USAO during law school and a criminal law heavy course load can help you create a narrative of interest. This will not, however, open a door to an interview without a fed. clerkship and some degree of practice experience that the office can use and build off of. Unlike what's commonly tossed around, AUSA's come from a variety of law schools and not all were honors graduates or on law review. Most, but not all, found their way into a federal clerkship and got practice experience. Some developed excellent courtroom presence as AAG or ADA's and that charisma and leadership came through during the interview process. Those are attorneys that can get wins in tough cases, are not overly zealous, and make good colleagues.

Who Gets Hired?

There is no such thing as a shoo-in candidate for an AUSA position even from those from the rarified top law schools. Every career track available for young attorneys create significant gaps in their application game outside of DOJ Honors which trains you to be a federal attorney from the ground up. ADA's/AG's have the courtroom experience but are perceived [fairly or not] as not having the legal research and writing skills for substantive motion practice that forms a large part of what AUSA's do. The Fed. clerk/Biglaw route arguably gives you the "prestige" to get interviews across jurisdictions and the research and doc. review skills, but honestly Biglaw associates don't bring the courtroom experience or exposure to the Fed. R. Crim. Pro. AUSA's need to hit the ground running. You're a little more competitive if you do Biglaw white collar defense and/or gov't investigations, but again, if you aren't getting court time it doesn't help the USAO's bottom line. Applicants who are AUSA-focused years before they apply also specifically target Biglaw with these practice areas and/or connections to USAO's through partners etc. that can put in a good word or cut through some red tape once they become aware of the applicant's interest. Some offices, usually the smaller ones, may also be skeptical of a biglaw/fed. clerk applicant because of a feeling that they are ticking-off another box on their resume on their professional road to something else. If you have a bland or entitled personality along with the sense that you aren't going to make a decent time commitment to the office that cuts against you sometimes significantly. There are some bad apples in USAO's and some are typical government lifers, but most AUSA's enjoy and want to enjoy working with each other.

U.S. Attorneys provide directives to their division chiefs about they are looking for in candidates. Sometimes it is the fed. clerk/Biglaw/preftigious grad and sometimes its the ADA from the local law school who is hungry and street-smart, knows the community, and isn't checking a box off their resume. Sometimes the hybrid candidate trumps everyone because they're interesting and were willing to take measured professional risks. It varies from district-to-district and administration to administration and you won't be able to tell until you go through the process and start experiencing some movement. The process, in my opinion, is far more randomized and opaque than the federal clerkship hiring process and more susceptible to an applicant leap frogging others due to connections at the end of the day. Most, but again not all, federal judges are slightly more detached when someone is trying to push a clerk applicant on them.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Tue Jun 12, 2018 8:41 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: USAO directly after law school?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 12, 2018 7:33 pm

^ the above is absolutely correct.

And to be clear, if you enter through the Honors program, you need to have a federal clerkship to be eligible to apply, so you really have at least one year of experience. I know a large large number of AUSAs. I know of two people who went law school --> federal clerkship --> USAO, and I do actually know two people who got hired out of law school, but that is EXCEPTIONALLY unusual, and were both hired probably 8-10 years ago, and they are the only two AUSAs I've ever seen who did this (they were in busy border districts). I don't know how they accomplished it but I've followed AUSA job postings for the last 5 years and I've never seen a position that didn't require at least one year of experience (usually 3). And frankly applying through USAjobs, if you don't have the one year of experience your application won't get passed along. So you may not want it to be impossible but for all intents and purposes, it's impossible. You don't need to say "who knows." We do know; it's not an option.

I entered through the Honors program, so if you have specific questions about that, I can answer. But it's pretty much what it looks like: law school --> federal clerkship --> Honors program.

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Emersonman

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Re: USAO directly after law school?

Postby Emersonman » Fri Jun 15, 2018 3:23 pm

Wow, very thorough responses! Thank you for the information. :D



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