DA office vs biglaw?

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DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:53 pm

Question is primarily directed at folks with both DA and big law experience.

Big law associate here. Tired about being stressed out all the time. Paranoid about missing a responsive doc, letting a privileged email slip through, researching the wrong case law and getting chewed out by a partner, missing an urgent email, whatever. I find that that I can’t even enjoy vacation bc im thinking about work and still responding to emails. I have a clerkship starting soon and afterwards I’m thinking about going to a DA’s office in a big city.

How is the stress at a DA’s office? do you take streas home with you?

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 18, 2018 1:39 pm

This is dependent on the person, the office, the type of work you do at that office, and a host of other variables. My hours at the Manhattan DA were longer than those in biglaw most weeks, though I know that smaller prosecutors’ offices elsewhere do not demand the same. Regardless, there is nothing more consuming than preparing for trial, particularly of more involved matters. Of course, that stress is well worth the fulfillment of trying cases, if, like me, you enjoy doing so. I certainly thought about my cases as an ADA outside of work far more than the matters I worked on in biglaw, though the latter involved constant attention to email. There certainly isn’t the same imperative to generate pointless busy-work at a DA’s office for obvious reasons, and you have far more autonomy, running your own cases for the most part. You should think hard what your end game is before you do it though: exit options from a DA’s office, even a highly reputed one, will be quite limited.

Have you considered shooting for an AUSA slot? Your exit options may not be much better in many respects, but the pay is enough to live on in most districts, and the level of practice is generally higher.

In sum, I wouldn’t say becoming a prosecutor is the best way to lessen your stress levels, but the stresses of biglaw and prosecution are quite different. Whether it is right for you is a question only you can answer.

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 18, 2018 2:08 pm

Anonymous User wrote:This is dependent on the person, the office, the type of work you do at that office, and a host of other variables. My hours at the Manhattan DA were longer than those in biglaw most weeks, though I know that smaller prosecutors’ offices elsewhere do not demand the same. Regardless, there is nothing more consuming than preparing for trial, particularly of more involved matters. Of course, that stress is well worth the fulfillment of trying cases, if, like me, you enjoy doing so. I certainly thought about my cases as an ADA outside of work far more than the matters I worked on in biglaw, though the latter involved constant attention to email. There certainly isn’t the same imperative to generate pointless busy-work at a DA’s office for obvious reasons, and you have far more autonomy, running your own cases for the most part. You should think hard what your end game is before you do it though: exit options from a DA’s office, even a highly reputed one, will be quite limited.

Have you considered shooting for an AUSA slot? Your exit options may not be much better in many respects, but the pay is enough to live on in most districts, and the level of practice is generally higher.

In sum, I wouldn’t say becoming a prosecutor is the best way to lessen your stress levels, but the stresses of biglaw and prosecution are quite different. Whether it is right for you is a question only you can answer.


This was hugely informative. Thank you.

A few things: I'm not thrilled about the hours you just mentioned working at Manhattan DA. I sort of envisioned a DA's office as 8am-5:30pm on most days with the stress coming from rapid fire cases and not having enough time to properly write memos/research; and then weeks with trial being more like 8am-8pm.

As far as exit options, I'm not overly concerned because I think I could be happy retiring as a prosecutor. However, I do want to be present in my kid's lives (whenever I end up having them) so if the hours are anything like big law (or worse), this may be a pain point for me. I will be targeting USAO offices as well but I'm in LA/SF and the competition for USAO spots here are crazy competitive.

Can you share a little more about your time at the Manhattan DA? Hours when trial is coming up? Hours when trial is not? How do older proseuctors there balance their time?

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 18, 2018 2:33 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:This is dependent on the person, the office, the type of work you do at that office, and a host of other variables. My hours at the Manhattan DA were longer than those in biglaw most weeks, though I know that smaller prosecutors’ offices elsewhere do not demand the same. Regardless, there is nothing more consuming than preparing for trial, particularly of more involved matters. Of course, that stress is well worth the fulfillment of trying cases, if, like me, you enjoy doing so. I certainly thought about my cases as an ADA outside of work far more than the matters I worked on in biglaw, though the latter involved constant attention to email. There certainly isn’t the same imperative to generate pointless busy-work at a DA’s office for obvious reasons, and you have far more autonomy, running your own cases for the most part. You should think hard what your end game is before you do it though: exit options from a DA’s office, even a highly reputed one, will be quite limited.

Have you considered shooting for an AUSA slot? Your exit options may not be much better in many respects, but the pay is enough to live on in most districts, and the level of practice is generally higher.

In sum, I wouldn’t say becoming a prosecutor is the best way to lessen your stress levels, but the stresses of biglaw and prosecution are quite different. Whether it is right for you is a question only you can answer.


This was hugely informative. Thank you.

A few things: I'm not thrilled about the hours you just mentioned working at Manhattan DA. I sort of envisioned a DA's office as 8am-5:30pm on most days with the stress coming from rapid fire cases and not having enough time to properly write memos/research; and then weeks with trial being more like 8am-8pm.

As far as exit options, I'm not overly concerned because I think I could be happy retiring as a prosecutor. However, I do want to be present in my kid's lives (whenever I end up having them) so if the hours are anything like big law (or worse), this may be a pain point for me. I will be targeting USAO offices as well but I'm in LA/SF and the competition for USAO spots here are crazy competitive.

Can you share a little more about your time at the Manhattan DA? Hours when trial is coming up? Hours when trial is not? How do older proseuctors there balance their time?


I can offer you the opposite prospective: I went straight into a job at the Miami SAO and eventually lateralled into biglaw.

From the outset, I can tell you that my hours the first year as a prosecutor in Miami were significantly longer than those at my former biglaw firm. However, that was mostly of my own doing because I loved trying cases. I’d have dozens of cases set for trial each month, and I wanted to know the ends and outs of every fact of each of my cases. In the very beginning, I’d spend 12 hours a day at the office and come in for 6 hours on Saturday. I’d do even more prepping for a trial I knew was going to go. Conversely, after the first year, I became much more comfortable with handling my case load (which actually continued to grow) and would routinely leave the office at 4:40-5pm. Prepping for trial, however, still required demanding hours. I eventually left this job because I didn’t want to be a prosecutor for life making less than 6 figures. Miami paid horribly - by year 3 you’d be lucky to be at $45k.

I can’t say I liked biglaw. The hours were better (albeit slightly) but the pressure to record and capture each second of my day was a whole different story. The pressure to bill made the day much, much more stressful. Actually, I hated biglaw. The private practice world was also much, much less collegial than working in government. Needless to say, I left pretty quickly. I found the happy medium - federal government (not USAO). Now I make low six figures with an awesome work life balance. I’d never go back to state prosecution because of the pay. Likewise, having been in a GS agency, I’d never consider going to the USAO for a pay cut and significantly more work (I work with AUSAs regularly on my agency’s cases).

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:06 pm

First responder above. Hours at any big-city DA’s office are going to be tough. Not all will be like Manhattan, where arraignment courts are open 7 days a week until 1 am, as is the charging unit (both of which are staffed on rotation by line ADAs because of the vertical prosecution model). But as the former Miami ASA made clear, they all are very fast-paced environments that carry long hours. They can also be enormously enjoyable, fulfilling experiences for those with the right personality type.

If you really want to be a state/local prosecutor without crazy hours, by all means go for a smaller office. I interned at one in law school, and it was nothing like New York (though I don’t know many effective trial attorneys who work only 8-8 during trial).

But—and I genuinely don’t mean this to be rude—why DO you think you want to be a prosecutor? If it’s simply hours/stress, that’s probably not the best reason, and you’ll be competing with folks who are passionate about the work (some of whom have biglaw credentials but wanted to be prosecutors). Miami ASA makes a good suggestion in targeting non-AUSA fed gigs. The hours are fewer and pay better in every agency gig I know of (as well as at non-litigating DOJ components at Main). Perhaps you’d even find a practice area you find more interesting than criminal law, if that’s not your prime area of interest or experience.

Also agree with Miami’s other point: salary, perks, and certain colleagues aside, biglaw was otherwise an uninspiring experience in nearly every respect. The billable-hour model is awful. At least that was my experience.

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:13 pm

My dad and sister both work at DA’s offices in relatively small markets. The hours are generally 8:30 - 4:30 or 5:00. The pay sounds tragic but is actually plenty to live on, given the lower cost of living.

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 18, 2018 6:29 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:This is dependent on the person, the office, the type of work you do at that office, and a host of other variables. My hours at the Manhattan DA were longer than those in biglaw most weeks, though I know that smaller prosecutors’ offices elsewhere do not demand the same. Regardless, there is nothing more consuming than preparing for trial, particularly of more involved matters. Of course, that stress is well worth the fulfillment of trying cases, if, like me, you enjoy doing so. I certainly thought about my cases as an ADA outside of work far more than the matters I worked on in biglaw, though the latter involved constant attention to email. There certainly isn’t the same imperative to generate pointless busy-work at a DA’s office for obvious reasons, and you have far more autonomy, running your own cases for the most part. You should think hard what your end game is before you do it though: exit options from a DA’s office, even a highly reputed one, will be quite limited.

Have you considered shooting for an AUSA slot? Your exit options may not be much better in many respects, but the pay is enough to live on in most districts, and the level of practice is generally higher.

In sum, I wouldn’t say becoming a prosecutor is the best way to lessen your stress levels, but the stresses of biglaw and prosecution are quite different. Whether it is right for you is a question only you can answer.


This was hugely informative. Thank you.

A few things: I'm not thrilled about the hours you just mentioned working at Manhattan DA. I sort of envisioned a DA's office as 8am-5:30pm on most days with the stress coming from rapid fire cases and not having enough time to properly write memos/research; and then weeks with trial being more like 8am-8pm.

As far as exit options, I'm not overly concerned because I think I could be happy retiring as a prosecutor. However, I do want to be present in my kid's lives (whenever I end up having them) so if the hours are anything like big law (or worse), this may be a pain point for me. I will be targeting USAO offices as well but I'm in LA/SF and the competition for USAO spots here are crazy competitive.

Can you share a little more about your time at the Manhattan DA? Hours when trial is coming up? Hours when trial is not? How do older proseuctors there balance their time?


I can offer you the opposite prospective: I went straight into a job at the Miami SAO and eventually lateralled into biglaw.

From the outset, I can tell you that my hours the first year as a prosecutor in Miami were significantly longer than those at my former biglaw firm. However, that was mostly of my own doing because I loved trying cases. I’d have dozens of cases set for trial each month, and I wanted to know the ends and outs of every fact of each of my cases. In the very beginning, I’d spend 12 hours a day at the office and come in for 6 hours on Saturday. I’d do even more prepping for a trial I knew was going to go. Conversely, after the first year, I became much more comfortable with handling my case load (which actually continued to grow) and would routinely leave the office at 4:40-5pm. Prepping for trial, however, still required demanding hours. I eventually left this job because I didn’t want to be a prosecutor for life making less than 6 figures. Miami paid horribly - by year 3 you’d be lucky to be at $45k.

I can’t say I liked biglaw. The hours were better (albeit slightly) but the pressure to record and capture each second of my day was a whole different story. The pressure to bill made the day much, much more stressful. Actually, I hated biglaw. The private practice world was also much, much less collegial than working in government. Needless to say, I left pretty quickly. I found the happy medium - federal government (not USAO). Now I make low six figures with an awesome work life balance. I’d never go back to state prosecution because of the pay. Likewise, having been in a GS agency, I’d never consider going to the USAO for a pay cut and significantly more work (I work with AUSAs regularly on my agency’s cases).


Again, I'm very surprised at big law hours being better. It's somehting that I have to think about. In California, the pay for DAs is actually quite good though (e.g., SF DA 1st years make 100k) so I'm not as concerned about the money part. I'm open to fed agencies but those positions outside of DC seem really rare and hard to find. I've been looking at Cal AG's office too but hiring is really sporadic.

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 18, 2018 6:36 pm

Anonymous User wrote:First responder above. Hours at any big-city DA’s office are going to be tough. Not all will be like Manhattan, where arraignment courts are open 7 days a week until 1 am, as is the charging unit (both of which are staffed on rotation by line ADAs because of the vertical prosecution model). But as the former Miami ASA made clear, they all are very fast-paced environments that carry long hours. They can also be enormously enjoyable, fulfilling experiences for those with the right personality type.

If you really want to be a state/local prosecutor without crazy hours, by all means go for a smaller office. I interned at one in law school, and it was nothing like New York (though I don’t know many effective trial attorneys who work only 8-8 during trial).

But—and I genuinely don’t mean this to be rude—why DO you think you want to be a prosecutor? If it’s simply hours/stress, that’s probably not the best reason, and you’ll be competing with folks who are passionate about the work (some of whom have biglaw credentials but wanted to be prosecutors). Miami ASA makes a good suggestion in targeting non-AUSA fed gigs. The hours are fewer and pay better in every agency gig I know of (as well as at non-litigating DOJ components at Main). Perhaps you’d even find a practice area you find more interesting than criminal law, if that’s not your prime area of interest or experience.

Also agree with Miami’s other point: salary, perks, and certain colleagues aside, biglaw was otherwise an uninspiring experience in nearly every respect. The billable-hour model is awful. At least that was my experience.


Thanks, I'm in it for the right reasons though; however, the stress/hours is major concern for me.

Can you share a little more about your hours? I've interned at USAOs before, one of which was EDVA, and the hours/stress didn't seem that bad compared to what you and Miami ASA are saying.

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 18, 2018 6:37 pm

Anonymous User wrote:First responder above. Hours at any big-city DA’s office are going to be tough. Not all will be like Manhattan, where arraignment courts are open 7 days a week until 1 am, as is the charging unit (both of which are staffed on rotation by line ADAs because of the vertical prosecution model). But as the former Miami ASA made clear, they all are very fast-paced environments that carry long hours. They can also be enormously enjoyable, fulfilling experiences for those with the right personality type.

If you really want to be a state/local prosecutor without crazy hours, by all means go for a smaller office. I interned at one in law school, and it was nothing like New York (though I don’t know many effective trial attorneys who work only 8-8 during trial).

But—and I genuinely don’t mean this to be rude—why DO you think you want to be a prosecutor? If it’s simply hours/stress, that’s probably not the best reason, and you’ll be competing with folks who are passionate about the work (some of whom have biglaw credentials but wanted to be prosecutors). Miami ASA makes a good suggestion in targeting non-AUSA fed gigs. The hours are fewer and pay better in every agency gig I know of (as well as at non-litigating DOJ components at Main). Perhaps you’d even find a practice area you find more interesting than criminal law, if that’s not your prime area of interest or experience.

Also agree with Miami’s other point: salary, perks, and certain colleagues aside, biglaw was otherwise an uninspiring experience in nearly every respect. The billable-hour model is awful. At least that was my experience.


Thanks, I'm in it for the right reasons though; however, the stress/hours is major concern for me.

Can you share a little more about your hours? I've interned at USAOs before, one of which was EDVA, and the hours/stress didn't seem that bad compared to what you and Miami ASA are saying.

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 18, 2018 6:40 pm

Being a DA is extremely stressful. Long hours, low pay, stress. People yell at you a lot. Judges yell at you a lot. My first two years I probably worked 60 hrs in an average work, more if I had multiple trials. Once I did five one-day trials in five business days. During a multi-week trial I typically am up working at 5 and stop working around midnight when I go to bed. All in all, I love my job, however I certainly wouldn't consider being a DA a less stressful alternative career path.

I take my work home literally and figuratively. I work in a smaller jurisdiction so I'm more or less on call all the time for warrants and weird late night questions.

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 18, 2018 9:21 pm

Another Manhattan ADA here.. The hours really aren't awful and NO WHERE near what my biglaw bros work. Unless you're on trial or on the eve of trial, you're really not in the office past 7.. ever. This is true mainly for after rookie year when you don't have institutional assignments like arraignments.

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Sep 19, 2018 9:19 pm

Curious - how interesting do you guys/gals (DAs) find the work? Like the *legal* element of the work specifically. Is it intellectually stimulating or more process-oriented. IMO a job can be incredibly rewarding if you love the mission even if the actual work itself is not particularly difficult.

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 20, 2018 12:12 am

Anonymous User wrote:Another Manhattan ADA here.. The hours really aren't awful and NO WHERE near what my biglaw bros work. Unless you're on trial or on the eve of trial, you're really not in the office past 7.. ever. This is true mainly for after rookie year when you don't have institutional assignments like arraignments.


Manhattan Rookie here. My understanding seems to be that the hours aren't all that bad - its just that a good deal of those hours are irregular. I also imagine that the new policies re: marijuana and fare beating means that caseloads (and hours needed to work those cases) will decrease.

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 20, 2018 5:57 am

Another Manhattan ADA here.. The hours really aren't awful and NO WHERE near what my biglaw bros work. Unless you're on trial or on the eve of trial, you're really not in the office past 7.. ever. This is true mainly for after rookie year when you don't have institutional assignments like arraignments.


First DANY responder. That was not my experience, but perhaps the culture in my TB was different than yours, at least when I was there. We certainly weren’t leaving the office by 7 when prepping for/in trial—and in many instances even when not. Yet I enjoyed it a great deal. Meanwhile, I didn’t find my biglaw hours to be horrible. I was in the office around 9 and left by 8 most nights, working a few hours on the weekend. I also worked primarily for a great partner who, while requiring responsiveness when it was necessary, wouldn’t expect a response within 2 min to emails sent at 1 am. (Such partners exist, however, and YMMV.) I left biglaw because I didn’t find the work I was doing on a day-to-day basis particularly interesting. There were moments of intellectual stimulation, but on the whole, it was pretty dull, and I couldn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my professional life, even were I successful in advancing.

As to OP’s original query though, I didn’t find DANY to be significantly less “stressful” than biglaw in the sense of markedly better hours and less devotion to work; again, I think smaller offices in smaller cities are much more laid back, if that’s what you’re looking for. In any event, $60k vs $250k disparity aside, the former was considerably more rewarding than the latter, at least at that time of life.

These are personal decisions based on personal interests and priorities, but hopefully that is one data point you can use in plotting your decision, OP, along with the others. To state the obvious, if you find work you’re passionate about, the hours and involvement required take far less a toll than when you’re there only for the paycheck.

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:29 am

To give a slightly different (and less personal) perspective, my sister-in-law is an ADA in one of the suburban counties around Denver, moved there from one of the big-ish Denver law firms. Her job pays reasonably well (definitely better than the Miami salaries quoted above; I think around 70-80k at third year) and the lifestyle doesn't seem bad. She's early on there and definitely works hard but not at all crazy hours, like maybe 830-6 typically, with everyone out of the office well before 7. She's doing misdemeanors currently (apparently they "graduate" to felonies later on), so she doesn't have any big trials, but that will happen eventually. I would guess first that Manhattan is really unrepresentative if you're planning to work almost anywhere else and second that people like to play up how hard their job is.

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Re: DA office vs biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 20, 2018 11:17 am

I would guess first that Manhattan is really unrepresentative if you're planning to work almost anywhere else and second that people like to play up how hard their job is.


Certainly wasn’t attempting to “play up how hard” DANY was at all—simply responding to OP’s request for anectdotes bearing on whether hours/stress as an ADA were considerably better than biglaw by observing that, IME, ADA life was not a “chill” job in comparison to my (perhaps unrepresentative) experience in biglaw, just different. I didn’t think either job was unreasonably rigorous, and as noted by another ADA apparently still at the office, experiences appear to differ even within the same organization (and of course based on how hard one pushes while there).

As for the speculation that Manhattan is “really unrepresentative,” it’s hard to say, but the Miami ASA above suggests otherwise, and I’ve heard the same about that office, LA, etc.—high caseloads and chronic underfunding can yield long hours. That said, I think as you suggest there are plenty of places with very reasonable hours. It will simply take some due diligence on specific offices.

Good luck, OP!



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