Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division Forum

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Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jun 06, 2018 7:14 pm

Looking for insight into what life as an AUSA looks like in major metro areas. I have small children and biglaw just isn't cutting it in the work/life balance department. I've been looking at AUSA openings but I'm not entirely sure that it would be a meaningful improvement in quality of life. Can anyone provide insight into their experience as an AUSA? How many years out of law school were you when you were hired as an AUSA? What are your typical hours? What is your pay? How often do you receive an increase in pay? Do you feel relatively secure in your position (unlike the relentless paranoia of being fired in biglaw...or maybe that's just me)?

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Re: Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jun 06, 2018 7:31 pm

During law school I interned at the OGC of a federal agency that worked with the regional USAO’s civil division attorneys on torts. It seemed pretty stressful work because apart from the stress that comes with litigation the civil division only had a handful attorneys covering torts (and I assume other civil matters) for the whole federal district but got the same pay as my supervisor, who was just the agency attorney (low to mid 100k). I specifically recall him staying at our agency’s office after hours, so it’s most definitely not a 40 hour a week job like other Fed gov positions. I got the impression that the civil division wasn’t well funded. I would still the position in a heartbeat, though.

andythefir

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Re: Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by andythefir » Wed Jun 06, 2018 8:33 pm

Really depends on the office, section, and supervisor-sorry the answer is so vague. I've heard some are sweatshops (SDNY, EDVA), while others are clean 8 to 5. All of them are subject to executive branch hiring nonsense, though, which means you can go months or years down bodies, which means the people who are left have to pick up the slack. I'd also imagine the crews along the border aren't leaving at 5PM these days.

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Re: Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jun 06, 2018 9:03 pm

It also depends considerably on the type of work you do. Those doing defensive work (e.g., the tort suits mentioned above) can have quite busy weeks, crammed with depos, mediations, motion deadlines, and the occasional trial. Their pace is fast. That said, even those AUSAs in my office (a very large district) don’t appear to make a habit of staying exceedingly late. Certainly not biglaw late.

Those on the affirmative side work on a select few long-running, often mammoth enforcement investigations, often focused on health care frauds. While the deadlines are far fewer and the urgency less apparent, there is constant pressure to drive those cases forward (as there should be, given their importance). The ACE attorneys I know often work relatively late hours, presumably for that reason, but they seem to enjoy their work (and, as a former AUSA who used to post here said a few years ago, have some of the best exit options of any AUSAs, as that is expertise that biglaw clients will actually pay for—unlike the criminal AUSA who does guns and drugs). Slower pace, but very sophisticated practice.

Speaking from the vantage of a former biglaw associate and current criminal AUSA, I can tell you with some degree of confidence that your hours and job security will be markedly better. There are downsides, of course—pay, bureaucracy, and complacency among certain “lifer” colleagues—but if hours and security are your primarily criteria, it’s probably a good move.

EDIT: realized I didn’t answer your questions. I am in crim, so not sure how relevant, but I usually work 55-65 hrs a week unless trial prepping or some other very hot matter requires more; trial/trial prep is way more. I was hired 5-7 yrs out of LS and have been at DOJ several years now. I make low (very low) six figures. Raises have been a few grand a year. Job security is good.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Wed Jun 06, 2018 9:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jun 06, 2018 9:15 pm

So civil AUSAs are on the AD-payscale, so your pay goes up by grades according to your years of experience up to 9+ years (and then you'll still get CoL, of course, and there's a range within the payscales, so I think you can still go up within the payscale for a bit after you hit 9 years). And I don't think the civil hours are as bad as criminal hours; I know obviously you have deadlines in civil but I don't think it's as intense (let's put it this way - the only civil person I ever see staying late is someone detailed from another agency). I don't think they're close to what you do in biglaw.

As with all federal positions, once you're past your probationary period (14 months), you're very secure and it's very hard to be fired. Although obviously the head of the office changes with the administration, I haven't heard of any kind of wholesale cleaning-of-house when that happens (some people might choose to leave under a new USA and a new USA might well change hiring for future positions, but can't really just kick people out who already there).

I think most people I've seen get hired into civil have something like 3-7 years of experience (they're going to want some experience, although too much may make you a bit expensive).

There are usually far fewer civil attorneys than criminal - my previous district had about 65 criminal attorneys and 6 civil. That will depend some on the district. I wouldn't say they're underfunded in the context of the federal government, and I don't think cost is going to prevent you from doing what you need to do, but for biglaw refugees the resources/support may feel a bit thin compared to what you're used to.

(Also I used to be in a border district and civil AUSAs aren't really involved in any of the border stuff. Their caseload isn't really going to vary much based on that. Like I suppose if more people are suing Border Patrol, maybe, but I don't think that USAOs actually handle that.)

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Re: Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jun 10, 2018 2:53 pm

Anonymous User wrote:So civil AUSAs are on the AD-payscale, so your pay goes up by grades according to your years of experience up to 9+ years (and then you'll still get CoL, of course, and there's a range within the payscales, so I think you can still go up within the payscale for a bit after you hit 9 years). And I don't think the civil hours are as bad as criminal hours; I know obviously you have deadlines in civil but I don't think it's as intense (let's put it this way - the only civil person I ever see staying late is someone detailed from another agency). I don't think they're close to what you do in biglaw.

As with all federal positions, once you're past your probationary period (14 months), you're very secure and it's very hard to be fired. Although obviously the head of the office changes with the administration, I haven't heard of any kind of wholesale cleaning-of-house when that happens (some people might choose to leave under a new USA and a new USA might well change hiring for future positions, but can't really just kick people out who already there).

I think most people I've seen get hired into civil have something like 3-7 years of experience (they're going to want some experience, although too much may make you a bit expensive).

There are usually far fewer civil attorneys than criminal - my previous district had about 65 criminal attorneys and 6 civil. That will depend some on the district. I wouldn't say they're underfunded in the context of the federal government, and I don't think cost is going to prevent you from doing what you need to do, but for biglaw refugees the resources/support may feel a bit thin compared to what you're used to.

(Also I used to be in a border district and civil AUSAs aren't really involved in any of the border stuff. Their caseload isn't really going to vary much based on that. Like I suppose if more people are suing Border Patrol, maybe, but I don't think that USAOs actually handle that.)
This is helpful, thank you. I feel so much anxiety surrounding a move that result in a drastic pay cut and possibly not much of an improvement in the work/life balance department. If I'm going to make less money, I want it to be "worth it." Ya know? We are a single income household and taking the pay cut would drastically change our quality of life but I'd be willing to do that if I knew that I'd be gaining other benefits (e.g. my time).

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Re: Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by mhylden » Sat Sep 08, 2018 8:56 pm

How many apply to these jobs? OP seems confident he/she can just sign up and transfer. Is that the case? I’ve always heard Ausa spots were quite difficult to land.
Last edited by QContinuum on Tue Oct 23, 2018 4:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Sep 08, 2018 9:29 pm

I've been considering the civil division too. Does civil carry the same weight as criminal wrt biglaw hiring after a few years of serving?

worklifewhat

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Re: Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by worklifewhat » Sat Sep 08, 2018 11:48 pm

Anonymous User wrote:How many apply to these jobs? OP seems confident he/she can just sign up and transfer. Is that the case? I’ve always heard Ausa spots were quite difficult to land.
I think you're reading into something that isn't there. The OP sounds like most people sound when contemplating a move from X to Y. I'd imagine that it's just a hypothetical intended to feel out whether an AUSA job is worth pursuing at all.
Last edited by QContinuum on Tue Oct 23, 2018 4:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Sep 09, 2018 10:41 am

Anonymous User wrote:I've been considering the civil division too. Does civil carry the same weight as criminal wrt biglaw hiring after a few years of serving?
Also curious wrt this. Once in civil, is it easy to get on ACE matters rather than FTCA stuff assuming a big district like CDCA?

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Re: Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Sep 09, 2018 11:32 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I've been considering the civil division too. Does civil carry the same weight as criminal wrt biglaw hiring after a few years of serving?
Also curious wrt this. Once in civil, is it easy to get on ACE matters rather than FTCA stuff assuming a big district like CDCA?
Yeah, this is the dilemma - in a lot of offices there isn't much ACE stuff, and civil will do mostly FTCA or personnel matters. I don't think it translates very well to biglaw (but I also think the applicability of criminal AUSA work to biglaw is mostly overexaggerated - if you do complex white collar, sure, but even in SDNY a lot of AUSAs spend a lot of their time on things like drugs, guns, and CP, which don't translate to biglaw). I haven't been in a big district like CDCA so I can't comment on the degree of ACE work there. I think there has been a rash of hiring lately specifically for ACE based on directives from Main Justice. So if you aren't actually hired to do ACE, if someone else is, you might not get much of a crack at it.

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Re: Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by stoopkid13 » Wed Sep 12, 2018 11:16 am

Anonymous User wrote:I think there has been a rash of hiring lately specifically for ACE based on directives from Main Justice.
So, this is probably a dumb question but what exactly is the difference between USAO and Main Justice?
Last edited by QContinuum on Tue Oct 23, 2018 4:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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TheProsecutor

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Re: Life of an AUSA in the Civil Division

Post by TheProsecutor » Wed Sep 12, 2018 11:39 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I think there has been a rash of hiring lately specifically for ACE based on directives from Main Justice.
So, this is probably a dumb question but what exactly is the difference between USAO and Main Justice?
A USAO handles civil and criminal cases specific to its jurisdiction. Main Justice has prosecutors that advise on specific cases throughout the country and provide support to local USAOs in certain prosecutions. Its prosecutors also sometimes handle investigations and cases in DC. Main Justice also handles a lot of the DOJ department wide policy and they are responsible for coordinating with the legislative branch. Main Justice is huge and a person's specific responsibility in main justice really depends on what section they are in. Even within sections, the roles are extremely varied. Hard to give more than a general and broad explanation of the differences between main and USAO.

One practical difference is that main justice attorneys are on the GS scale and AUSAs are on the (much much worse) AD scale.
Last edited by QContinuum on Tue Oct 23, 2018 4:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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