Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

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Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jul 26, 2020 2:19 am

I've been lurking the forums for a while but thought I'd ask here since my question is specific to me. I'm going to enter law school and be 39 when I finish. First a little background:

Stats:
- I'm a minority male
- I'm a US Veteran
- I'm a cop in a big city in Tarrant County, TX. (5 years street cop, 4 years police detective, 8 years police sergeant supervising an investigative unit)

After law school, I plan on resigning from the police dept and going to a prosecutor's office (leaning towards Dallas County) for at least two years.

Ranking my 10 - 15 year DREAM GOALS are as follows:
1. Fed judge appointment
2. US attorney appointment
3. Division/Section Chief in USAO
4. Division/Section Chief in DA office
*Also not opposed to running for trial judge or district attorney or other political position towards my 10 year mark

Question:
Keeping in mind my stats above, are the dream goals even attainable within that time period. I know it may sound ridiculous but it's all hypothetical. Does my background with DA experience look good trying to go the AUSA route in NDTX or SDTX. If so, is it an attainable goal to promote up within USAO within 10 years. I love the thought of representing the nation. I'm more of a federalist that a statist. Also, I'm from many places within our great country so it makes me desire USAO more. However, if it's a highly unlikely goal then I would be fine promoting up within the DA office, especially if work/life balance is better and there's more autonomy.

Unfortunately, I'll be 39/40 starting a legal career so I have to be a realist with my goals and expectations. If #s 1,2, and 3 won't likely be reached before I turn 56 then I'm better off staying in the DAs office where it's more likely.

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cavalier1138

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Re: Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

Post by cavalier1138 » Sun Jul 26, 2020 8:25 am

Local cop -> law school -> ADA is totally normal and doable.

The rest... not as much. ADA-to-AUSA happens, but it's a lot harder and tends to be rarer than biglaw-to-AUSA, depending on the specific USAO. And the other stuff is entirely luck of the draw, so there's no real way to position yourself for it.

Suffice it to say, a lot of this depends on where you go to law school. So where are you going?

Edit: Just re-read the bit about not quitting the police department until after law school. I'd ask around in your area, but I think this could hamstring you with regards to internships/externships that make up a big part of the job path for future prosecutors/judges. I have a hunch that it might actually be considered a conflict for some offices (especially if you want to intern with a judge), but it's definitely worth asking about.

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Re: Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jul 26, 2020 9:27 am

Getting appointed as USA is very different from being a section/division chief for a USAO. You could probably do the latter in 10-15 years of practice, although it would depend on getting into a USAO to begin with (a lot of places do hire ADA —> AUSA, but as cav points out, it may be less preferred than starting in biglaw; that largely depends on the culture of the office and the preferences of the individual USA in place at the time, which can change).

Being appointed USA is a political process that will depend on your politics and the administration in charge. It’s true that even Trump has mostly appointed a lot of career prosecutors as USAs, rather than parachuting in outsiders without prosecution experience (except for SDNY....), but it’s still going to depend on your political affiliations and who you know. If the opposite party is in power 10-15 years from now and sticks around for 8 years (or more) there just won’t be an opening for you. You talk about running for trial judge or DA, so you probably realize it’s political, but it’s just not something you can remotely control (and you can be a Republican trial court judge or DA under a Democratic governor, or vice versa, but barring something really extraordinary you can’t be a Republican USA under a Democratic president/vice versa).

(Section/division chief within a USAO isn’t really political at all, it’s based on mostly on experience and to some extent managerial ability. I mean I suppose if you spent your time as a line AUSA pissing off the USA you're not likely to be section/division chief, but that’s not so much political as just reasonable.)

I also don’t think 10-15 years practice would put you in a position to be a federal judge - again, that would be a completely political process, so if you can line up the political backers, maybe. But I think you’d need more experience and you wouldn’t have enough by age 56 (but that the longer you went the more you’d age out of being an attractive judicial candidate). Again, being a federal judge is really not something you can rely on. Obviously in the end it will depend on who’s president at that time, too. I don’t think having been a cop will let you short-run that process, because being a judge is about legal experience, and while running investigations is pertinent to being a prosecutor, it’s not really pertinent to being a judge.

(I think this is quite different from running to be a trial judge somewhere where trial judges are elected; you can throw your name out much more easily. But I also think electing judges is a terrible idea.)

Re: NDTX and SDTX, you will have a much better shot at getting into SDTX earlier than NDTX because it’s a border district, so will have tons of volume and probably turnover and will hire people earlier. But most of your work when you start will be reactive border crimes. With your background you may move out of that more quickly than some, but you’ll have to pay your dues and get a certain amount of experience first.

I’m not sure whether your cop background would move you up the ladder more quickly on any of these things; I’ve been an AUSA for close to 10 years now and have never met an AUSA who used to be a local cop.

I tend to think that if you want the federal goals, you are better off quitting your job before law school and getting as many of the traditional experiences/honors as you can. I think if you want to do the DA route, going to law school part time may be more doable, but I think the federal gigs, even where they do hire from DAs offices, like to see a nice traditional candidate. (I mean, it’s possible you could make it work, because you’ll be an unusual candidate just by virtue of your background, but I think there’s a lot to be said for ticking the boxes of conventional achievements, which will probably be less available to you if you do law school part time and keep working as a cop throughout.)

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Re: Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jul 26, 2020 10:37 am

cavalier1138 wrote:
Sun Jul 26, 2020 8:25 am
Local cop -> law school -> ADA is totally normal and doable.

The rest... not as much. ADA-to-AUSA happens, but it's a lot harder and tends to be rarer than biglaw-to-AUSA, depending on the specific USAO. And the other stuff is entirely luck of the draw, so there's no real way to position yourself for it.

Suffice it to say, a lot of this depends on where you go to law school. So where are you going?

Edit: Just re-read the bit about not quitting the police department until after law school. I'd ask around in your area, but I think this could hamstring you with regards to internships/externships that make up a big part of the job path for future prosecutors/judges. I have a hunch that it might actually be considered a conflict for some offices (especially if you want to intern with a judge), but it's definitely worth asking about.
Texas A&M. I know another cop that completed law school. He interned with the innocence project. I think I remember him saying that I wouldn't be able to intern with prosecutor/defense bc conflict of interest.
Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Jul 26, 2020 9:27 am
Getting appointed as USA is very different from being a section/division chief for a USAO. You could probably do the latter in 10-15 years of practice, although it would depend on getting into a USAO to begin with (a lot of places do hire ADA —> AUSA, but as cav points out, it may be less preferred than starting in biglaw; that largely depends on the culture of the office and the preferences of the individual USA in place at the time, which can change).

Being appointed USA is a political process that will depend on your politics and the administration in charge. It’s true that even Trump has mostly appointed a lot of career prosecutors as USAs, rather than parachuting in outsiders without prosecution experience (except for SDNY....), but it’s still going to depend on your political affiliations and who you know. If the opposite party is in power 10-15 years from now and sticks around for 8 years (or more) there just won’t be an opening for you. You talk about running for trial judge or DA, so you probably realize it’s political, but it’s just not something you can remotely control (and you can be a Republican trial court judge or DA under a Democratic governor, or vice versa, but barring something really extraordinary you can’t be a Republican USA under a Democratic president/vice versa).

(Section/division chief within a USAO isn’t really political at all, it’s based on mostly on experience and to some extent managerial ability. I mean I suppose if you spent your time as a line AUSA pissing off the USA you're not likely to be section/division chief, but that’s not so much political as just reasonable.)

I also don’t think 10-15 years practice would put you in a position to be a federal judge - again, that would be a completely political process, so if you can line up the political backers, maybe. But I think you’d need more experience and you wouldn’t have enough by age 56 (but that the longer you went the more you’d age out of being an attractive judicial candidate). Again, being a federal judge is really not something you can rely on. Obviously in the end it will depend on who’s president at that time, too. I don’t think having been a cop will let you short-run that process, because being a judge is about legal experience, and while running investigations is pertinent to being a prosecutor, it’s not really pertinent to being a judge.

(I think this is quite different from running to be a trial judge somewhere where trial judges are elected; you can throw your name out much more easily. But I also think electing judges is a terrible idea.)

Re: NDTX and SDTX, you will have a much better shot at getting into SDTX earlier than NDTX because it’s a border district, so will have tons of volume and probably turnover and will hire people earlier. But most of your work when you start will be reactive border crimes. With your background you may move out of that more quickly than some, but you’ll have to pay your dues and get a certain amount of experience first.

I’m not sure whether your cop background would move you up the ladder more quickly on any of these things; I’ve been an AUSA for close to 10 years now and have never met an AUSA who used to be a local cop.

I tend to think that if you want the federal goals, you are better off quitting your job before law school and getting as many of the traditional experiences/honors as you can. I think if you want to do the DA route, going to law school part time may be more doable, but I think the federal gigs, even where they do hire from DAs offices, like to see a nice traditional candidate. (I mean, it’s possible you could make it work, because you’ll be an unusual candidate just by virtue of your background, but I think there’s a lot to be said for ticking the boxes of conventional achievements, which will probably be less available to you if you do law school part time and keep working as a cop throughout.)
Thanks for the well detailed answer. I know the dream goals is a long shot so I just thought I'd ask. Unfortunately, I'm a late bloomer so I don't have time to waste on unrealistic goals. I've investigated attempted murders, agg assaults, manslaughters. Those cases always get my blood flowing so being a felony prosecutor in the DAs office seems like something I would love. I'll stick to ADA if it means I can accomplish more in my 15-20 years. It's possible that I'd leave in my mid 50s to do private practice or public interest work. I really enjoy doing community events like Reading to kids, Police-Citizen interaction seminars, backpack giveaways, etc. Maybe the DA office has more opportunities to get involved in the community as well?



Opens up another question:
My 18 yr LE career will have been in Tarrant County (I have a lot of contacts there). Despite this, I think Dallas County would be better since it's more progressive. My thought process also is that I could run for office in Tarrant County as a Dallas prosecutor without stepping on anyone's toes (possibly keeping my job in the process).

The other option is to choose Tarrant County DA and attempt to move up but it may sabotage political goals. I could never run against my boss. Running against a judge could piss off the boss, or, at minimum, piss of the trial judge that I may have to see again if I lose. I also thought about just selling my home in Tarrant County and moving to an area in Dallas County to position myself for politics there.

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Re: Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

Post by cavalier1138 » Sun Jul 26, 2020 3:25 pm

I think you need to focus on your state-level prosecutorial and political goals.

Unless an AUSA in the Texas districts has different information, I would be shocked to find out that they were hiring A&M alums. Your background is also much better suited for working for a DA, and I think there's a much better chance of you being able to win state-level races for judge/DA in 15+ years than to position yourself for a federal appointment (again, I'd check, but I'd be shocked to find an A&M alum on the federal bench in Texas).

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Re: Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jul 26, 2020 6:21 pm

cavalier1138 wrote:
Sun Jul 26, 2020 3:25 pm
I think you need to focus on your state-level prosecutorial and political goals.

Unless an AUSA in the Texas districts has different information, I would be shocked to find out that they were hiring A&M alums. Your background is also much better suited for working for a DA, and I think there's a much better chance of you being able to win state-level races for judge/DA in 15+ years than to position yourself for a federal appointment (again, I'd check, but I'd be shocked to find an A&M alum on the federal bench in Texas).
Fair enough. And I'm perfectly fine with that option because there may be a little familiarity with certain aspects of working in a DA office (knowing how local le works, their capabilities and training, speaking with victims during their initial interaction with the legal process, etc). Thank you all for taking the time out of your day to read and respond. I really appreciate you all and the work you do on a daily basis.

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Re: Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

Post by andythefir » Mon Jul 27, 2020 12:47 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Jul 26, 2020 6:21 pm
cavalier1138 wrote:
Sun Jul 26, 2020 3:25 pm
I think you need to focus on your state-level prosecutorial and political goals.

Unless an AUSA in the Texas districts has different information, I would be shocked to find out that they were hiring A&M alums. Your background is also much better suited for working for a DA, and I think there's a much better chance of you being able to win state-level races for judge/DA in 15+ years than to position yourself for a federal appointment (again, I'd check, but I'd be shocked to find an A&M alum on the federal bench in Texas).
Fair enough. And I'm perfectly fine with that option because there may be a little familiarity with certain aspects of working in a DA office (knowing how local le works, their capabilities and training, speaking with victims during their initial interaction with the legal process, etc). Thank you all for taking the time out of your day to read and respond. I really appreciate you all and the work you do on a daily basis.
Seems to me this thread has a split between political (elected DA/judge) v technical/legal prestige (USAO). I think all legal jobs, but especially USAO jobs, are anywhere-v-somewhere propositions. If you're willing to go to Laredo and Iowa and Del Rio, it's doable. If you keep applying all over the country, somewhere will eventually take a shot on someone with solid credentials and a good DA resume. That USAO hiring will probably be a hard job, either because it's in a brutal place or internal politics are causing turnover. If you need to be in one market, that's a completely different proposition. Some USAOs will only hire clerks, others have very defined on-ramps (Iowa posts a SAUSA position every 6 months, which tells me that's how they find the bulk of their entry level people). Some have very little turnover, so you may be waiting 10 years for a small office to have an opening because their people just aren't leaving. As far as DFW, it wouldn't surprise me if that market was one of the toughest in the country to crack, given how fast it's growing and how many different kinds of people would feel comfortable there (compared to, say, Oklahoma). If you can get a federal clerkship in the judicial district where you want to work, that makes an AUSA position way more likely.

On the other track, I think officer>DA would be a pretty good background to either move up within a DAs office or run for judge or DA. But on that track a federal clerkship won't really help, and it suggests a different strategy as a DA because you'd be looking to please the judges, defense attorneys, and law enforcement partners rather than doing what's best for the case.

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Re: Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jul 27, 2020 5:01 pm

andythefir wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 12:47 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Jul 26, 2020 6:21 pm
cavalier1138 wrote:
Sun Jul 26, 2020 3:25 pm
I think you need to focus on your state-level prosecutorial and political goals.

Unless an AUSA in the Texas districts has different information, I would be shocked to find out that they were hiring A&M alums. Your background is also much better suited for working for a DA, and I think there's a much better chance of you being able to win state-level races for judge/DA in 15+ years than to position yourself for a federal appointment (again, I'd check, but I'd be shocked to find an A&M alum on the federal bench in Texas).
Fair enough. And I'm perfectly fine with that option because there may be a little familiarity with certain aspects of working in a DA office (knowing how local le works, their capabilities and training, speaking with victims during their initial interaction with the legal process, etc). Thank you all for taking the time out of your day to read and respond. I really appreciate you all and the work you do on a daily basis.
Seems to me this thread has a split between political (elected DA/judge) v technical/legal prestige (USAO). I think all legal jobs, but especially USAO jobs, are anywhere-v-somewhere propositions. If you're willing to go to Laredo and Iowa and Del Rio, it's doable. If you keep applying all over the country, somewhere will eventually take a shot on someone with solid credentials and a good DA resume. That USAO hiring will probably be a hard job, either because it's in a brutal place or internal politics are causing turnover. If you need to be in one market, that's a completely different proposition. Some USAOs will only hire clerks, others have very defined on-ramps (Iowa posts a SAUSA position every 6 months, which tells me that's how they find the bulk of their entry level people). Some have very little turnover, so you may be waiting 10 years for a small office to have an opening because their people just aren't leaving. As far as DFW, it wouldn't surprise me if that market was one of the toughest in the country to crack, given how fast it's growing and how many different kinds of people would feel comfortable there (compared to, say, Oklahoma). If you can get a federal clerkship in the judicial district where you want to work, that makes an AUSA position way more likely.

On the other track, I think officer>DA would be a pretty good background to either move up within a DAs office or run for judge or DA. But on that track a federal clerkship won't really help, and it suggests a different strategy as a DA because you'd be looking to please the judges, defense attorneys, and law enforcement partners rather than doing what's best for the case.
Good point. If that's what it takes on AUSA side, the ADA side sounds a lot better to me. DFW metro and TX is a very large place with a huge market. I'd be fine if I can work hard and learn a lot in the DA realm. The eventual goal of being known as a formidable prosecutor that worked his way up the ladder sounds like a nice end goal to what will be four decades of public service. That option also comes with the possibility of segueing into politics, private practice, or AG office after a decade. Even if I'm not representing the nation per se, I'd still be doing so in regards to preserving and defending the U.S. Constitution. I can live with that.

Thanks for your input

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Re: Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jul 27, 2020 9:13 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 5:01 pm

Good point. If that's what it takes on AUSA side, the ADA side sounds a lot better to me. DFW metro and TX is a very large place with a huge market. I'd be fine if I can work hard and learn a lot in the DA realm. The eventual goal of being known as a formidable prosecutor that worked his way up the ladder sounds like a nice end goal to what will be four decades of public service. That option also comes with the possibility of segueing into politics, private practice, or AG office after a decade. Even if I'm not representing the nation per se, I'd still be doing so in regards to preserving and defending the U.S. Constitution. I can live with that.

Thanks for your input
Not totally sure about Texas, but I think Texas AG office is another option you should consider right after LS. Kind of hybrid between DA / USAO / politics. Certain state AG offices also work very closely with USAO and even detail investigators to USAO. No reason to wait a decade-- state AG positions are usually pretty accessible if you want, and given you have investigatory experience, I would think you should be able to get in (though again, no info about texas specifically).

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Re: Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

Post by texanslimjim » Tue Jul 28, 2020 9:08 am

The Texas AG generally has openings for no-experience law graduates, but those tend to be in the high-turnover, low-desirability divisions like child support. Most of the lawyers work in civil litigation divisions whose work does not really align with OP's criminal-law related career goals. Also, generally you cannot apply until you have passed the bar exam. OP should absolutely keep an eye on the Texas AG to see if there's something matching his goals, but no Texas law grad should plan on getting a job there unless they have a burning desire to spend their career suing deadbeat dads for back child support.

If you want to get your foot in the door of criminal law in Texas, becoming an ADA is the much more straightforward plan. Most of the advice in this thread is pretty good, I would just throw in that if OP gets good grades he should consider clerking for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals -- that's much more doable from A&M than an Art. III clerkship, which probably requires you to be in the top 3 of your class.

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Re: Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Jul 28, 2020 5:40 pm

texanslimjim wrote:
Tue Jul 28, 2020 9:08 am
The Texas AG generally has openings for no-experience law graduates, but those tend to be in the high-turnover, low-desirability divisions like child support. Most of the lawyers work in civil litigation divisions whose work does not really align with OP's criminal-law related career goals. Also, generally you cannot apply until you have passed the bar exam. OP should absolutely keep an eye on the Texas AG to see if there's something matching his goals, but no Texas law grad should plan on getting a job there unless they have a burning desire to spend their career suing deadbeat dads for back child support.

If you want to get your foot in the door of criminal law in Texas, becoming an ADA is the much more straightforward plan. Most of the advice in this thread is pretty good, I would just throw in that if OP gets good grades he should consider clerking for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals -- that's much more doable from A&M than an Art. III clerkship, which probably requires you to be in the top 3 of your class.
Yes, I checked out State AG jobs and saw they were hiring with no experience and starting at $72,000. I checked out their website and it seems like Texas AG doesn't do much with Criminal Prosecution beyond Human Trafficking and theft of state funds. Clerkships doesn't seem to pay enough nor have a step increase in pay like DA positions. I'm willing to take a paycut to be an entry level prosecutor. I'm not willing to take a bigger pay cut for a clerkship. I would like to leave $125,000 base salary (+ additional $24,000 min in overtime) to be an attorney for $75k minimum with a real possibility of earning $125k five or six years from starting. I'll start getting paid a lifelong reduced pension (from police career) seven years after resigning.

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Re: Former 18yr cop -> ADA -> AUSA?

Post by nixy » Wed Jul 29, 2020 8:14 am

A clerkship doesn’t have step increases bc it’s a one-year position. You don’t generally do a clerkship for the money, although the finances do convince some people not to do them.

(The Texas AG’s office also does capital murder, sex crimes against children, and cyber crime. In the states I’m familiar with, the AG’s office is often seen a bit of a step up from local DA’s office in prestige, and as texasslimjim suggests, the good positions require some local prosecution experience. Although yes, the work will be different than at the local level.)

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