How to spend pre-AUSA big law years? Forum

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crossexamination

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How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by crossexamination » Wed Jan 18, 2023 8:02 pm

Here’s the situation: I’m a junior associate at a V10 firm in NYC. I’ve lined up an SDNY clerkship for 2025. I would like to join the SDNY or EDNY USAO a year or two after the clerkship.

What should be my goals for 2023-2025 (pre-clerkship) while at my V10 firm? My work product is great.

(1) Should I be trying to bill crazy hours? (How much is too little or too much?)
(2) Should I be networking with partners who are former prosecutors? To get them to call the USAOs and recommend me when I apply a few years later?
(3) Should I dive into criminal pro bono cases?
(4) What am I missing here? What goals would make sense? Would love specificity, esp from AUSAs in EDNY/SDNY.

In summary, would love guidance on where to place my time and energy. Kind of wandering around at the moment.

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jan 18, 2023 10:08 pm

Not at SDNY/EDNY, but as an AUSA, general advice:

- definitely network with former AUSAs
- definitely try to do criminal pro bono work
- definitely try to get into the courtroom (caveat: not likely to happen at a V10, I realize, so this is kind of a subset of "do criminal pro bono work." Plus I think offices realize that junior biglaw associates don't really get into the courtroom, but you know, worth a shot)

Otherwise, when you clerk, take every chance you can to observe AUSAs in court and get a sense of the criminal work they're doing. Be able to talk thoughtfully about what the job entails and why you want to do it.

I suppose SDNY/EDNY may be slightly different since I'm pretty sure they work people way harder than the offices I'm familiar with, but I don't think anyone will give a crap about how many hours you bill. As long as no one they ask about you will say that you're a slacker/shirk work, you should be fine. (I suppose maybe it's possible the former biglaw people there have pissing contests about who billed the most while in private practice? but really, it shouldn't matter.)

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Lacepiece23

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by Lacepiece23 » Sat Jan 21, 2023 12:13 pm

I’ll just say that make sure that’s AUSA is really what you want. Not because it’s some revolving door to biglaw partner that may be a fairytale.

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jan 22, 2023 12:39 pm

crossexamination wrote:
Wed Jan 18, 2023 8:02 pm
Here’s the situation: I’m a junior associate at a V10 firm in NYC. I’ve lined up an SDNY clerkship for 2025. I would like to join the SDNY or EDNY USAO a year or two after the clerkship.

What should be my goals for 2023-2025 (pre-clerkship) while at my V10 firm? My work product is great.

(1) Should I be trying to bill crazy hours? (How much is too little or too much?)
(2) Should I be networking with partners who are former prosecutors? To get them to call the USAOs and recommend me when I apply a few years later?
(3) Should I dive into criminal pro bono cases?
(4) What am I missing here? What goals would make sense? Would love specificity, esp from AUSAs in EDNY/SDNY.

In summary, would love guidance on where to place my time and energy. Kind of wandering around at the moment.
I'm a civil AUSA, not in New York. Decide first whether you're going to focus on criminal or civil. I've done both. Criminal is a grind, but this varies from state to state so your mileage will vary. While a small number of high level criminal AUSAs in my state do really cool white collar and national security work, that's only after decades of experience, and even then it's only a few of the experienced AUSAs. Civil AUSA work is, at least in my state, highly sophisticated stuff. You're often playing with all the big boys and gals at biglaw firms on major, high profile lawsuits against or involving the federal government. Appeals to the federal circuit courts. Civil rights matters even if you are not in the Civil Rights Division. Employment discrimination claims against federal agencies. Administrative Procedure Act actions involving, I dunno, Forest Service interpretations of an environmental statute. It's everything under the sun that does not involve drafting a criminal indictment against a bad guy.

I guess I am pitching civil here out of my own personal bias. But the larger point is that you do need to consider this when plotting out your career trajectory.

crossexamination

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by crossexamination » Sun Jan 22, 2023 4:51 pm

I appreciate the replies! I’m sure I want to be a criminal AUSA in the NYC area.

Would love advice oriented more toward how to spend these 2-4 years in big law before applying to AUSA positions: What should be my current goals / priorities / workload at my firm?

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by jotarokujo » Sun Jan 22, 2023 7:05 pm

crossexamination wrote:
Sun Jan 22, 2023 4:51 pm
I appreciate the replies! I’m sure I want to be a criminal AUSA in the NYC area.

Would love advice oriented more toward how to spend these 2-4 years in big law before applying to AUSA positions: What should be my current goals / priorities / workload at my firm?
#1 thing is making sure your main practice is criminal law, such as white collar

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jan 22, 2023 8:27 pm

I don't know about SDNY/EDNY, but in the USAOs I'm familiar with, criminal AUSAs are competing with actual prosecutors from state AG and local DA offices, from which the DOJ likes to poach the best of the best. I'm sure the feds are happy taking on biglaw refugees too but be mindful of the competition and factor in your ability to transition into criminal law.

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jan 22, 2023 8:38 pm

crossexamination wrote:
Sun Jan 22, 2023 4:51 pm
I appreciate the replies! I’m sure I want to be a criminal AUSA in the NYC area.

Would love advice oriented more toward how to spend these 2-4 years in big law before applying to AUSA positions: What should be my current goals / priorities / workload at my firm?
Pretty simple. Practice area-wise, white collar defense, of course. But try to get on a case where your firm is representing big institutional clients being investigated by SDNY/SEC, not some internal investigations.

Do a great job and make a good impression on partners who were former AUSAs so they can vouch for you when you apply for the job.

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jan 22, 2023 8:52 pm

Don't some firms offer secondments to DA's offices so you can get actual trial and prosecutorial experience?

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jan 22, 2023 9:18 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Jan 22, 2023 12:39 pm
crossexamination wrote:
Wed Jan 18, 2023 8:02 pm
Here’s the situation: I’m a junior associate at a V10 firm in NYC. I’ve lined up an SDNY clerkship for 2025. I would like to join the SDNY or EDNY USAO a year or two after the clerkship.

What should be my goals for 2023-2025 (pre-clerkship) while at my V10 firm? My work product is great.

(1) Should I be trying to bill crazy hours? (How much is too little or too much?)
(2) Should I be networking with partners who are former prosecutors? To get them to call the USAOs and recommend me when I apply a few years later?
(3) Should I dive into criminal pro bono cases?
(4) What am I missing here? What goals would make sense? Would love specificity, esp from AUSAs in EDNY/SDNY.

In summary, would love guidance on where to place my time and energy. Kind of wandering around at the moment.
I'm a civil AUSA, not in New York. Decide first whether you're going to focus on criminal or civil. I've done both. Criminal is a grind, but this varies from state to state so your mileage will vary. While a small number of high level criminal AUSAs in my state do really cool white collar and national security work, that's only after decades of experience, and even then it's only a few of the experienced AUSAs. Civil AUSA work is, at least in my state, highly sophisticated stuff. You're often playing with all the big boys and gals at biglaw firms on major, high profile lawsuits against or involving the federal government. Appeals to the federal circuit courts. Civil rights matters even if you are not in the Civil Rights Division. Employment discrimination claims against federal agencies. Administrative Procedure Act actions involving, I dunno, Forest Service interpretations of an environmental statute. It's everything under the sun that does not involve drafting a criminal indictment against a bad guy.

I guess I am pitching civil here out of my own personal bias. But the larger point is that you do need to consider this when plotting out your career trajectory.
Is it easier to get into a civil AUSA position generally than criminal? I’m really interested in appellate AUSA work and have a natural inclination to civil.

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jan 22, 2023 11:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Jan 22, 2023 9:18 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Jan 22, 2023 12:39 pm
crossexamination wrote:
Wed Jan 18, 2023 8:02 pm
Here’s the situation: I’m a junior associate at a V10 firm in NYC. I’ve lined up an SDNY clerkship for 2025. I would like to join the SDNY or EDNY USAO a year or two after the clerkship.

What should be my goals for 2023-2025 (pre-clerkship) while at my V10 firm? My work product is great.

(1) Should I be trying to bill crazy hours? (How much is too little or too much?)
(2) Should I be networking with partners who are former prosecutors? To get them to call the USAOs and recommend me when I apply a few years later?
(3) Should I dive into criminal pro bono cases?
(4) What am I missing here? What goals would make sense? Would love specificity, esp from AUSAs in EDNY/SDNY.

In summary, would love guidance on where to place my time and energy. Kind of wandering around at the moment.
I'm a civil AUSA, not in New York. Decide first whether you're going to focus on criminal or civil. I've done both. Criminal is a grind, but this varies from state to state so your mileage will vary. While a small number of high level criminal AUSAs in my state do really cool white collar and national security work, that's only after decades of experience, and even then it's only a few of the experienced AUSAs. Civil AUSA work is, at least in my state, highly sophisticated stuff. You're often playing with all the big boys and gals at biglaw firms on major, high profile lawsuits against or involving the federal government. Appeals to the federal circuit courts. Civil rights matters even if you are not in the Civil Rights Division. Employment discrimination claims against federal agencies. Administrative Procedure Act actions involving, I dunno, Forest Service interpretations of an environmental statute. It's everything under the sun that does not involve drafting a criminal indictment against a bad guy.

I guess I am pitching civil here out of my own personal bias. But the larger point is that you do need to consider this when plotting out your career trajectory.
Is it easier to get into a civil AUSA position generally than criminal? I’m really interested in appellate AUSA work and have a natural inclination to civil.
Different civil AUSA answering here. Sort of yes and no. Anecdotally, my experience is that civil AUSAs come from slightly less fancy backgrounds than criminal AUSAs (WRT school/previous employers), but that they tend to be quite experienced in their fields when they get hired.

The problem is that there are always quite a bit fewer civil positions than criminal ones (my current office has about 3x as many criminal AUSAs as civil ones, but it’s also a small office; in my previous, larger office, there were like 8x as many criminal AUSAs). That said, I think the demand is different since if you want to prosecute crime, the USAO is often one of the top gigs available, whereas if you want to do civil lit, there are a lot of other options and biglaw will pay more. So it kind of depends.

Finally, I think specializing in appellate as a civil attorney is pretty uncommon. The vast majority of cases settle (even more so than on the criminal side) and the US has to get permission to appeal, which isn’t granted very readily. There’s also often a tradition of the trial attorney handling the appeal work, and I think that’s especially true in civil where cases that don’t settle often get resolved on motions to dismiss/for summary judgment, which the attorney who wrote the original motion is best prepared to defend. My current office doesn’t have anyone in civil designated as appellate specifically. Now again, it’s a small office, so this can vary, I’m sure, but that’s my experience.

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jan 22, 2023 11:59 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Jan 22, 2023 11:04 pm
Different civil AUSA answering here. Sort of yes and no. Anecdotally, my experience is that civil AUSAs come from slightly less fancy backgrounds than criminal AUSAs (WRT school/previous employers), but that they tend to be quite experienced in their fields when they get hired.

The problem is that there are always quite a bit fewer civil positions than criminal ones (my current office has about 3x as many criminal AUSAs as civil ones, but it’s also a small office; in my previous, larger office, there were like 8x as many criminal AUSAs). That said, I think the demand is different since if you want to prosecute crime, the USAO is often one of the top gigs available, whereas if you want to do civil lit, there are a lot of other options and biglaw will pay more. So it kind of depends.

Finally, I think specializing in appellate as a civil attorney is pretty uncommon. The vast majority of cases settle (even more so than on the criminal side) and the US has to get permission to appeal, which isn’t granted very readily. There’s also often a tradition of the trial attorney handling the appeal work, and I think that’s especially true in civil where cases that don’t settle often get resolved on motions to dismiss/for summary judgment, which the attorney who wrote the original motion is best prepared to defend. My current office doesn’t have anyone in civil designated as appellate specifically. Now again, it’s a small office, so this can vary, I’m sure, but that’s my experience.
Civil AUSA #1 here. Anyone reading my post shouldn't view it as disagreeing with the above. My observations and jurisdiction are simply different on some things, which can obviously just be a function of which office one comes from, but similar on others.

One universal truth: There are tons of criminal openings for each one civil opening. I'll even assume that's true for larger and high profile USAOs like SDNY or DC.

I'm in a moderately large state and our civil team is pretty cozy. It's true that the prestige of your law school is irrelevant but that's because the prestige factor actually IS irrelevant. When you're a first year lawyer, there are less metrics by which to assess your skill as a lawyer, so prestige is used as a lazy way to take educated guesses. But the members of our civil AUSA team are pretty seasoned. We have close to zero baby lawyers. Everyone is a proven entity who can take on biglaw firms on hotly contested issues and defeat them before a jury, in a bench trial, or during oral argument on appeal. And everyone can be trusted to represent the United States ethically, respectfully, and without causing embarrassment to the office. That mainly comes from experience, and job references around the legal community who will vouch for your reputation. For various reasons, people who get calls from the DOJ or a USAO about a reference seem to talk much more bluntly and candidly than typical private sector references seem to act. I have seen a finalist for an opening get nixed because of a devastating and highly specific negative reference from someone who wanted to warn us.

"I think specializing in appellate as a civil attorney is pretty uncommon." Part of me thinks I should nitpick this but I'm not exactly sure what they mean by it, so maybe maybe not. Personally, I'm a trial lawyer who argued a bunch of appeals (orally, and way more on briefs) before joining the feds. "Specializing"? Not the case for me per se. Still, many of the lawyers who join my USAO's appellate division are lawyers who chose to transfer from civil. Civil AUSAs in my district usually do argue our own appeals, albeit with the preparation and heavy editing help of the appellate division. It's easier to go from civil to appellate than criminal to appellate, most likely.

I love being a civil AUSA. If you want to do it, you have a natural leg up if you're in biglaw doing civil litigation. But whether you're biglaw or small law, try to get trial experiences, be good to everyone around you because your reputation is everything, focus on being a good writer, and do not fuck around with ethics. If a boss ever tells you to skirt an ethical line, quit your job. It'll pay off in the long run.

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jan 23, 2023 1:35 am

Other anon civil AUSA - just to follow up, I didn’t mean anything at all disparaging by saying that civil AUSAs have tended to have less fancy backgrounds than criminal ones, it’s just an observation I’ve made over the years. (I worked in criminal for a while before going to civil, though to be clear, I’m not claiming any fanciness at all.) I agree that baby attorneys don’t get hired into civil and that everyone hired is extremely qualified/experienced with a strong reputation. And I agree that school prestige is pretty irrelevant to determining quality, but nonetheless, there are a lot of criminal AUSAs who have it and it can be a way to screen people when you have lots of applicants.

I should probably qualify my comment though by distinguishing between people who get to criminal via biglaw and those who get there via state prosecution. The state prosecutors tend to have more varied school pedigrees, like I have seen for civil AUSAs. People who become criminal AUSAs out of biglaw have, well, the standard shiny biglaw credentials; the state prosecutors have very respectable but less fancy credentials and tons of experience. So the difference may be more about how much an office wants biglaw experience than anything else. I haven’t seen as many civil AUSAs come out of biglaw, but that may be the luck of the draw/what districts I know people in (for instance I know SDNY hires very heavily out of biglaw for criminal AUSAs, but I don’t know where their civil people came from bc I just don’t know civil people there).

As for what I meant by specializing in appellate - I meant only at the USAO. In the offices I know of, at least of a certain size, people are either assigned to criminal, civil, or appellate. I don’t know of anyone assigned to appellate who does exclusively or even primarily civil work; the vast majority of their work is criminal (though to be fair I’m lumping habeas/prisoner litigation in the criminal bucket because while those things are filed as civil cases, that’s probably not what someone interested in civil lit as opposed to criminal is thinking of. In my current office the habeas/prisoner lit tends to get divided up between the civil attorneys and one appellate person who also does direct criminal appeals. But the civil people who do this work spend most of their time on trial-level stuff).

I can completely see how someone could go from civil to appellate more easily than criminal to appellate, but I think that’s another one of those things that can vary. The only people I’ve seen move internally to appellate have been criminal AUSAs, but this was in districts with very heavy criminal dockets.

Mostly I just think it’s kind of unrealistic to aim for a civil appellate job at a USAO. I’m not saying you’ll never do any appellate work if you get hired as a civil AUSA, you doubtless will do some at some point, but (again barring habeas/prisoner lit) IME civil appellate is the category of work with the smallest demand. I may have been taking that OP too literally in terms of their interests, but if I wanted appellate work at a USAO, I’d develop an interest in criminal law really quickly. But I may also have been too influenced by the specific districts where I’ve worked.

(It’s always interesting talking about this stuff because while I think there are commonalities among USAOs, local practice and caseloads can lead to really different experiences.)

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jan 23, 2023 1:51 am

Anyway, actual OP of this thread who knows they want criminal, you asked again, and the answers are:

- do good work
- do good work for partners who used to be AUSAs so they’ll reach out to their former colleagues for you (also the more inside info you can get about what it’s like to be an AUSA, the better you can sell yourself as one, so see if they’ll tell you about their experiences).
- get whatever criminal experience you can; pro bono, white collar, if you can get loaned out to a DA’s office for 6 months do that (not sure if they do that in NYC, I’ve seen it in my market). That said, if you don’t get put in white collar, don’t despair, I know AUSAs who came from different groups.
- bill enough hours that people think well of you/don’t think you’re a slacker but don’t burn yourself out unnecessarily.

I suppose if we’re going to drill down beyond that, keep an eye out for a writing sample. It doesn’t have to be criminal - although if you get a good criminal one, great; a great civil sample is much better than a meh criminal one. But it can sometimes be hard to put together a good sample from early stage biglaw work, and then there’s the confidentiality/no editing issue. I clerked for a judge who would work carefully with clerks to develop a good writing sample, so think about asking your judge about that while clerking (if the judge lets you use material from your clerkship at all; opinions on this vary).

I’m not sure how much more specific people can be.

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Re: How to spend pre-AUSA big law years?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jan 23, 2023 7:19 am

Sorry to derail the thread with my civil AUSA question. Thanks for the info. I never realized that USAOs have a separate appellate division. That definitely clears things up. I have a lot of interest in criminal work too, so I appreciate all the helpful advice.

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