AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

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AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Feb 29, 2020 10:27 pm

I'm less than a year into the job as a criminal AUSA at a major U.S. Attorney's Office. Typical credentials (top law school, district court clerkship, former law school associate). It's been a big adjustment, but in mostly good ways. Ask me anything!

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Feb 29, 2020 10:32 pm

Thanks for doing this. I'll start it off, is there a year range after law school that is considered an "ideal" time to apply (clerkship + two to three years or what)? Or is it more about experience accrued? And then, is there a point (e.g. 5th-6th year) where you start becoming too senior for consideration?

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Feb 29, 2020 10:49 pm

Obviously the answer here will vary depending on which USAO you apply to, but for the one where I work, I would say the most common profile of a new AUSA is someone with about 4-6 years of experience, either at a firm or a DA's office. Of the former law firm types that I work with, almost every single one of them clerked at the district court or appellate court level. That doesn't seem to be the case for the former ADAs. The split between former law firm vs. former ADA is about 80/20. And of the folks who clerked, they all either clerked in this district, an adjoining district, or the circuit.

I'm really not sure if there is an experience/age cap for candidates. While most new hires are 4-6 years into their careers, I see potential candidates interviewing with the office all the time who are 7+ years past law school. For what it's worth, I was hired when I was about 7 years out from law school.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Mar 01, 2020 1:34 am

TBH I’m an AUSA who didn’t go the biglaw route first, so just curious: what do you find the biggest change, what do you like best about the USAO, and what (if anything) do you miss about being at a firm? Also, how much trial experience did you have when you started?

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Mar 01, 2020 1:55 am

OP here. Biggest change is the pace of cases and amount of review/ownership over discrete pieces of work product. At the firms where I worked, briefs would be constantly reworked and edited by entire teams of people over the course of many days or weeks. At the USAO, I'm regularly drafting letters and briefs on tight timelines, and supervisory review / edits / sign-off are all fairly light touch. Granted, style varies depending on the supervisor, but in general, I think work at the USAO is just that much more fast-paced because of the number and nature of cases that we handle.

The sense of camaraderie and shared mission are what I like the most about the USAO. That may sound overly idealistic, but folks there really do seem to want to help everyone succeed and do the right thing on cases. Not that the law firms were all full of sharks, but the incentives are just different.

The thing I miss most about firm life is the salary and perks. Duh.

I had zero trial experience going in. None of my cases were ever even close to going to trial. The closest I got to a courtroom, generally, was in pro bono matters, and even then, I only got to do an oral argument and a sentencing hearing.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Mar 01, 2020 11:54 am

If/when AUSAs leave the office, do they primarily go to law firms? if so, big law firms or boutiques? mostly white collar/investigations or general trial practice? Do AUSAs go in-house at all? other government jobs?

And is there a cultural difference between the civil and criminal divisions within your USAO?

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Mar 01, 2020 2:08 pm

It seems like most departing AUSAs go to firms. Not sure of the split between big firms vs. boutiques -- I've definitely seen both. Can't comment on what sort of practice they go into at firms, since I haven't exactly done a deep dive on post-USAO careers for departing AUSAs. Some AUSAs definitely go in-house or to other government posts. But the most common exit seems to be law firms.

There's a fairly clear divide between the civil and criminal divisions. Other than asset forfeiture issues, there's usually not much overlap in cases. Civil AUSAs also seem to have more chill schedules, as they're not constantly worrying about things like the Speedy Trial Act. And for better or for worse, the criminal division cases get more press/attention.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by crimorbl » Sun Mar 01, 2020 4:02 pm

Thanks for doing this. I start as an AUSA in a few weeks. What, if anything, do you wish you had known before you started?

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Mar 01, 2020 4:22 pm

It's always better to be skeptical and to drill down on anyone defense counsel proposes as a suretor for a bail package. Ask specific and uncomfortable questions regarding the relationship, even if the proposed suretor is an immediate family member (e.g., how much contact do you have, when was the last time you spoke, are you putting yourself forward due to any sort of outside pressure). I once got egg on my face by consenting to a bail package, only to have it come out from questions from the court that the proposed suretor actually barely knew the defendant at all.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Mar 01, 2020 4:28 pm

what type of firm did you work at, and can you offer any more details on the office you currently work in?

Also, have any of the ausas you worked with transferred in from other districts or DOJ?

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Mar 01, 2020 4:33 pm

I started at a V5 and then worked for a few years at a mid-sized firm, both in the same city, largely focused on investigations and complex commercial litigation. My USAO is in a large coastal city, but I won't share anything more than that.

Yes, some of our AUSAs are from other districts/DOJ components. That seems to be rare, though.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Mar 01, 2020 5:56 pm

What are the important qualities/characteristics that your office prioritizes in potential candidates? How important are connections to the office (either to current or former AUSAs)? Who does the initial screening of candidates?

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Mar 01, 2020 7:02 pm

Anonymous User wrote:What are the important qualities/characteristics that your office prioritizes in potential candidates? How important are connections to the office (either to current or former AUSAs)? Who does the initial screening of candidates?
As far as I can tell, my office strongly prefers candidates who clerked in the district or the circuit and candidates who were ADAs for a while. That's the most common profile I see in my current section. Other than that, you obviously need to make the case that you're interested in public service (the clerkship itself may be the sufficient here, but who knows). The interview process is where they'll size up your presentation in person and figure out whether you would be a good representative of the office.

I can't speak to the importance of connections to the hiring process in general, but I strongly suspect it helped in my getting hired. I didn't exactly have a former U.S. Attorney going to bat for me or anything, but I had alums of the office put in emails or calls to say nice things. I was also lucky enough to get introduced to someone fairly senior at the office through a mutual connection when I was going through the application process. I made sure to get coffee with that person a couple of times and e-mail that person every so often. That was enough to let me list that person as an internal reference.

Unclear who exactly does screening for first round interviews. I'm sure we get hundreds of applications a year. First round interviews are done by line AUSAs who have been at the office for at least 4-5 years.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by JOThompson » Tue Mar 03, 2020 1:39 pm

Are there many AUSAs in your office who didn't come from top law schools / big law / clerkships? I.E. Is it an office that sometimes hires people with state prosecution / trial experience, but who otherwise don't have the typical USAO pedigree? I've applied to about 50 USAOs now, have had maybe 8 interviews, only two were in major markets.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Mar 03, 2020 11:25 pm

JOThompson wrote:Are there many AUSAs in your office who didn't come from top law schools / big law / clerkships? I.E. Is it an office that sometimes hires people with state prosecution / trial experience, but who otherwise don't have the typical USAO pedigree? I've applied to about 50 USAOs now, have had maybe 8 interviews, only two were in major markets.
The typical profile is the one you described, but there are certainly people with less "prestigious" pedigrees that came from state prosecution backgrounds. Of the latter, we have our share of folks from schools in the USNWR Top 50 or Top 75, but largely from the regional schools in that range.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by andythefir » Wed Mar 04, 2020 11:04 am

I’d say it’s most accurate that a Yale law grad SCOTUS clerk will have the straightest and most likely path to any job, not just the USAO. The less prestigious the law school, the more value you’ll have to add by hustling and the less likely any given office is to hire you. If you develop an expertise in cyber crime or child porn prosecution or sophisticated bank fraud, then the odds go up an office somewhere will need you to fill that role. If any employer is looking to fill a niche and they’re choosing between Yale grad with no relevant experience and State U grad with extensive experience, that levels the playing field considerably. Some snobs will still hire the Yale grad, but some will appreciate the ability to hit the ground running.

The problem is that if you are restricted to applying to one office for whatever reason, you can’t know what role they’re going to be filling with a given hire. If you’re willing to work anywhere, I don’t think the pedigree of most law schools would be a problem (Cooley, Thomas Jefferson, etc probably would). If you can only work in one place then not going to a tippy too law school does make it harder.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Mar 04, 2020 11:28 am

Anonymous User wrote:Of the latter, we have our share of folks from schools in the USNWR Top 50 or Top 75, but largely from the regional schools in that range.
other AUSA here - I’d agree that that’s where people who aren’t from the elite schools come from. There are people from strong local schools with good experience (usually ADA), and T14-biglaw types. Or the crossover where someone does strong regional school—>biglaw—>AUSA. We don’t really have people with degrees from the bottom half of the rankings.

Frankly my office has become really big on hiring AUSAs from other districts who want to be here for whatever reason. But I’m not in a major metro. We still get lots of applicants, but it’s pretty different from the SDNY/CDCA/NDILs of the world.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Mar 04, 2020 4:26 pm

Have either of you seen people make the civil AUSA -> criminal AUSA switch? I am restricted to applying to one district for family/partner reasons, and that district is hiring for civil and SAUSAs but not for regular criminal AUSAs. I'm not as interested in civil AUSA work, but would do it if that held an advantage for later criminal applications -- but my sense is more the opposite, that if anything it's a disadvantage. Sound right to both of you?

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Mar 04, 2020 5:29 pm

Non-major USAO here. I think I know of only one person who may have gone to criminal after starting in civil. I think you’re right that it’s not very common (and this person was in appeals originally, which is also slightly different). I know a few people who’ve gone from criminal to civil; but of course that doesn’t really help you.

The other thing is that (IMHO) if it’s an affirmative civil enforcement position - actually suing people on behalf of the government - you’d have a better shot at switching than if it’s standard defense of government in torts, employment, VA, etc. The affirmative civil stuff has the potential to run parallel with criminal prosecution and might help you get useful experience/become known to the criminal side.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Mar 04, 2020 5:38 pm

In major USAOs, is it common for the trial level attorneys to not handle their own appeals? Is the work stratified in that sense?

And can any of the AUSAs shed light on what a typical "caseload" looks like? How many distinct cases are you working on at any one time? And then what does that translate into for hours working per day/week (if it's even possible to describe an "average" week)?

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Mar 04, 2020 9:34 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Have either of you seen people make the civil AUSA -> criminal AUSA switch? I am restricted to applying to one district for family/partner reasons, and that district is hiring for civil and SAUSAs but not for regular criminal AUSAs. I'm not as interested in civil AUSA work, but would do it if that held an advantage for later criminal applications -- but my sense is more the opposite, that if anything it's a disadvantage. Sound right to both of you?
I have seen the civil to criminal AUSA jump happen in my Office, but it seems to be very, very outside the norm. I would not count on that as a long-term career strategy. You'd be jumping into a job that holds no interest for you on the off chance that you could switch internally. Doesn't seem worth it to me.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Mar 04, 2020 9:37 pm

Anonymous User wrote:In major USAOs, is it common for the trial level attorneys to not handle their own appeals? Is the work stratified in that sense?

And can any of the AUSAs shed light on what a typical "caseload" looks like? How many distinct cases are you working on at any one time? And then what does that translate into for hours working per day/week (if it's even possible to describe an "average" week)?
At least for my USAO, AUSAs handle their cases all the way through appeal. The typical caseload, at least for people in my section, is something like 30-50 active cases at any one time. Some of those are "one and done" -- i.e., filing an opposition to a habeas petition or an appeal brief. But most go along the ordinary track from investigation, to indictment, to discovery / negotiations, to plea or trial. Since the cases are going to come into your lap over time, they're all on staggered timelines, so I'd say it's more like 8-10 cases that I worry about any given week. Generally, I've been working longer hours than I did at my previous law firms. I'm basically there every weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 or 8:00 p.m., and weekend work isn't uncommon. The latter is just to catch up on cases and not because of annoying client demands (obviously).

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Lacepiece23 » Thu Mar 05, 2020 8:28 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:In major USAOs, is it common for the trial level attorneys to not handle their own appeals? Is the work stratified in that sense?

And can any of the AUSAs shed light on what a typical "caseload" looks like? How many distinct cases are you working on at any one time? And then what does that translate into for hours working per day/week (if it's even possible to describe an "average" week)?
At least for my USAO, AUSAs handle their cases all the way through appeal. The typical caseload, at least for people in my section, is something like 30-50 active cases at any one time. Some of those are "one and done" -- i.e., filing an opposition to a habeas petition or an appeal brief. But most go along the ordinary track from investigation, to indictment, to discovery / negotiations, to plea or trial. Since the cases are going to come into your lap over time, they're all on staggered timelines, so I'd say it's more like 8-10 cases that I worry about any given week. Generally, I've been working longer hours than I did at my previous law firms. I'm basically there every weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 or 8:00 p.m., and weekend work isn't uncommon. The latter is just to catch up on cases and not because of annoying client demands (obviously).
Do you regret taking the paycut? You work more hours than biglaw and get paid way less. Does the prestige make it worth it? Or does the mission drive you? I thought about being an AUSA, but none of the aforementioned things drove me. Am I missing something? Is it exit options?

Why not just jump on the other side of the v and do high end plaintiffs work?

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Mar 05, 2020 10:35 pm

FWIW, in my non-major metro office, the caseload is a bit higher, but the hours are better. (Though obviously there isn't the same prestige.) It's definitely not a cushy 9-5, but I would say we don't stay as late or do as much weekend work. For me it also helps that I'm making the choice to stay late or work on the weekend to handle my work in my cases, rather than someone else deciding that I'm going to do whatever piece of work for them, on their schedule.

Also, you usually know ahead of time if you're going to need to pay attention to your e-mail/phone after hours. Since you're the one running your cases, no one's breathing down your neck to get a response from you on something after you've gone home for the day.

In my current market, biglaw is very very very small, and doesn't pay anything near market. The USAO is actually one of the best gigs in town in terms of money and quality of cases. This is obviously not going to be the case for the OP, but I think it's true in a lot of parts of the country.

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Re: AUSA at Major USAO - AMA

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Mar 05, 2020 11:55 pm

Lacepiece23 wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:In major USAOs, is it common for the trial level attorneys to not handle their own appeals? Is the work stratified in that sense?

And can any of the AUSAs shed light on what a typical "caseload" looks like? How many distinct cases are you working on at any one time? And then what does that translate into for hours working per day/week (if it's even possible to describe an "average" week)?
At least for my USAO, AUSAs handle their cases all the way through appeal. The typical caseload, at least for people in my section, is something like 30-50 active cases at any one time. Some of those are "one and done" -- i.e., filing an opposition to a habeas petition or an appeal brief. But most go along the ordinary track from investigation, to indictment, to discovery / negotiations, to plea or trial. Since the cases are going to come into your lap over time, they're all on staggered timelines, so I'd say it's more like 8-10 cases that I worry about any given week. Generally, I've been working longer hours than I did at my previous law firms. I'm basically there every weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 or 8:00 p.m., and weekend work isn't uncommon. The latter is just to catch up on cases and not because of annoying client demands (obviously).
Do you regret taking the paycut? You work more hours than biglaw and get paid way less. Does the prestige make it worth it? Or does the mission drive you? I thought about being an AUSA, but none of the aforementioned things drove me. Am I missing something? Is it exit options?

Why not just jump on the other side of the v and do high end plaintiffs work?
Zero regrets about the pay cut or the work load. USAO has always been my dream. Sure, prestige is nice, and exit options down the line are something to consider, but in the day-to-day, the job is just 1000x more exciting, interesting, and meaningful than almost anything one does in BigLaw. I actually care about my cases. No matter the stakes, I could just never really get myself to care about the interests of some multi-national company or a bank.

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