CA Prosecutor jobs - lateral opportunities? (And other questions) Forum

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JCDante

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CA Prosecutor jobs - lateral opportunities? (And other questions)

Post by JCDante » Fri Jan 20, 2023 4:33 pm

I have seen on this forum the advice that if you want any prosecutor job, be willing to relocate anywhere. I am totally fine with that.

I am originally from CA (did my undergrad in SoCal), but I have not lived in the state for over six years. I joined the military (woohoo GI Bill and Vet's hiring preference) after a short stint in tech, lived in various places, and now attend a T14 as a 1L on the east coast close to my first duty station. Ideally, I would like to return to CA after graduation and work in ANY county as a deputy DA, with the hopes of eventually transferring to a larger/more competitive jurisdiction. Is this plausible? I just have a few concerns:

1.) The biggest reason for me to return is to be close again to family and lifelong friends (they are never leaving
...Hotel California after all). I have family up and down the entire state, which would make it easy for me to sell my ties to just about anywhere - even the more remote ones. The only problem is, CA is not an UBE state. I would be laying my eggs in one basket by taking the CA Bar Exam. Can I realistically expect a prosecutor job as long as I am willing to move around CA? I have noticed in the news that there is currently a prosecutor shortage across the country, and I am wondering if this applies to CA (a state that supposedly has too many lawyers). I have also seen job postings for entry-level prosecutors in most CA counties. I'm wondering if this is indicative of open opportunities or if it's just a mirage (government hiring can be pretty sketch).

2.) The other significant benefit is that I have noticed that CA has FAR more generous pay scales for prosecutors than other states. Stating pay seems fairly close, but you reach your ceiling much later - not so in pretty much all other states where you stagnant fast. Am I correct or is the Transparent California website lying to me? Some of these attorneys in certain high COL counties are even exceeding the Feds (salary compression at the higher grades sucks)! Too bad Congress doesn't want to give themselves a raise.

3.) I will not likely be able to intern in CA during my summers. The counties often want you physically present as part of the background check. Unfortunately, flights from the east coast are expensive, especially for the sole purpose of handling administrative matters. One Chief DA in a far northern CA county advocated that I just get as much experience possible and tailor my class load to criminal law even though I am out-of-state. Am I still at a significant disadvantage?

4.) I am OK even starting out in a place like Kern County, who I heard hires frequently. Bakersfield is about 2 hours from where I grew up, so it would still be an upgrade as far as getting closer to family again. But what would my prospects be for someday transferring out to say LA or SD County? I would assume at least 2 to 3 (or more) years experience would separate me enough from other baby lawyers for hiring purposes, but maybe I am naive. Anecdotally, I know of an attorney that did 5 years as a DA in Kern County before transferring out with his senior pay grade to Monterey. Sounds like a smart career move to me.

5.) I am also not uncomfortable with potentially getting stuck in one of the more remote counties - think Kern/Shasta/Butte/Fresno/etc. Cost of living is relatively affordable by coastal CA standards - I might actually have a chance at owning a house through the combination of the VA loan + a senior deputy DA salary. Is this plan still potentially foolish? I'm almost in my 30s, so being in a place with no nightlife and mostly outdoor activities and lighter traffic actually sounds amazing to me. However, I am worried about potential political dangers (not Rep vs Dem per se, but more navigating local and maybe even toxic political problems).

6.) If at some point after say 6+ years I get bored with being a DA, do opportunities exist to lateral over to CA State Attorney jobs or maybe even CA City jobs? I know the former is famous for its stability and benefits, and the latter known for some pretty hefty pay scales for government work.

Sorry! That was quite a mouthful. I just have a lot of concerns, and even with the resources provided at a T14, I feel like pursuing DA/PD jobs is like going off the beaten path. People think I am crazy for not trying for Biglaw or the Feds, but I feel I might not be the best fit for either.

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Re: CA Prosecutor jobs - lateral opportunities? (And other questions)

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jan 20, 2023 5:08 pm

So, I can't speak too specifically to California, but prosecutor/job paths in general:

I think it's definitely an advantage to be able to work in a particular office in the summer(s), in part b/c you're right that CA pays more (and yes, sometimes more than the feds) and in part because of that, the jobs are very competitive. That said, I think there are going to be offices willing to hire nationally if you can build a resume that says you're dedicated to criminal law/prosecution. And if you're willing to go anywhere, you will have a better shot (what I've heard specifically is that LA is crazy competitive, less so about the rest of the state, although I'm sure SF is too). Attending a T14 and having local ties is probably pretty helpful in that regard.

Based on my knowledge of state prosecution gigs generally, yes, if you put in the time even in the middle of nowhere, you can build the skills and experience to move elsewhere. Go to a rural county where you'll get a lot of experience, and you can market yourself to larger offices down the road - this happens a lot. If you're somewhere really small where you're kind of on your own from the start, you might want to look for mentors with a variety of backgrounds, to ensure you're not developing bad habits, but you should be fine.

I have also seen plenty of people go from state county prosecution to their state's attorney's office and/or transition over to the City - I think that's pretty realistic as well.

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Re: CA Prosecutor jobs - lateral opportunities? (And other questions)

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

Federal AUSA here who worked my way up from state/local. Not California but I'm familiar.

Prosecutor jobs in California are governed by a good ol' boy culture in all but the largest offices. Bigger cities are like big cities anywhere, and still very much tied in to local culture, but they will usually have programs that invite law grads from other states to apply. Anyway, in any high income area in California, prosecutor salaries are just not proportionate to the actual cost of living. So, many prosecutors in those areas, let's say San Luis Obispo, are lawyers with family wealth who owned a house right after law school. If you have passed the California bar and have good law school credentials, you can get one of these jobs by monitoring the postings, applying, and just going for it. Just prepare for the sticker shock of starting salaries compared to housing costs, in high income areas.

Bakersfield? Still good ol' boys but at least you can afford rent with your ADA salary.

I would say that your plan sounds doable, mainly because of your willingness to be geographically flexible. You can probably plan on having to stay at a first job in a rural DA's office (like Bakersfield or Fresno) for up to 3-4 years before you'll be competitive enough to make it to a significantly larger jurisdiction. You'll need a combination of those few years of actual real world experience, plus networking skills, which you should work on as best as you can during those 3-4 years. No, you can't mix and mingle with folks from the LA DA's office easily. But you will see in due course that, for example, your supervisor at Fresno DA spent 20 years at Los Angeles DA until moving back to Fresno to take care of aging parents, or whatever. Those are the kinds of ties that will assist you in an eventual transfer to where you want to go.

JCDante

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Re: CA Prosecutor jobs - lateral opportunities? (And other questions)

Post by JCDante » Mon Jan 23, 2023 7:09 pm

Fantastic. This is all more than I could have asked for. Thank you for your responses!

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Re: CA Prosecutor jobs - lateral opportunities? (And other questions)

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Jan 24, 2023 1:17 pm

You should be fine. Ideally you'll intern with a DA's office for at least a semester/summer, but the more the better. Be prepared to talk about "why CA?" in interviews, but they're hiring pretty aggressively. I know several classmates (3L at T50) who have gotten DA gigs throughout the state, so as a vet and a T14 grad, you should be very competitive.

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