District Attorney Career Information

A district attorney (DA) is an attorney elected or appointed as the legal representative of the government for a judicial district under state law. District attorneys are the equivalent of Crown prosecutors or Crown counsel in common law cases. The district attorney is the senior officer of the state in legal matters, with assistant district attorneys delegated to undertake prosecutions in many cases. 

The Work Environment

As a senior legal officer and effectively the chief law enforcement officer, the district attorney may:

  • Conduct prosecutions
  • Lay formal charges
  • Investigate cases
  • Conduct reviews of law enforcement processes

This is a high end legal practice, which may involve the DA in the principles of law enforcement policy, as well as the practice. As the primary law enforcement officer of a district, the role includes a direct connection with legislature, and related issues of law enforcement on all statutory levels. 

The job has strong public image elements which are particularly relevant to elected district attorneys. DA work is directly integrated into areas of law which are often very high profile issues in the community. The DA is the person held accountable by media and public opinion in major issues like street crime, public safety, and other major areas of law enforcement. 

The work environment is therefore as complex as the job. The DA, as the prosecuting authority, may determine whether or not to prosecute, and that, too, has ramifications in terms of the office holder's situation. Many cases become "media events", receiving wide publicity, another element which can create significant management situations for a DA. 

The Career Environment

The office of District Attorney is one of the highest offices in the legal profession. Competition for the office of DA is intense, but having attained this position, career options expand considerably across a range of very different possible streams, if the DA chooses to move on from the role. 

Career progression from this point may be:

  • Attorney General/judge
  • Political career
  • Legal practice
  • Academic office

The work environment is a good reference to the career environment. At this level, career moves are based on discretionary options. A DA may become a senior partner of a legal practice, which is a common option for those who choose not to remain in the public sector.

For those who do decide to remain in the public sector, the other three options are the likely scenarios:

Attorney General/judge: The Attorney General is the highest legal office in a state, and a DA is the obvious candidate for this office, being fully conversant with the state's law enforcement and legal jurisdictions. In some cases senior legal practitioners may also progress to become judges on the basis of this very high level of legal knowledge and experience. 

Political career: Law is a common qualification and background for political careers. Since the office of DA is also often a political entity with local political applications in terms of policies, and is in direct contact with the legislature, political careers are a natural progression. 

Academic office: Senior lawyers are often able to hold academic positions as teachers and lecturers, having strong credentials and important experience in the profession.