The BigLaw Investor team did a first-time look at the District Attorney salary stats . . with info on the DA career option
District Attorney Salaries
Joshua Holt* District attorney salaries offer security and predictability. While they may fall on the lower end of the spectrum over biglaw salary scales, working as a district attorney is an enriching career. But, historically, it has been challenging to get an accurate picture of how much money prosecutors make, especially when it comes to entry-level jobs.
The Biglaw Investor team compiled salary data from prosecutors across the United States looking at what the salary for a District Attorney is.
Here’s what we discovered at a glance:
- Average assistant district attorney: $66,802
- Highest starting salary: $127,518 (San Jose, California)
- Lowest starting salary: $40,604 (Manchester, New Hampshire)
What Is a District Attorney?
District attorneys, also known as DAs, are the highest-ranking criminal prosecutor in a city or county. Lawyers working for the DA’s office are known as assistant district attorneys (ADAs). A DA’s job is to represent the citizens of their jurisdiction and pursue criminal matters, with good cause, on their behalf.
A career as a DA is a good fit for many lawyers since they pay well above average for the general population. On the other hand, working as a DA is a high-stress job requiring a great deal of effort and long hours. As an assistant district attorney, you’ll report to the district attorney and be responsible for a large caseload.
DA Responsibilities and Obligations
A DA’s job entails a wide range of duties. One of their primary responsibilities is to present criminal cases in court. They also delegate matters to their ADAs to help them manage caseloads and mitigate bottlenecks within the legal system.
The American Bar Association describes the role of the prosecutor in a criminal proceeding in this way –
“The primary duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice within the bounds of the law, not merely to convict. The prosecutor serves the public interest and should act with integrity and balanced judgment to increase public safety both by pursuing appropriate criminal charges of appropriate severity, and by exercising discretion to not pursue criminal charges in appropriate circumstances.
The prosecutor should seek to protect the innocent and convict the guilty, consider the interests of victims and witnesses, and respect the constitutional and legal rights of all persons, including suspects and defendants.”
Here is a deeper overview of the responsibilities and obligations that a DA and ADA must handle:
The ADA will have to investigate and prepare the cases for trial thoroughly. These cases will range from minor infractions to more serious offenses. However, as they gain more experience, DAs will gradually handle more challenging and complex issues.
Interact with Others
DAs are also in charge of informing new employees about various legal issues and the organization’s goals. The district attorney may find it challenging to keep track of everything. As a result, when the district attorney requires administrative assistance, the ADAs must provide it.
They must continue to interact with victims, police, and witnesses during the court proceedings. These activities put them in the best possible position to make critical decisions that will aid court proceedings.
Typically, district attorney offices have hundreds, if not thousands, of open cases, making it difficult for the DA to handle all of the legal advice and draft the necessary legal documents. The amount of paperwork can be overwhelming, especially when dealing with multiple cases at once.
As such, ADAs can expect a lot of courtroom experience coming at them quickly.
They generally perform the following tasks:
- Prepare case files
- Locate evidence documents
- Represent the county in court
- Issuing legal opinions
- Negotiating with criminal defense lawyers
- Witness preparation
- Stay current on legal credentialing
These are some of the many duties for which a district attorney is responsible. As they gain experience, their responsibilities expand significantly, and they can expect to progress from misdemeanors to felonies over time.
There are also a range of other roles performed by the District Attorney, including the following –
- negotiating plea ‘deals’ with defense lawyers
- making recommendations about bond and pretrial release requirements
- referring cases for diversion to specialty courts (eg for drug abuse and mental illness)
- review cases involving misconduct by officials, including police
- consulting with and coordinating with victim advocates where there has been child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence.
These special requirements provide the District Attorney with a unique range of skills that can provide equally unique skills to the ADA that can also be transferred into allied legal career roles.
Other Perks of the Job
Even if an ADA’s salary falls on the left side of the bimodal salary distribution, government jobs come with a slew of financial perks and benefits. These perks are well worth getting excited over, too.
On top of the federal holidays, government offices usually give employees a significant amount of time off (four weeks or more). They also typically provide excellent health care at a low to no cost to you and certainly at a lower price than you would find working for a private employer.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is also open to government attorneys. Your student loans are forgiven tax-free after 120 qualifying payments.
Exit-Job Opportunities for Assistant District Attorneys
Being an assistant district attorney is only the beginning of your legal career, and many lawyers will want to leave to pursue other opportunities. Fortunately, an ADA can choose from several different paths available through the unique District Attorney experience.
Here are three potential career paths they follow:
- Become a district attorney
- Become a judge
- Go into private practice
- And more
Whatever career path you choose after becoming a DA or ADA, it’s clear that you have various options. It is an excellent career path with plenty of room for growth and the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage if you enter into private practice.