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In A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms, we cover a variety of topics, including the history of trials, players in the courtroom, jury experts, types of lawyers, lawyers and technology, trial preparation for civil and criminal trials, and much more.

Today, I’m posting an excerpt from the chapter on types of lawyers, specifically federal prosecutors.

Book Excerpt: Types of Lawyers – Federal Prosecutors

Maybe you’re trying to decide what kind of lawyer you want in your story, or you want to better understand the work your fictional lawyer does, or maybe you want to check out the kind of personalities found in certain fields of the law.

We touch on all these aspects and more in this chapter.

Becoming a Lawyer

In general, the road to becoming a lawyer requires earning a college degree as well as a degree from a gavel and scaleslaw school. In nearly all states, the law school graduate must pass a rigorous test, called the bar exam, to obtain a license to practice law. Some lawyers retake the bar exam several times before passing it.

Lawyers Have Different Specializations

In 2013, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were approximately 740,000 practicing lawyers in the United States. That’s nearly a million lawyers, each specializing in a different discipline that focuses on an area of the law. According to Wikipedia, there are 120 or so major areas of legal practice, which leaves room for a lot of minor areas, so suffice it to say there are at least several hundred areas of specialization a lawyer might practice.

Lawyers might also specialize in one or more fields of practice, too. For example, one lawyer might specialize in divorce only, whereas another might specialize in divorce as well as criminal defense and personal injury.

Besides practicing in one or more specialized areas of the law, an attorney might also be a trial lawyer — meaning he or she also specializes in litigation (going to trial). We know a personal injury lawyer who always works out settlements for her clients. If a case requires litigation, she hands it over to another personal injury attorney who is also a trial attorney. In this scenario, they are both excellent personal injury lawyers, but only one is also a trial attorney. Another way to look at it is: Only one lawyer isn’t afraid of taking a case to litigation.

Let’s start out with an overview of federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors: Doling Out Justice

In a nutshell, prosecutors represent the government in the prosecution of criminal defendants. There are federal, state and county prosecutors. Some states also have district prosecutors.

Federal Prosecutors

The chief lawyer in the United States is its attorney general, who heads the United States Department of Justice. The attorney general is responsible for all criminal prosecutions, for representing the government’s legal interests in civil cases, and for administration of the Bureau of Prisons, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Marshals Service, the Immigration and  Naturalization Service, and certain other law enforcement organizations. The attorney general is nominated by the President and confirmed by the US Senate, and is a member of the Cabinet.

Reporting to the attorney general is a deputy attorney general who oversees the solicitor general and associate attorney generals.

US Attorneys

There are 94 federal judicial districts, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Three territories of the United States — the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands — have district courts that hear federal cases.

Each federal judicial district has a US attorney, with the exception of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands where a single US attorney serves both districts. In general, a US attorney’s office has a criminal, civil, asset forfeiture and appellate division. The President of the United States appoints US attorneys, subject to confirmation by the US Senate, for terms of four years.

Assistant US Attorneys

A US attorney is aided by assistant US attorneys from that district, typically referred to as AUSAs by other attorneys and legal professionals. Assistant US attorneys are generally experienced trial attorneys from both the public and private sectors, as well as the military. These attorneys typically have five to seven years of litigation experience before joining a US Attorney’s Office.

Although some AUSAs handle civil law suits in which the United States is a party, approximately 90 percent prosecute criminal cases for the federal government.

Tip for Writers: If you’re writing a story with an assistant US attorney character, within dialogue legal eagles and others speak each letter in the abbreviation — A-U-S-A. Also, below is a link to an article by a retired AUSA who talks about his background and experiences as a federal prosecutor, which he calls “the best job in the legal profession.” He also discusses what it was like to work closely with federal law enforcement agencies — such as the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, Joint Terrorism Task Force and others — in what he calls “the chase” after the bad guys.

So You Want My Job: Federal Prosecutor (The Art of Manliness)

Resources: Federal Prosecutors

The below articles and websites offer more information about federal prosecutors:

Federal Prosecutor Data (The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse)

How Do You Become an Assistant U.S. Attorney? (American Bar Association)

Offices of the United States Attorneys (US Department of Justice: An interactive map for locating district US attorneys’ offices)

US Department of Justice Offices: Diagram of the offices that report to the US attorney general.

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