Prosecutors work for the state or federal government in enforcement of federal and state statutes as well as city ordinances that define the criminal code. State prosecutors generally work for the state's attorney or district attorney of their counties. Prosecution of federal crimes is typically handled through the U.S. Attorney's Office in each federal judicial district.
WHERE PROSECUTORS WORK
|FEDERAL||United State's Attorney's Office|
|STATE||Illinois Attorney General's Office|
|OTHER STATES||National Association of Attorneys General|
|COOK COUNTY||Cook County State's Attorney's Office|
|COLLAR COUNTIES||Collar County Resources|
|CITY||City of Chicago|
|APPELLATE||Illinois Office of the State Appellate Prosecutor|
QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD CONSIDER BEFORE BECOMING A PROSECUTOR
Students thinking about becoming prosecutors should consider several questions before beginning the application profess. Assessing your strengths and weaknesses, as well as evaluating your motives for wanting to become a prosecutor, will go a long way toward helping you decide if this is the career for you.
1. Do you have the maturity and common sense necessary to responsibly represent the public?
As a prosecutor, you will be called upon to make decisions large and small about the cases you are prosecuting. Each decision you make has a profound effect on the lives of many people: the victim, the witnesses, the defendant, and the public. While many prosecutors and private attorneys establish policies to guide these decisions, by and large, they rely on the individual assistants to carry out those policies and make mature, sober judgments about their cases. Since these offices place a tremendous amount of discretion in the hands of their individual assistants, they also place a high premium on maturity and good judgment when hiring. Consequently, students should he prepared to discuss instances in which they have exercised discretion and good judgment in the past, such as serving as an officer in an organization or representing a live client in some type of administrative proceeding.
2. Can you accept the inevitable compromises in the criminal justice system?
While people have various motives for becoming prosecutors, many do so out of a genuine concern for victims and a desire to fight crime. Impassioned by this task, they expect to go into court and use their legal skills to "put bad guys behind bars." While there are many opportunities to help victims and fight crime, prosecutors often have to modify their attitudes once confronted with the actuality of the criminal justice system. Because there are more cases than can possibly be tried, compromise has become the reality in most courtrooms around the country. Prosecutors are called upon to exercise their judgment on behalf of the public and decide which cases should be plea bargained and which should not.
3. Will you enjoy working with all types of people?
While it is a cliche that prosecutors represent "the people," the reality is that most prosecutors do work with a wide variety of people on a daily basis. On any given day, prosecutors rely on police officers to make their cases, nurture victims of crime, develop and cultivate witnesses, negotiate with judges and defense counsel, and try to sell their case to a jury. This constant interaction requires significant skill in dealing with people from all walks of life. Further, since victims and witnesses of crime often come from underprivileged sectors of our society, prosecutors also need an ability to deal sensitively with people from all classes.
DEVELOPING A PROSECUTION RESUME
Prosecutors typically want to see candidates with good judgment who are able to interact positively with the public. No office wants to be embarrassed by the attorney who bucks office policy and offers a cushy deal to a violent criminal. Similarly, offices expect their attorneys to be able to sell a case to a judge or jury. Consequently, students considering becoming prosecutors should work on developing experience that demonstrates sound judgment as well as trial ability.
Students should focus on activities that demonstrate their ability to speak to the public, handle and explain complicated issues, and think on their feet. Working in clinics, taking courses in trial advocacy, participating in moot court, and working part-time in prosecutor's offices are traditional means of demonstrating experience with oral advocacy. Work experience, clinics, trial advocacy courses, and to a lesser degree, moot court have become so traditional that many prosecutors actually question the commitment of students who do not have them on their resumes. Applicants who do not participate in these programs should be prepared to explain why.
The fact that these traditional methods of demonstrating public advocacy have become teses for judging commitment to the work should not deter students from emphasizing other experiences which show the same skills. Since most prosecutors will teach you how to try a case, they are not as concerned with your knowledge of trial procedure as they are with your ability to "sell" yourself in front of a group of people. Political organizing and campaigning can be very valuable experiences, especially if the work involved public speaking or debate. Advocacy in administrative hearings, school disciplinary proceedings, or employment hearings is another way of showing an ability to work on your feet.
INFORMATION & TIPS FROM AN ALUMNI
Advice from Karin Travis ('90), Cook County State's Attorney
HANDLING THE INTERVIEW
Because prosecutors are charged with implementing public policy, much of the interview will concentrate on your willingness to follow office policy and use sound judgment. Questions about use of discretion and ethical issues are frequent. Interview styles can run the gamut from traditional question and answer to hypothetical questions to role playing. Another area of concern is how the applicant interacts with people. Candidates who are open and affable have an advantage. Because prosecutor's offices are trial offices, some offices will ask applicants to deliver an opening statement or a summation. The following sections summarize some typical interview situations and how to deal with them. Additionally, this document on Prosecutor & Public Defender Interview Prep provides some great tips on interviewing for a criminal prosecution position.
The "Why" Question
Students should be prepared to answer what draws them to prosecution. Since this is often the first question asked in the interview, good preparation can give your interview a great start. Remember that concrete answers referring to specific instances in your life experience are the best. For example: "Once I took criminal law in law school, I was hooked. Prosecution was the only job I could see myself doing." "I grew up in a community that was besieged by crime. I realized then that I would dedicate myself to doing all I could to make sure that others don't have to grow up like that."
Interviewers will frequently present applicants with hypothetical situations designed to test the applicant's ability to think quickly and to test judgment. For example, one prosecutor asks a question like this: "You are assigned to prosecute defendant X, who is accused by his girlfriend of rape. You speak to the girlfriend, present the case to the grand jury, and the grand jury indicts the defendant for rape. Soon after the indictment is filed, you begin to feel that the defendant many not have done it. Perhaps his attorney has presented you with impressive background materials showing that he is an upstanding citizen, or perhaps you begin to have doubts about the girlfriend's veracity. What do you do?"
This question is designed to get at your willingness to seek supervision, follow ethical rules, and generally forego substituting your feelings for the decisions of democratically established institutions. The interviewer wants you to acknowledge that this is a very difficult issue and that while you would certainly talk it over with your supervisor, absent any concrete evidence leading you to the conclusion that the grand jury process was tainted, your duty is to respect the decisions of the grand jury and any doubts about the defendant's guilt can be resolved by a jury. An appropriate answer will also discuss a prosecutor's duty not to withhold exculpatory evidence. Other hypotheticals may include situations asking you about whether you would stand up to a judge who refuses to accept your office's policy on plea bargaining or how you would proceed if you discovered a police officer was lying.
Role Playing Exercises
Some interviews can include role-playing exercises and mock court proceedings. Applicants will be presented with a set of facts and then asked to interview a witness or victim or to prepare a bail hearing or summation. Some offices give the exercise to the applicant sometimes in advance of the interview; other offices present the exercise during the interview. While the exercise may appear to be a test of the candidate's knowledge of criminal law or procedure, more often than not a candidate's knowledge is not the issue. What the exercise is designed to expose is the candidate's ability to think quickly, speak clearly, and relate to the witnesses and judge. In situations where the applicant is unsure of the relevant law underlying a particular cases, it is perfectly okay to say so: "I'm not sure what the criteria are for setting bail in Illinois, so I am going to do my bail applicant based on the federal standard." But even if you are unsure of the law, you should nonetheless try to do your best on the exercise. Candidates who enthusiastically join the exercise gain points for flexibility and quick thinking. Some tips on handling the role playing:
If you are meeting the victim or witness for the first time:
- Be sure to shake his/her hand;
- Be respectful and polite;
- Clearly explain who you are and what your role is;
- Frequently check with the witness to see if they understand what you are saying.
If you are asked to make an application to the judge:
- Stand up;
- Be respectful;
- Speak clearly and explicitly outline your argument and what relief you are seeking;
- If the judge interrupts you or asks you questions designed to frustrate you or throw you off track, be respectful but firm - often the interviewer is trying to see if you are intimidated by authority.
If you are asked to examine a witness:
- Ask questions in a manner that paints a picture;
- Carefully review the paperwork you are given - often there are glaring issues which the interviewers expect you to focus on.
If you are given something to prepare in advance like a summation or an opening statement, try to memorize at least the opening paragraph. Being able to make eye contact and flow easily through your introduction will greatly impress the interviewers.
The Panel Interview
Many offices use a panel format for second and third interviews. This will consist of the applicant sitting in front of a panel of attorneys and fielding questions. Once again, this is designed to test your ability to think quickly, remain calm, speak effectively, and handle pressure. One challenge is to stay focused which being hit with questions from all corners. Often, panelists will deliberately ask a question off the topic before you have had an adequate opportunity to fully answer the previous question. Respond by saying that you will deal with the new topic as soon as you have finished responding to the preceding question. You should then quickly wrap up your answer to the previous question and then answer the new question. Remaining calm, on topic, and respectful is key to handling this type of interview.
Additionally, remember to make eye contact with the entire panel, not just the person who asked the question. Another key to a successful panel interview is to remain calm in the face of negative comments or facial expressions from panelists. These panel interviews will often designate a "bad guy" who will challenge your answers to take you on in some way to see how you handle difficult judges or tough questioning. Sometimes a panelist may just be a difficult person who does not reflect the feelings of the other panelists. In either case, do not be discouraged if you encounter a person like this. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into an argument. As long as you stand by your beliefs and are not dissuaded by the naysayer, you will gain points with the other panelists.
Many offices will seek to uncover any misgivings you may have about prosecuting certain crimes. For example, many offices will question potential hires on the "war on drugs" and whether they feel that drug crimes (and other "victimless" crimes) should be prosecuted. Whatever your feelings, this is not the time to open a discussion on libertarianism or any other philosophies. An appropriate answer is that if you are hired, you will be sworn to uphold all of the laws and that includes drugs/victimless crimes and that you would do just that regardless of your personal feelings.
A related topic refers to a candidate's willingness to enforce laws and policies with which they may personally disagree. The death penalty is a prime example. A candidate applying in a jurisdiction that has the death penalty may be asked if they would seek death despite personal feelings. Again, the answer is that if hired, your duty will be to uphold all the laws and you wouldn't be applying to be a prosecutor if you felt you could not do so.
APPLYING TO AND INTERVIEWING WITH THE COOK COUNTY STATE'S ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
The CCSA's office interviews law students for full-time positions during the fall of their third year by participating in on-campus interviewing. It is important to keep in mind that you will not be taken seriously as a candidate if you have not clerked for the CCSA while in law school. This is why careful planning during your first and second years of law school is so important. Because the competition for jobs at the CCSA is so fierce, it is important to show a strong passion for the work of the CCSA by clerking with their office throughout law school. In addition, clerking with the CCSA will allow you to develop relationships with the ASAs at the CCSA who you will use as references and call upon to make phone calls on your behalf to the people who will interview you during the interview process.
Questions 3L candidates were asked in third-round interviews with the CCSA's office in 2010
- Tell us one thing about you that is not on your resume by you think we should know.
- What qualities do you think would make you a good Assistant State's Attorney?
- What do you think is good/bad about our office?
- Why should we hire you over everyone else we've interviewed?
- How many motions/bench trials have you done with your 711 license?
- Why do you want to be a prosecutor?
- Why do you want to work for our office specifically?
- Why Cook County instead of a county that is less competitive?
- Tell us something you did with your 711 license while working at 26th & California.
- If you were to get this position, do you have a preference regarding where you would like to be placed? (First year ASAs work in appeals, first municipal, and child support)
- What classes have you taken to prepare yourself for this job?
- What will you do if you get offered this job?
Narrative from Loyola student who had a third-round interview at the CCSA's office in 2010
The CCSA interviewers started out by going through my resume, asking me what I did at each place that I worked, specifically what I did and who I worked for at the State's Attorney's office. They also asked why that experience was valuable and what I had learned from the attorneys I had worked for. I think they were also intrigued by the externship I did for Judge Mary Anne Mason because she was a long-time prosecutor. I brought along the briefs I had written and it happened that one of my interviewers was on that case.
Also, during my second semester of my first year, I volunteered with the ACLU. My interviewers spent a lot of time asking me about that experience because one of my interviewers worked on the same case for the CCSA, which meant we represented opposing clients. They asked me several questions about my ACLU experience including, "After working there, would that make you a better or worse prosecutor and why?" "Would it make it difficult for you to prosecute those same kids if you were put in the juvenile division at the state's attorney's office?" and "Would you be better at the public defender's office? Why or why not?"