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How Do I Become a Federal Prosecutor?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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To become a federal prosecutor, experience typically is required, along with a number of years as a trial attorney with good litigation skills. Federal prosecutors, also called U.S. attorneys, are appointed by the president, approved by Congress, and confirmed by the Senate. Working as an assistant U.S. attorney might help a lawyer become a federal prosecutor, since the assistant positions are not appointed positions. The Department of Justice also offers an honors program for law students who aspire to become a federal prosecutor.

Assistant federal prosecutors work in various branches of the government, including immigration, drug enforcement, the tax division, and health. More than 4,000 federal laws have been enacted by the U.S. Congress. Federal prosecutors prosecute criminals who violate these statutes.

Some attorneys who become a federal prosecutor begin as assistants working on misdemeanor cases or in the appellate division to gain experience. They build a record of accomplishment in criminal or civil litigation considered essential to become a federal prosecutor. The number of years performing trial work might vary by district.

The United States Attorney General represents the chief prosecutor of the country and oversees 94 U.S. attorneys serving in various districts. To become a U.S. prosecutor in one of these regions, applicants need a minimum of one year of experience and active membership in the American Bar Association. Once a candidate is hired, the job is usually considered permanent.

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Candidates who want to become a federal prosecutor must undergo a complete background investigation. Investigators might interview former neighbors and coworkers going back 10 years. They might seek information from former spouses, educational institutions, and former landlords as part of the background check.

The process also includes a review of an applicant’s credit history, criminal record, and tax details. Fingerprinting and a drug test represent other requirements to become a federal prosecutor. Only U.S. citizens who have not resided outside the country during two of the previous five years are eligible. An exception might be made for candidates who served overseas in the military.

Entry-level graduate students who want jobs as federal prosecutors can apply for the attorney general’s honor program. They might be awarded a two-year clerkship or fellowship in a federal prosecutor’s office. The honors program represents the only way a lawyer without experience can become a federal prosecutor.

Most federal prosecutors carry a heavy caseload and deal with all types of people, from witnesses to victims. They need good interrogation skills and the ability to devise trial strategy. Strong organizational and legal research skills also make a federal prosecutor effective in the job. He or she must weigh the facts of each case before deciding whether to seek justice on behalf of citizens.

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