What does a County Attorney do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The job description for a county attorney depends on the county where the attorney practices. Generally speaking, county attorneys are public employees who work at the county level, representing the interests of the government in court in addition to advising public officials on legal matters. They do not practice law privately and the scope of the cases they handle depends on whether there is also a district attorney in the region. If there is no district attorney, county attorneys handle civil and criminal cases all the way to the level of district court. If one is present, county attorneys practice only in county court and may not be involved in criminal cases.

In some countries, a county attorney is an elected official that completes the legal work of the residents of the county.
In some countries, a county attorney is an elected official that completes the legal work of the residents of the county.

To become a county attorney, it is necessary to attend law school and pass the bar exam in the state where the attorney plans to practice. Focusing on public interest law while in school and pursuing internships offering experience in government offices is recommended, as this will prepare an attorney for practice as a county attorney. Once qualified, attorneys can apply to counties with openings to get work experience in an office before running for election as county attorneys. If a county hires, rather than electing, its attorneys, this job can be won through application and appointment.

A county attorney may work on child custody disputes.
A county attorney may work on child custody disputes.

The structure of a county attorney's office varies. For some county attorneys, the focus of the work is on civil matters like restraining orders, child custody disputes, and so forth, paired with advising county officials by request. Officials can have questions about policy and enforcement, as well as the legality of various activities conducted at the county level. County attorneys must keep up with the laws in the region and pay close attention to proposed ordinances and laws to identify potential conflicts.

Some county attorneys practice only in county court and may not be involved in criminal cases.
Some county attorneys practice only in county court and may not be involved in criminal cases.

Other county attorneys also handle criminal cases. Crimes like robbery, murder, and rape are charged as crimes against the government, rather than individual victims, and the county attorney represents the county in the suit, acting as a prosecutor. The county attorney develops a case, assembles witnesses, participates in evidence discovery, and goes to trial with the case if the case appears to have merit.

Pay for working as a county attorney tends to be much lower than the salaries available to attorneys working in private practice. These jobs do come with benefits like access to pension funds, health care, government vehicles, and specialized insurance products. People usually apply for positions as county attorneys because they are interested in serving the public interest.

A county attorney who is working on a criminal case may decide to take the case to trial.
A county attorney who is working on a criminal case may decide to take the case to trial.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

indemnifyme

@strawCake - Government benefits are great, but I think the difference in salary between an attorney who works in private practice and a county attorney is a lot! I was curious, so I looked it up. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a lawyer who works in local government (like a country attorney) is $82,590. But the average wage for all lawyers is $110,590.

I think that difference could really add up over the years. Also, lawyers who work for big companies get some really great benefits and good retirements plans also. So I think working as a county attorney could be a great starting point for a lawyer, but might not be a good thing to do for your whole career.

strawCake

I think having state government benefits definitely makes up for the difference between a county attorney salary and a private practice attorney salary. I know government insurance and retirement plans tend to be excellent!

However, I think you would also need to have a passion for serving the public too. It sounds like a county attorney is pretty much a jack of all trades: advising about laws, prosecuting cases, dealing with domestic disputes, etc. It sounds like a lot of work, and stressful too. I think you would have to really want to do the job to put yourself through that!

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