If you are interested in pursuing a career as a prosecutor, the New York County District Attorney’s office in Manhattan is an excellent office that you should consider.
Back in 2016, I met with Robin Edwards, Administrator of the Legal Hiring Unit, and Nicole Cabezas Lamb, NDLS 2013, Assistant District Attorney and mentor, in Notre Dame’s Mentorship Program to discuss the 570 attorney office.
Life as an Assistant District Attorney
Nicole Cabezas Lamb, NDLS 2013, has been at the New York County DA’s office for three years and loves it. In her words “she would stay here forever. The people are awesome.”
I asked her what starting her job was like and she said that after 3 months of training, lawyers go to court right away. For the first two years, ADAs prosecute misdemeanors and then work up to felonies. The first two years are incredibly intense. The case load is 150-200 when you’re a misdemeanor assistant during the first two years. Once you become a felony assistant because you are dealing with more serious cases which also take more time to develop, the case load varies but it is closer to the 50-80 range.
Nicole has 50-80 felony cases at a given time, ranging from larceny cases such as when people jump the turnstyles in the subway to assault.
She feels good at the end of the day.
Nicole is happy to talk to any students interested in working for the DA. Reach out to me if you want to talk to Nicole and I will give you her contact information. You can read more about Nicole in my interview with her here.
What Summer Interns Do
Summer interns work closely with Assistant District Attorneys. Depending upon assignments, interns get the chance to prepare prosecutors for grand jury presentations, hearings, and trials. They also research and write appellate and trial briefs and are assigned to work on complex, long-term investigations. In most cases, summer interns get to second-seat an Assistant District Attorney on trial, shadow a first-year assistant, and observe court proceedings.
When you start, you rank your preference for appeals, trial, narcotics, special victims, and economic crimes. Interns shadow a rookie in the trial division and get to go on a police ride along.
Beyond daily work, the Manhattan DA has an excellent summer program, filled with informational programs, lectures, and activities such as a weekly lecture series, which in 2015 included programs on “Gang Murder,” “The Role of a Prosecutor,” and “Identity Theft” among others. Interns also get the chance to meet the Distirct Attorney, participate in a mock suppression hearing, visit the NYPD’s Tactical Training Facility, and shadow ADAs conducting Community Outreach programs.
Manhattan DA Hiring Processes
The Manhattan DA hires 40 attorneys each year (from 1,500 applications) and 53 law interns each summer.
Summer Intern Hiring
Both 1Ls and 2Ls may apply for summer positions at the Manhattan DA. The ten week summer program begins in early June and second-year participants in the program may apply early for permanent positions as Assistant District Attorneys. Their office calls their summer interns “fellows.” Summer fellows receive a $840 stipend each week.
To apply for a summer fellowship position, send your cover letter, resume, law school transcript, writing sample, and list of three professional references to Robin Edwards. All applications must be submitted online through the Manhattan DA’s website.
They begin accepting applications from 2Ls on August 15 and from 1Ls on December 1st. 2L applications are due on October 15th and 1L applications are due on December 15.
Assistant District Attorney Hiring
Most of the 40 attorneys the DA hires come directly from law school but some do come from other offices or from clerkships. All ADAs must work in the office for a minimum of three years and live in New York.
The Manhattan DA interviews at two major job fairs at which Notre Dame participates, the The Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair in October and the Midwest Public Interest Law Career Conference in February. You may apply for an interview at one of those career fairs or submit an online application, with your cover letter, resume, law school transcript, writing sample, and names of three professional references to Robin Edwards. Applications from 3Ls are accepted from August 1st until October 1st and lateral candidates may apply year round.
Successful ADAs go through four different interviews. The first is with a member of the Hiring Board, the second is a panel interview with three members of the Hiring Board, the next interview is an Executive Panel Interview with the Director of Legal Hiring, Administrative ADA Bonnie Sard, and two Executive ADAs, and the final interview is with the District Attorney himself.
What They Look for in Candidates
The cover letter is really important to them to show them that you can write and to show why you are interested in the office. Robin recommends that you highlight your service activities in your application materials.
Robin told the story of an Assistant District Attorney in the office who has been working there for 10 years but was initially rejected as a summer intern. He was from Indiana, his fiancee was in medical school in New York, and he was taking a class from a Professor who had worked in the Manhattan DA’s appeals bureau for several years. But he neglected to mention any of that in his cover letter.
He called Robin after his rejection and said that he was going to be in New York the next week and asked if she would see him. She agreed, he explained his ties to the office, and he got the job. The takeaway is the missed opportunity he had to shine in his cover letter. If you have ties to New York, mention them. If you have ties to attorneys in their office, mention them.
If you do not have ties to New York, that is not a deal breaker but you do need to show that you can survive in the Big Apple. If you have traveled and lived abroad, that helps and you should mention that.
They also look to see if you have taken advantage of everything that your law school offers. Do not skip classes like evidence. They are not grade snobs and there is no grade cutoff but it is rare for the Manhattan DA to hire under 3.1 because they would be concerned with the applicant’s ability to pass the bar.
They look to see that you have taken courses relevant to their work like legal writing. If you get a less than ideal grade in a class irrelevant to their practice like federal tax, it doesn’t matter.
They look for intangibles. Lawyers get a lot of responsibility early on in their office so you need to show time management skills.
Their office is a team. One for all and all for one. There is no room for arrogance.
They look for leadership skills and like when someone has worked in the service industry such as working as a waiter, bartender, or customer service representative. Robin has a particular love of eagle scouts. They like it if you were on a sports team or captain of your team because it shows teamwork.
Robin reads all applications on a screen and so graphics cannot be difficult to read. Your resume must be aesthetically pleasing, something this very blog has advocated as well. You must have bullet points and not have your resume in paragraph form. She wants specific experience listed and not vague bullet points such as “researched and wrote memoranda.” Robin does not read the writing sample and instead uses the cover letter to judge your ability to write. She really dislikes getting cover letters that are just a page of text with no spaces.
The first interviewer reads the writing sample and different divisions value the writing sample differently. Unsurprisingly, Appeals values writing especially highly.
They get so many applications that they are strict about small details when making the first cut. For example, they have an online application. A lot of people put their first and last names in the wrong boxes and when they have a lot of applications, a mistake like that can make it easy to cut you. Pay attention to detail. Avoid typos. There is no apostrophe in Queens County.
The way that Robin reviews an application is to read a candidate’s resume first, then the cover letter, then she looks at the transcript, and then she looks at the references to make sure the most recent employer is listed.
Life on the Job
Their starting salary is $69,000, they offer 3 moths paid parental leave, a strong work/life balance, and ample sick and vacation time.
You cannot be too high strung to succeed in this job and you cannot be a perfectionist. You will have 150 cases at a time when you first start and the judge will yell at you so you have to be able to deal with that.
You get grand jury training in your second year. Starting with your third year, it will be all felonies.
You can opt for specialized training like elder abuse, child abuse, cyber, and narcotics.
It is rare for someone to leave with less than six years experience. Very few attorneys leave after their 3 year commitment is over because that is when attorneys start feeling comfortable and the practice gets more exciting. 1/3 of the attorneys have been there for more than 15 years and 1/3 are in their first 3 years.
Attorneys that leave the Manhattan DA have tremendous career prospects and go to a variety of different places, including the DOJ, U.S. Attorney, corporations doing security investigations, banks with anti-money laundering programs, consulting firms that do investigative work, colleges as title 9 coordinators, and one former ADA is even working for the NFL on sexual assault issues.
There is a strong life balance. 48-52% of the staff are women. You can work remotely if you want. It is not all about money.
Their office gives you three chances to pass the bar once you are hired.
If you want to apply for a summer internship or Assistant District Attorney position with the New York County District Attorney’s office (or any other DA’s office), reach out to a CDO counselor and we can work with you on preparing a great application.