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How to Become a Prosecutor

August 22, 2023


Reviewed by:

David Merson

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 01/18/23

Prosecutors are integral parts of the criminal justice system. To learn more about how to become a prosecutor, read on! 

While prosecutors are often glamorized in the media and shown taking down the most prolific criminals, these types of limelight legal cases do occur in real life. For instance, Michael McCann is a real-life prosecutor who obtained a conviction for the notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

While the majority of cases prosecutors undertake don’t involve infamous serial killers, each case still involves them advocating for the safety of the public and upholding justice by convicting those accused of committing various crimes. 

If this career interests you, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about how to become a prosecutor.

Steps to Becoming a Prosecutor

Steps to becoming a prosecutor

It will take at least seven years to become a prosecutor. Here is a breakdown of the process, step-by-step. 

Step One: Obtain an Undergraduate Degree

The first major step in the right direction is obtaining an undergraduate degree from an accredited university. The step is a prerequisite to step three, which is attending law school. 

To maximize your chances of getting into your top choice law school, it’s essential you maintain a high GPA throughout your undergrad. The best way to get high grades is to pursue a major of genuine interest. Law schools may not have a preference over the type of undergrad you complete, but do pay close attention to your resulting GPA. 

Aside from choosing the right major, it’s essential you take a diverse range of courses to widen your skills and knowledge base. Begin developing good analytical, critical, research, writing, and communication skills; they will prove invaluable during law school and your eventual legal career.

Step Two: Write the LSAT

The next step is to write the LSAT. The LSAT is typically required by all law schools as part of their admissions process, although many schools are now accepting the GRE instead. 

A high LSAT score is required to get into top-ranking law schools, so ensure you create a solid study schedule that involves taking multiple practice tests under timed test conditions. 

Step Three: Complete a JD Program

Once you’ve applied to law school and gotten into one, you’ll have to spend the next three years working hard and networking. Your GPA and connections will have a great influence over the type of job you land post-graduation.

When choosing the perfect JD program, look for those that offer clinical experience in criminal court settings. In these clinics, you’ll work on real criminal cases to begin developing the skills required of successful prosecutors. This experience will also boost your resume! 

Consider also joining a program that offers various criminal justice courses or allows you to concentrate on criminal law. Doing so will enable you to focus your education on your desired area of practice.

During your summers off, seek opportunities that allow you to work with prosecutors or in prosecutor’s offices. 

Step Four: Write the Bar Exam

Once you’ve successfully completed your JD, you’re almost at the finish line. The last step before you can officially become a prosecutor is passing the bar exam. This bar exam will assess your legal competencies and provide you with the required license to practice law.

What Does a Prosecutor Do?

While your main objective as a prosecutor will be to investigate and prosecute criminals, there are several other roles involved in attaining this objective:

  • Assessing, presenting, and explaining evidence
  • Interviewing witnesses and other interested parties
  • Calling witnesses to the stand and cross-examining the defense’s witnesses
  • Participating in preliminary hearings
  • Deciding which charges to file
  • Finding and calling upon reputable experts to corroborate claims
  • Challenging the defense

Types of Prosecutors

The above roles apply to all prosecutors, regardless of where they work. However, to give you a comprehensive understanding of what a career as a prosecutor looks like, here are the three types of prosecutors that exist within the judicial system:

  • US Attorneys: the rarest and most coveted prosecutors that work at the federal level. There are only 94 of these attorneys in the United States, one for each district.
  • District Attorneys: prosecute criminals at the state, county, and municipal levels.
  • Independent Counsels: only appointed under extraordinary circumstances to investigate cases involving accusations of impropriety among high officials, including the President.

While proving the guilt of the accused without a reasonable doubt is one of a prosecutor’s hardest responsibilities, working with victims who have been seriously harmed is extremely psychologically and emotionally taxing. 

There is always the possibility that prosecutors cannot win their cases, and their clients, or the victims affected by these cases, do not receive the justice they seek. 

Accordingly, those interested in becoming prosecutors will have to have thick skin and be able to respond positively to the emotional drawbacks of this job.

Prosecutor Salary and Career Outlook

This area of law is highly competitive. There are often limited prosecutor spots available, and hundreds of applicants compete for them.

Due to this competitiveness, it is critical that aspiring prosecutors are proactive and seek out as many internships, externships, clerkships, and clinical experiences as possible to stand out as applicants. 

The average salary for prosecutors is $75,902 a year, with many prosecutors earning more than $100,000 a year after gaining some experience.

FAQs: Becoming a Prosecutor

For any remaining questions on how to become a prosecutor, read on to find your answers.

1. How Long Does it Take to Become a Prosecutor?

It will take at least seven years to become a prosecutor: four years to complete an undergraduate degree and three years to complete a JD program.

2. How Hard Is it To Become a Prosecutor?

Becoming a prosecutor is challenging from beginning to end. Not only will you have to gain admission into competitive law schools and do well in them, but you’ll also have to gain enough experience during your JD to stand out as an applicant. Prosecution positions are highly competitive and limited.

3. Is Being a Prosecutor a Good Career?

As a prosecutor, you’re guaranteed to have a fulfilling career protecting and upholding the justice system and all those bound by it. You will help victims get the justice they deserve and help them through the most difficult situations.

So, while this type of high-pressure job can be extremely stressful and exhausting, it’s well worth the outcome! 

4. What Skills Are Required to Be a Prosecutor?

Successful prosecutors have the following qualities:

  • Strong communication skills
  • Excellent time management and prioritization
  • Good Interpersonal skills
  • Adaptability
  • The ability to work under pressure
  • Thorough attention to detail
  • Good analytical and critical thinking skills

Prosecutors must also know how to make tough decisions and create persuasive arguments with limited information or evidence.

5. Are Prosecutors Different From Lawyers?

No, prosecutors are a type of lawyer.

6. What Cases Do Prosecutors Work On?

Prosecutors work on criminal cases where they represent the person accusing the other party, the defendant.

Final Thoughts

Being a prosecutor is a tough and stressful job, but ultimately has an amazing payout because it creates a real impact on people’s lives. Understanding the steps involved in becoming a prosecutor, the realistic roles they play, and the challenges they may face, can help you decide if this is the right career for you!

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