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Listen to Joe’s review on our podcast: Episode 5
Joseph D. Nohavicka’ Pick:
Greetings, law fans, and welcome back to another installment of Lit Legal Reads! In this series we talk about books dealing primarily with the law and the practice and problems of the law profession. But the stories…they have to be LIT!
Okay, let’s do this. My choice for Lit Law Read today is….. BRONX D.A.: True Stories from the Sex Crimes and Domestic Violence Unit, by Sarena Straus
Sarena was an Assistant District Attorney in the Bronx in the late 1990s into 2000.
The book is made up of a series of case histories from Sarena’s experience as an assistant district attorney dealing with some of the most horrific crimes imaginable.
Any one of the cases could be the plots of episodes of Law & Order: SVU.
But it is more than that: Sarena educates us about our legal system and its intricacies. The stories are important to read for those who are interested in becoming a prosecutor. Bronx DA is a first-hand description of what life is like for a prosecutor.
For a lot of law students, prosecution work is an attractive form of public service. It also offers immediate opportunities for litigation experience.
Unlike private firms where associates often must wait years before being given the opportunity to appear in court, assistant district attorneys are thrown right in: they manage large caseloads and try cases soon after joining the office.
Most assistant district attorneys spend hours each day in court, either on trial or handling initial appearances, motion hearings, pleas and sentencings. Nearly every day ADAs have contact with police officers, victims of crime and their families, and witnesses.
The daily demands require high energy, an ability to think on your feet, and a talent for juggling multiple tasks. ADAs make highly consequential decisions every day as to whether to prosecute a particular suspect, to accept a plea bargain in a given case or risk taking it to trial, or to argue a certain point of law.
For most violent crimes, assistant district attorneys become involved soon after the initial criminal investigation has been completed. Once police authorities have collected and analyzed all of the relevant evidence in a case, the information is brought to the district attorney’s office, where an ADA will usually decide whether or not to bring charges, and what the charges should be. And there you go.
Interested in becoming a prosecutor? What’s an interview like for that job?
Well, you will be asked:
Why do you want to become a prosecutor?
During the interview, you’ll need to say why you want to become a prosecutor. District attorney’s offices are seeking people dedicated to public service and committed to fighting crime and seeking justice. DA offices want more than smart law graduates who seek litigation experience. They want people who are committed to the mission that animates the day-to-day challenges confronting a prosecutor. Anyone who does not enjoy working in the trenches of the criminal justice system will have a difficult time on the job.
Can I handle the responsibilities and inevitable compromises of prosecution?
The work of an assistant district attorney can at times be extremely stressful, and prosecutors must be mature and responsible enough to handle the often overwhelming caseload and daily, highly consequential decisions made under pressure. Decisions that a prosecutor makes will affect the lives of many people, starting with the victim and the accused. Because ADAs are given so much discretion in their cases, there is a tremendous expectation that ADAs will exercise good judgment. When balancing competing interests, you’ll need the ability to accept the inevitable compromises in the justice system that allow for defendants, a vast majority of the time, to be punished less severely in exchange for a guilty plea. For many prosecutors, the least satisfying part of the job is plea-bargaining. For others, sentencing proceedings can be difficult, as there are times when prosecutors must argue for higher punishments than they personally think the defendant deserves.
Am I willing to accept the sacrifices in exchange for the rewards of public service?
There are sacrifices in becoming a prosecutor. Even after many years, prosecutors earn less than first year associates at major law firms. Prosecutors will not have the same perks and benefits as attorneys at law firms. ADAs regularly type their own motions, do their own photocopying, and have little or no paralegals to help with the vast paperwork. But for most people who have chosen the path of a public service career in prosecution, the rewards outweigh the costs.
As one prosecutor put it: “The primary reason I enjoy being a prosecutor is the feeling that I am doing something important, something that matters to people and to society. Most days I leave my job feeling good about myself, and feeling like I have accomplished something that will affect people in a positive way. I truly believe in what I do, and every day I look forward to going to work. I don’t think that you can get that from many jobs in the legal field.”
Anyway, even if you are not interested in becoming a prosecutor, pick up Bronx DA and see what you think. At a minimum Sarena’s stories are LIT.