Should I be a prosecutor or a defense attorney?”, someone googled, and for whatever unknown reason, this site popped up.

Well, I don’t know the motivation for the question, so I suppose it’s difficult to answer, but I’ll say this: there are a lot of practicing criminal defense lawyers who started by prosecuting at the county attorney or district attorney’s office, who eventually turned to criminal defense. And there are several reasons for this.

I’m being facetious by titling this “sleeping with the enemy”, because although I started out as a defense lawyer immediately after law school, I have no problem in theory or in practice with folks who want to prosecute. The job needs to be done, and someone’s got to do it. 

Personally, I knew it wasn’t for me. I went to law school in the first place to be a defense lawyer. Never wanted to do anything else. And I have too many philosophical objections to the prosecution of, say, drug offenders, and would be forced to seek county jail time or prison time for those with prior records. I wouldn’t have made a good prosecutor.

But for many, it’s a way to get experience in the courtroom almost right away – after you attend baby prosecutor school that is. Many who wish to practice criminal defense also believe that you learn a lot about how the “other side” works by being a prosecutor first.

Also, it’s frankly difficult to set up shop as a defense lawyer right after the bar results come out. Nobody knows your name, why would they hire you if you don’t have experience, and besides, there a lot of expenses to hanging out your shingle. (I was lucky – I was offered a job by a local Austin defense lawyer who had taught me at UT’s criminal defense clinic, so I didn’t face those initial business set up hurdles.)

After you’ve prosecuted for a while, when you leave the DA and start a criminal defense practice, you’ll actually receive a good deal of support from the local defense bar (if it’s anything like Austin’s). More experienced lawyers will refer you cases – yes, probably the lower paying ones, but it’s a start. And you’ll have the trial experience necessary to qualify to take court appointed clients as well.

I doubt there’s better than a 50% chance this answers the question the person googling the phrase was actually looking for, but I thought I’d give it a shot.