It can be difficult to understand assistant district attorney salary differences across the country because you don’t have access to accurate salary and employment information. Instead of relying on assumptions and guesswork, we want to offer accurate data for lawyers and law students exploring a possible career as a district attorney.
This is our first attempt at creating a resource that contains salary information for entry-level criminal prosecutors nationwide.
We gathered this data by calling multiple offices in the 50 largest cities in the United States, plus making sure we have at least one city from every state, for a total of 72 cities. While we’ve been able to gather enough data to release our research, we still welcome anonymous contributions to help further improve our data.
Here’s what we’ve found:
The average assistant district attorney starting salary is $67,106 and the median is $64,000.
The highest starting salary is San Jose, California which pays its starting ADAs $127,518.
The lowest starting salary is Manchester, New Hampshire which pays its starting ADAs $40,604.
You can submit anonymous data using the Have A Tip? button at the top of the chart.
As the number of contributions increases, the quality of the dataset will improve alongside and will provide potential district attorneys with accurate information about potential salaries and bonuses in different cities across the USA. We’ll also be updating this information with publicly available resources as we find them.
That’ll give law students and future district attorneys the best opportunity of applying to more lucrative markets.
What is an Assistant District Attorney?
The District Attorney is typically the top criminal prosecutor for a given city or region, while everyone who works for the district attorney’s office is known as either an assistant district attorney or as a deputy district attorney.
The job of a district attorney is to represent the people of his/her county after determining whether an individual faced with criminal charges has enough evidence to form a case against them.
Is being an ADA a good job?
With an above-average salary for the general population, a career as an assistant district attorney can be a solid choice for lawyers even if you’ll fall toward the bottom of the bimodal salary distribution curve. Public employees’ benefits packages for health care and pensions can be inexpensive because the cost is shared with such a large number of employees and government jobs still provide decent benefits.
However, the truth is that practicing as an assistant district attorney is a very high-stress job that requires a lot of effort and involves working long hours. As the assistant district attorney, your role will be to work under the district attorney and likely manage a substantial caseload.
It’s a job that involves interviewing the potential victims and witnesses in criminal cases. Along with that, the DA will need to also assess all the potential evidence that surrounds the crime. It’s a taxing job that requires a lot of effort and concentration. Everyone in the DA’s office carries the burden of making sure that justice is served in the community.
How do you become an ADA?
To successfully become an assistant district attorney, it’s essential that the attorney has never committed a felony and has no criminal background. Even the slightest of misdemeanor chargers will receive intense scrutiny.
You’ll also want to have good grades, experience with criminal law and an understanding of the criminal system. Most district attorney offices will hire a “baby prosecutor” who doesn’t yet have any experience, so it can be a good place to start your legal career if you want to practice criminal law.
An ADA can have many different roles
As a requirement to be able to effectively perform their job, ADAs have the authority to investigate individuals, issue subpoenas, make plea bargains, grant immunity, and file formal criminal charges against individuals.
While there’s only one DA position in the county, there can be several ADAs. There are also the roles of the administrative assistant district attorney, executive assistant district attorney, chief assistant district attorney, or first assistant district attorney. These are essentially titles that potentially indicate the seniority of the assistant district attorney. Take, for example, the role of the chief assistant district attorney or first assistant district attorney; it typically falls to the individual that’s second in command to the district attorney.
Aside from there being a hierarchy, there are also different roles that ADAs can perform. They can specialize in felony criminal prosecution or choose to be a border prosecutor. Aside from that, the ADA can also specialize in the child and elderly protective services division.
While the exact role and jobs may differ depending on the position and the office, they generally include some of the same responsibilities.
What are the job responsibilities of an ADA?
An assistant district attorney has a lot of different job responsibilities. One of the primary roles of an ADA is to assist the district attorney in presenting their criminal cases in court. The district attorney will assign different cases to the assistant district attorneys.
The ADA will have to analyze and prepare the cases properly for the trial. These cases can range from simple misdemeanors to more complex cases. While just starting out, the assistant district attorneys will handle misdemeanor charges.
However, as they gain more experience, they’ll start handling more difficult and complex cases progressively. Their responsibility also involves interviewing the victims and any potential witnesses to help collect the necessary evidence. Once the ADA has the necessary evidence, they can proceed towards prosecuting.
An ADA is a people-person
These aren’t the only responsibilities that will concern assistant district attorneys. They’re also responsible for training new staff on different legal issues and the goals of the organization. Handling everything can become challenging for the district attorney. As a result, the ADAs must also provide the district attorney with administrative assistance when needed.
Their role also extends during the court proceedings as they must continue to interact with the victims, police, and witnesses. These interactions will put them in the best position to make critical decisions that help support court proceedings.
An ADA gives support for courtroom proceedings
District attorney offices typically have hundreds if not thousands of open cases, and it becomes challenging for the DA to handle all the legal advice and draft the necessary legal documents. The amount of paperwork can get taxing, especially when there are multiple cases to address at once.
For most offices, ADAs can expect a lot of courtroom experience and that the experience will come quickly, such as presenting the case, cross-examining the witnesses, and making the necessary arguments.
To support their convictions in the court, the ADAs need to prepare the necessary case files, find evidence documents, and any other potential supporting files that are necessary for the court proceedings. Their job also involves evaluating possible issues in cases and suggesting solutions that are legally compliant. The ADA will also prepare and present the witnesses in court when it’s time for testimony.
On top of all of that, it’s crucial for assistant district attorneys to stay updated with the latest developments in the legal field.
These are some of the responsibilities that an assistant district attorney will need to handle. As they gain more experience, the scope of their responsibilities grows significantly and they can expect to move from misdemeanors to felonies.
ADA benefits, PSLF and other policies
Even though an ADA might find herself on the left side of the bimodal salary distribution, there are many financial perks and benefits that come with government jobs.
Government offices typically provide substantial time off (four weeks+) on top of the federal holidays. They also usually have great health care coverage, at a low to zero cost to you and certainly cheaper than you are likely to find working for a private employer.
Government attorneys are also eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. After 120 qualifying payments, your student loans are forgiven tax-free. If this is applicable to you, you can take your student loan balance and divide it by 10 to calculate the annual post-tax benefit PSLF provides on top of your regularly paid salary.
ADA exit job opportunities
Becoming an assistant district attorney is just the start of your legal career, and many lawyers will eventually want to leave to do something else. Luckily, there are several different branches that an ADA can follow. These options give the ADA a lot of freedom to pursue different paths.
Becoming a district attorney
Firstly, there’s the natural opportunity to progress towards becoming a district attorney which is often a political role or working as a “chief” running a particular division at the district attorney’s office. Once you reach the district attorney level, your earnings will receive a significant boost, and they also get access to a very decent pension.
Moving to the other side of the bench
There are very few individuals that spend as much time in courts as an assistant district attorney. That’s why one of the most natural progressions for the career is towards becoming a judge. It’s a long process that’ll require you to pass a lot of exams and go through tons of interviews.
Moving to private practice
With the extensive experience gained while working in the DA’s office, ADAs don’t have a lot of trouble getting jobs once they’re looking to leave. A lot of ADAs easily make the transition to Biglaw. However, it’s recommended that you attempt a clerkship before trying to move into Biglaw.
Aside from Biglaw, it’s also common practice for DA’s to switch towards working on their private criminal defense practice or they join family law. Another way that ADAs can get to Biglaw firms is by going to the State AG’s office or attempting to become an Assistant US Attorney (AUSA).
While Biglaw firms might be a little reluctant when it comes to hiring ADAs, they won’t have any trouble trying to hire an AUSA. Another career path that the ADAs can take is starting work as a magistrate. After gaining experience as a magistrate, they’ll be able to start working as a judge eventually.
After working for an extended period of time in an industry that involves a lot of networking, it’s easy to build up good relationships as a DA. By making these essential connections, DA’s put themselves in the best position to start their own private practice.
Typically, the most common type of private practice that an ADA enters into after leaving the district attorney’s office is a family law practice. Another option is to start working on their own private criminal defense practice. Thanks to all the networking and connections, private practice has the potential to be very lucrative.
Regardless of what career path you choose after becoming an ADA, it’s clear that there are multiple different options.
The ADA salary database and how you can help
Using this resource, it’s possible for prospective ADAs and law students to identify what markets suit them the most. They can target the markets where they have the greatest chance of finding success. By being able to land the most lucrative jobs, the ADAs will put themselves in the best position for their future.
Remember that you can contribute anonymously and significantly improve the dataset. You can submit anonymous data using the Have A Tip? button at the top of the chart.