Edintally, one of the more interesting recent commenters, dropped me a couple emails asking as to my status (prosecutor or defense attorney?). When I clarified that I'd been a defense attorney and moved over to prosecutor he allowed as how he had never heard of someone doing that before.
And that's a shame. Not his fault, but I think it's symptomatic of a failing we have in our system. For some reason, we seem to think people should choose a side and stay there. That's just wrong. Long term practice on one side only tends to lead to the kind of bunker mentality we see all too often wherein both sides dig in, see everything the other side does as motivated by pure evil, and lob invectives (or worse, dirty tricks) at each other.
So, here's my suggestion to those of you interested in starting a career in criminal law. I know that no one will listen to me, but I think the world would be a better place if they did. Whichever side you feel are "the good guys", start on the other. Practice there not for 6 months - or even 2 years; practice there for at least five years - enough time that it becomes second nature. Then flip sides. Stay there for at least 3 years. Then put some serious thought into where you want to put your efforts.
As you might guess, this somewhat mirrors my journey, except for the fact that not having planned on becoming a criminal lawyer I didn't have strong feelings as to which side I'd start on. I applied for jobs both at Commonwealth Attorney offices and Public Defenders. Then I started my own practice doing court appointed work, built it up and eventually folded it (out of business reasons and wanting to move closer to where I grew up) and joined a prosecutor's office on the far end of the State. I consider my path something of a happy accident. However, that's not why I commend it to you.
Part of what makes anyone a good attorney is understanding the problems, motivations, and mindset of the attorney on the other side. No matter how smart you are, you cannot do this without walking that mile in the other guy's moccasins. I'm sure you think you can. In fact, I'm fairly certain that I'll get comments from people telling me they've observed the other side for years and they don't need to live it to understand it. They're wrong. There will always be issues you'll never know, priorities which you'll never suss out, and problems you'll never even have heard about if you haven't been there yourself.
Personally, my hope is that working both sides will lead a person to have more loyalty to the system than a side. That's not to say I don't expect people to play their part in the system to the fullest extent of their ability. The system doesn't work if they don't. Still, all this silliness about being at "war" with the other side tends to come from "True Believers" and True Believers tend to come from people who have never seen and don't understand the other side. It's not a war, it's a test. Those who have worked on both sides usually understand this and the prejudices, priorities, and anxieties of the other side. I'd go so far as to say, if you couldn't do either job in a manner meant to lead to justice you should seriously consider doing neither.