Whether you're a newly minted attorney or somebody who's been a round a bit, if you want to be a prosecutor (or get a better prosecutor job) one of the best places to start looking is the Commonwealth's Attorneys Services Council's Employment board. [link here
] Everybody from population 5,000 Pitcairn County to the metropolis of Erehwon City with 500,000 people puts their open positions on this site. It is, however, a place where you need to know what you're looking at, so let's go through some of the things to look for.
Location: Self Explanatory [unless you mix up Richmond City and Richmond County]
Job Title: With some variations, you will see Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney I, II, or III and sometimes part time or hourly positions. Attorney I is your basic starting position prosecutor. Attorney II is expected to be more advanced/capable. Attorney III is more highly experienced and capable - often filling an administrative position of some sort. No matter what other titles are put up (ie Domestic Violence Prosecutor) at core they all fall under the I, II, III system. Part time / hourly prosecutors are usually positions a locality is funding for use by the Commonwealth Attorney in traffic or misdemeanor court.
Salary / Salary Range: This is where the games start. Counties which can't match the salaries from bigger cities will note the fact that they give benefits. Everybody gives medical benefits and, if you last that long, retirement benefits. Don't get distracted by that. On the other hand, if you take a job in a more rural community keep in mind the fact that you may not need as much money. I've been paid less for years where I'm at and I rent a house on a river surrounded by beautiful land and wildlife while being no more than 15 minutes from a medium size city across the Tennessee line. If I'd stayed in the Richmond area I'd be renting an apartment surrounded by other apartments and parking lots. Money is important, but it isn't everything. [Now that I've finished my ad for the wonders of taking a job in Wise County, let's get back to our regularly scheduled program already in progress]
You will often see some variation on $56,000 - 65,000, depending on experience and qualifications. Read that as $56,000. Again, read that as $56,000. No matter what anybody tells you, especially the people trying to fill their slot, read that as $56,000. Any amount above that assumes you are impressive enough to get the Comp Board [a mysterious, impenetrable agency in Richmond which determines base salaries] or the county to give you above all others extra money. You may be the one rose that blooms in that desert, but the dirt looks awful dry from here. It was when I first got my job [not a penny of extra money for six prior years experience; not that I'm a bitter, unforgiving person who has sworn eternal vengeance or anything; nope; not me; I promise]. If they don't list any salary assume the minimum comp board salary. Keep in mind, those big salary offers you see in bigger offices often come after you've had a job for a few years at a place with lower salaries [if you don't decide to stay at the really cool job with great people at the place that pays less].
Start Date / Closing Date: These are pretty self explanatory. Make sure you look at the start date because sometimes there is a delay. If Jane is kind enough to tell her boss that she's leaving in six months to join the Marines the boss may order a mental evaluation, but he probably isn't going to kick her out the door immediately. I'm not sure why there is a closing date listed. Usually that's "until filled."
Description of Job /Special Requirements: These are basically one section describing the job and this is where you really need to start paying attention. Some places keep this short and sweet: "Prosecuting attorney with responsibilities for felony and misdemeanor offenses in General District and Circuit Court." Unless there is something significantly different about the job, I think this is the most respectable approach. The hiring office is neither trying to baffle you with BS nor is it trying to put out sheet anchors before you are even hired. It gives you an idea in which court you will work and what you'll be doing. Do you need much more?
Apparently many offices think you do. Most of this will consist of elaborations on the basic duties of the job:
The attorney holding this position will be expected to prepare and
prosecute felony and misdemeanor cases in district and circuit courts,
conduct any research and writing needs to prepare prosecutions, compose
appellate briefs, advise local law enforcement agencies and work closely
with Victim/Witness advocates. Due to the high caseload, the attorney
must be able to organize and work efficiently. Additionally, the
attorney must be decisive and able to exercise discretion.
That is a rather tight version of the usual boilerplate describing the job of a prosecutor. As far as it goes, it's fine. In fact, it's probably better than most [I have to say this otherwise the very competent lady in my office who wrote it may thump me - Hi Jessica ;-)]. However, in a number of postings the boilerplate just gets out of control. I mean, for goodness sake, some of them are so long that they have labeled sub-sections: Essential Duties, Our Locality, Physical Requirements, etc. Generally they all boil down to "You will be a prosecutor in our county/city." Some seem to also use this section to show how hip they are to new prosecution trends. "We employ vertical prosecutions in all courts" is a prosecution fad that popped up a few years back describing the practice of a single lawyer handling a case from charging in district court thru sentencing in circuit court. It wasn't really something new; most serious cases have gotten handled this way in most places since the beginning of time. However, it got a fancy name and suddenly all sorts of offices started pledging their allegiance to "vertical prosecution." You'll see it thrown in any number of postings and it probably means different things at different offices.
Things to Be Cautious About:
A disturbing thing which should make you cautious is when a posting starts the description of the job it's trying to sell you on by telling you the boss can fire you. I don't know who first started putting "This is an at-will position which serves at the pleasure of the Commonwealth’s Attorney" as THE VERY FIRST LINE in their job description. All I know is that the first time I saw it it was jarring. It's like the office is setting you up to fire you before you've even shown any interest in the job. I'd tell you that this is a giant red flag except for the fact that I'm fairly certain it's now been picked up as boilerplate in various jurisdictions (everybody plagiarizes everybody else's descriptions).1
Another thing that raises caution flags for me is if the ad reads like an employee's manual with a long and very, very specific list of duties. If it feels like they are writing the list more for their benefit than to attract you [We told you before you were hired you'd have to care for the office plants. The hydrangea is dead. You're out of here.] you might want to be cautious.
If you're looking at the ads for a while - not that any of us long practicing types ever look around to see if the grass is greener elsewhere - and you see an office is constantly hiring large numbers of attorneys or constantly hiring supervisory attorneys (Attorney III's) you should ask around to see why. Be aware that larger jurisdictions are always hiring someone and a smaller jurisdiction may have trouble getting someone to move out to a place like Pitcarin County. It's when you see a long term repetitive pattern that you should check it out. If Pitcairn County is filling its sole assistant position every six months you want to know why. If Erehwon City is constantly down 10 or so assistants or constantly hiring new supervisors, you want to know why. Ask someone from outside the office if you can.
Things to Notice:
Longer descriptions are not always bad. Look for ones that describe unique(ish) positions like supervisor over general district court or member of our economics crime section. You should particularly pay attention to any clarification of Attorney II & III duties because these can vary significantly from location to location. The single Attorney II in Pitcairn County could be the Chief Deputy while Erehwon City may have four Attorney III's each supervising a different part of the office. In particular, an Attorney III should always have some explanation of the duties attached.
Experience desired/required: Treat these as advisory. Often enough they are unrealistic. An office trying to find someone with 10 years prosecuting experience can be over shooting by just a wee bit. However, you should not ignore this completely. If they are asking for 10 years and you have 6 you're probably in range; if you have 0 you're almost assuredly wasting your time and theirs. If you are a new(ish) attorney, don't be scared away by 2 or 3 years experience wanted. Some places mean it, but many are operating on a hope and a prayer and they'll be happy to talk to you - or at least they will after the position has been open for a while.
Interesting Quirks: If they are going to put in bunches and bunches of words look for things which catch your attention. Recently, I saw a jurisdiction specifically looking for someone who spoke Arabic. This caught my eye because once upon a time I studied and used Arabic quite a bit (haven't had anybody to talk to in twenty years). Every so often you see something unique like this. If you qualify it could prove useful.
Contact / Title: This is not really a make or break thing, but it does give you an idea of some of the dynamics of the office. Is the Big Boss the contact? If not, is the contact another attorney or has at least the initial stage of the hiring process been put on a staff member? None of these things are bad; they just give you an idea. Personally, the only thing here that makes me leery is when a Commonwealth has his initial application process run through the County/City. They aren't part of the County/City government and this always leaves me wondering if the office might be a little too much under the thumb of the locality. This is almost assuredly a ridiculous concern. Still it's mine and I will cling stubbornly to my irrational preconceptions until someone actually proves to me that the lizard people aren't running the world from their underground civilization in Antarctica.
Good Hunting folks. I hope my ramblings prove somewhat useful in your quest.
1 Look, I get where this could come from. You'd still be better off addressing it with paperwork once you've got the person hooked on your office. I know I had a boss once who made us sign a sheet acknowledging the fact we were at will employees every year. Legally, it made no difference - I was always and will always be an employee serving at the will of my constitutional officer whether I signed that paper or not. Still, it was a little painful each time I signed it. I'm not sure I'd have come on board if the pitch had been "Hey, I can fire you any time I want. Want a job?" Yeesh.