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Question: My husband and I are recent grads from law school. He graduated in 2003, worked as a federal clerk for a year and is now having difficulty getting his foot in the door at a firm. I just graduated in 2004 and got a job at a firm through the summer clerkship process. He has been looking heavily for a job for a few months now, but the market is tight and it appears that he is falling through the cracks because he has a little experience, but not enough for most recruiters to consider him as a viable option. He was recently offered a position at the DA’s office and, while he is happy to have an offer and would love to gain some good trial experience, he is worried that he will not be able to make the transition over to the civil world if he works as an assistant DA for a year or so. He really wants to work in a civil trial firm, but no one seems to be biting right now in our market, and we’re worried about him looking elsewhere because of the ramifications on my career if I leave my first job so soon. How likely is it that the door to the civil world will be closed if he takes a position at the DA? Will firms frown upon the lack of experience with certain aspects of civil practice, like discovery and motions practice, and bypass him, or will they see the experience he will get as a plus? Answer: It is more than possible to convert experiences as a prosecutor into a successful career in civil practice. Law firms often prize such experiences, for a number of reasons, including: Trial experience is irreplaceable. Familiarity with courtroom practices, evidentiary rules, jury selection and other elements of trial is often best developed through in-court experience. Even though criminal law clearly differs from civil in many regards, some of the most important trial experiences are valuable no matter the subject matter addressed. Many firms have developed some form of white-collar or regulatory practice. Even if a firm does not do any “street crime” defense, it may have a place for someone with criminal law experience. There are other crossover elements of civil practice. Many kinds of fraud claims (securities, debtor/creditor, consumer, for example) may arise in the civil arena. A prosecutor’s sense for how to make and defend against a fraud claim may be invaluable in these civil cases. Despite these potential benefits from experience as a prosecutor, it is fair to say that there are some challenges in attempting to move from a prosecutor’s office into civil practice: Some firms simply have few experiences with former government lawyers. For them, the challenge is in explaining some of the benefits of hiring ex-prosecutors, as outlined above. Other firms view ex-prosecutors as part of a “niche” practice, with little ability to branch out into areas unrelated to criminal law. In reality, of course, good prosecutors learn highly transferable skills, but, again, this value may require some explanation for some employers. Another classic problem is that most prosecutors have few potential client connections when they leave office. Thus, in firms where business development is highly valued, an ex-prosecutor must struggle hard, especially in the early years, to establish client-getting and client-keeping skills. These potential barriers are not insurmountable. In most instances, the question is not whether an ex-prosecutor can find appropriate post-government employment. The question, rather, is where to look to find firms that are particularly likely to hire ex-prosecutors. In most cities, there are plenty of such firms. A survey of the ranks of firms in your city, looking for former government lawyers among the lawyers in each firm, and departments in firms — such as white-collar defense or government regulatory work — that may have particular openings for ex-prosecutors, should convince you that many employment opportunities will exist after an experience in government. Taking a prosecutor’s job for the experience, the learning, the camaraderie and the fulfillment of public service is a well-worn and well-recognized career move. I do not hesitate to recommend it, especially in the situation you describe. The experience rarely hurts a career, and often is a springboard to success in private practice. Steven C. Bennett, a partner at Jones Day and author of ‘The Path to Partnership: A Guide for Junior Associates,’ writes this column monthly on questions about law firm life and career issues.

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