Why do prosecutors become defense attorneys?

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Why do prosecutors become defense attorneys?
We asked former prosecutors in the United States why they became defense attorneys. Was it really about the money? Or were they bored with their position and want a new career? There are a variety of reasons why prosecutors become defense attorneys. We hope you enjoy their answers.

I became a defense attorney because I lost my job in a civil litigation firm, and opened my own practice because I didn't want to return to the prosecutor's office with its ridiculously heavy caseload, monotony of cases, and the injustice caused by our sentencing guidelines. Specifically, our sentencing guidelines call for far harsher punishment for drug offenders than for thieves, people who scam the elderly, or those who steal from their employer. As a result, I decided to open my own practice and take the uncertain income that came with it.

-Shane Fischer, Attorney at Law

I've learned at the University of Cambridge and the University of London Law Schools that criminal law is all about how one logically breaks down the anatomy of the defenses of the guilty mind, once the act of wrongful liability has been clearly established. Good defenses are creative defenses that persuade 12 minds simultaneously, which is an extremely high-bar threshold, as to the innocence of the alleged guilty mind of the defendant. The great Alan Dershowitz of Harvard has taught me that criminal defense is about getting through a procedural process of just ten decisions, one of which is the decision of 12 minds simultaneously persuaded by a good criminal defense team to get to just one decision.

-Oliver McGee

I served as a federal prosecutor (Assistant United States Attorney) in the early 1970's. I was head of the narcotics unit in my office. Back then, while we had some technology we did not have nearly the sophisticated tech support that federal agents do today. Cases were, by and large, more local and simpler. That is not to say that there weren't some cases that spanned the country or even went overseas but they were few and far between.

Salaries were, as you can imagine, quite low. When I left, after five years in the office, I believe I had maxed out at a bit over $30,000 per year. Today, AUSA's can make upwards of $150,000. While that is still not what a private practitioner can make, it is closer than the $30,000 was in 1977.

So the ability to make more money was a significant factor in my leaving.

The biggest reason though was variety. Given the limited nature of the cases, after a while they all started to look alike. There was little ability to be creative. A hand to hand drug sale pretty much resembles every other hand to hand drug sale. The opportunity as a defense lawyer to be creative and the opportunity to handle many different kinds of cases, state, federal, criminal, civil was very enticing.

There will never be a job as good and rewarding as that of a Federal Prosecutor. Sometimes I reflect on how happy I might have been had I kept prosecution a career, as many do now. However, I do not regret for a moment having gone into private practice for the rewards it has brought me in the ability to have a varied and creative practice."

-Andrew Radding, Member
Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler, LLC

University of Cambridge


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