Legal Counsel and Prosecution

SIC 9222

Industry report:

This classification includes government establishments primarily engaged in providing legal counsel to or prosecution for their governments and operation or administration of crime prevention programs. Government establishments primarily engaged in the collection of criminal justice statistics are classified in SIC 9229: Public Order and Safety, Not Elsewhere Classified.

Criminal practice and procedure is an area of law that encompasses both private and public employment. As further discussed, those accused of a crime may hire private legal counsel for their defense or, if they qualify as indigent, may request the trial court to appoint counsel for them ("public defenders"). Conversely, because all crimes, even if committed against individuals, are violations of local, state, or federal laws, all prosecuting and district attorneys are public employees at the local, state, or federal level.

The majority of lawyers are in private practice, specializing either in criminal or civil law. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers held about 760,000 jobs in 2008. About 26 percent of lawyers are self-employed, either as partners in law firms or in private practice. Partners within larger law firms employ additional lawyers. Of salaried lawyers, the largest group holds positions in government, although some work with corporations or nonprofit organizations. Those working in government were largely employed at the local level. In the federal government, lawyers work for many different agencies, but they are concentrated in the departments of Justice, Treasury, and Defense.

Defense attorneys may represent clients accused of nearly any crime, including "white collar" offenses such as fraud, stock manipulation, or tax evasion. Many defense attorneys work for a local office of the public defender--a state or county government agency established to provide legal representation for accused who cannot afford to hire a private lawyer. Because the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to adequate legal counsel, many people use this service. In fact, some offices are overwhelmed by the number of people in need of legal representation, in which case the court appoints an attorney from a private law firm--compensated at a given rate at government expense--to represent the accused. Defense attorneys also come from private law firms or from legal aid clinics established to provide legal services to the poor. Finally, public interest organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), among others, sometimes employ lawyers to represent clients in criminal court proceedings.

Prosecuting attorneys may work for federal government offices such as the Justice Department or the U.S. Attorney's Office, for state offices of the attorney general, or for a city or county in the office of the district attorney. The majority of prosecuting attorneys work at the county level as deputy district attorneys, representing the government against those accused of violating state and local laws, including the initiation of proceedings against inebriates, the mentally ill, narcotics addicts, and those accused of nonsupport of minor children.

The district attorney also is the legal advisor to the county grand jury, which is utilized to hear testimony and examine evidence for the purpose of determining whether an indictment will be pursued against the accused. District attorneys often maintain their own staff of investigators to pursue crimes of greater severity in efforts to assure a more successful prosecution. District attorneys may operate their own intelligence units to combat organized crime.

The Justice Department and U.S. attorney conduct investigations and prosecutions of serious federal crimes, such as political assassination, organized crime and racketeering, and crimes that take place on federal lands such as national parks, museums, and federal government buildings. Drug trafficking also falls within their jurisdiction.

For lawyers interested in government service, job prospects may become brighter. Public concerns about crime and the administration of justice may lead to increased funding to payroll additional government-employed lawyers and judges. Government lawyers generally enjoy greater job security than lawyers in private practice but may earn significantly less, at least in the early stages of their career.

By contrast, government lawyers frequently are given greater responsibility at an earlier stage of their career than their counterparts in private practice. They sometimes handle trials for significant criminal prosecutions early on, often battling skilled and prominent private lawyers in the courtroom. In addition, many government prosecutors and defense attorneys utilize the valuable experience gained through government service to successfully pursue careers in private law firms, elective office, or judgeships.

In 2008, the median annual salary among all lawyers, including self-employed and salaried, was $110,590, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The middle half of the salary range was between $74,980 and $163,320. Within government services, the median salary in 2008 for a lawyer in the federal executive branch was $126,080; in local government, $82,590; and state government, $78,540.

Job growth for lawyers between 2008 and 2018 was expected to be positive, primarily for salaried positions within government, large firms, and corporation entities as regulations and legal matters continue to become more complex. Self-employed lawyers were expected to have a much more difficult time establishing a positive net practice as large firms continued to expand.

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