Everybody has different reasons for making a career change. Money, location and work environment are pretty universal factors that drive a person to leave one job for another. Here are some of the reasons former prosecutors decide to “switch sides” by becoming defense lawyers:
District attorneys and the prosecutors who work for them tend to have huge caseloads. This can also be an issue at independent law firms, if the attorneys there accept a large caseload; and at a public defenders’ office, which is not allowed to refuse cases that qualify for public defense. However, private defense attorneys tend to have more flexibility because we are able to refuse cases for any reason (except discrimination).
If you watch any TV at all, you may have noticed commercials for private law firms that specialize in certain practice areas, like car accident litigation. Private defense attorneys can accept a whole range of civil and criminal cases, but some might choose to specialize in areas of law for which they’re exceptionally qualified. A prosecutor might work in a particular department, such as DUI cases, which allows them to specialize in an area, but also limits them to that type of case, which can become monotonous.
Passion for Justice
Prosecutors are bound by federal and state law to seek harsh sentences for certain types of crime. These sentencing guidelines can quickly change based on changes in leadership at the federal level. If a prosecutor doesn’t like mandatory minimum sentences, that’s just too bad: when they’re required by law, those are the charges they have to bring. Of course, prosecution and defense are both vital aspects of the justice system. Many defense attorneys realize they value protecting the rights of due process more than they value punishing criminals. Defense attorneys have the opportunity to treat defendants like individuals, and they can work with prosecutors and judges to negotiate down harsh sentences.
Without a fixed income and a steady caseload, opening a private firm presents a financial challenge. The nature of a private defense firm opens us up to a wide variety of potential cases, compared to the monotony of prosecuting the same type of case. By choosing defense, we have incentive to continue our legal education, expand our horizons, and manage our practice in a way that allows us to treat clients like individuals.