Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Day in the life of an ADA

Thought I'd share a glimpse into a typical day for you. My day actually starts the day before when I compile a list of things that MUST get done the next day on my seventy or more files.

I get to work between 8 and 8:30 each day (more on the 8:30 side in the summer). By 8:45, the list is thrown out the window as my phone is ringing off the hook with dire "emergencies".

The hour between the time I get to work and 9:30 court never seems enough time to cross one item off the list because of the phone.

At 9:30, I show up to court and wait. And wait. And wait. Wait for the judge, the defense attorney, and the defendant. Then when everyone’s there, we wait while all the other cases that had all the parties appear on time are called first. Whether I go to city court for a felony hearing, supreme court for a sentencing or pre-trial conference, or the grand jury to indict a case, I wait. It is an ADA’s specialty. As you imagine, the to-do list grows as messages pile up on my voicemail.

11:30 or so I am back at my office. I’m really going to tackle that list, well just after I return the five messages I have on my voicemail and the dozen emails. Lunchtime, when I take one, means I go to the gym or get some writing done.

2:00 court. More waiting (see above). 3:30 or so and I’m back at my office. Now to that list. What? More messages and emails. Alright 4:30. The list has grown to twice the size. I’ll spend the next hour or so trying to get as much of that list done as possible – motions, calls to victims, subpoenas for trial, scheduling witness conferences. I may even get to do a little prep work for upcoming trials.

I think I just described a day in the life of a criminal defense attorney too.

End of the day and time for a new list. Standard equation to figure out items to do the next day – take the 75% of things I didn’t get done today and double it.

Repeat for five days. Is there ever a day when the list gets done? No, you just throw it away and start fresh at the beginning of a week.


  1. In spite of the obvious exhaustion and never ending to-do-list, do you love your job? Do you feel that you really get to make a difference in important matters and people's lives?

  2. Yes. We deal with people and the cataclysmic affect a crime has on their lives. I will never be able to put the pieces back together, but I am able to form some sense of justice from the pieces for the victim and defendant. I don't think any victim will remember their ADA. I hope they do remember that their ADA fought for them though. And, it beats arguing over people's money any day.

  3. There is a prosecutor in Philadelphia who changed my families' lives in a good way forever. We are forever in his debt. You guys can have a tremendous impact on people--I just have no idea how you get everything done. Do your paralegals prepare all your documents, pleadings, motions, etc.? When do you have time to review files, evidence, etc. and strategize?

  4. I've worked in two different offices-one was in New York City. In NYC, the ADA was responsible for drafting all the documents. Our paralegals just handled the filing. I carried those habits over to my next office and I draft all of my own pleadings and motions, as do most of my colleagues. As for time, I can only give you an example. I have a trial coming up at the end of this month, and I am spending at least an hour a day getting prepared. Saturdays and Sundays will be busy as trial approaches and until it's over.

  5. I'm currently a paralegal student nyc but my ultimate goal is to become a prosecutor in on of the da's offices. I wanted to know if you can tell me how a typical day a paralegal might have working in the da's office. Also do you think by working as a paralegal during law school could better my chances of becoming an ada?

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  7. @Jayvon. A DA paralegal is a hybrid paralegal and administrative assistant. They copy discovery, file paperwork, notify officers for conferences, help find witnesses, subpoena witnesses, and even draft some motions. You are generally assigned to 5-6 ADAs and help them with all their work. Being a paralegal can help you land a job. If you are a civil paralegal it may not help get into a DA's office. In law school, I would recommend taking all the trial technique classes and criminal clinics you can handle to help get a job as an NYC DA. They also look for those at the top of their class academically. Thanks for reading and good luck! Keep the questions coming.

  8. Thanks for the advice!!!

  9. I am about to become an ADA and appreciate your posts as examples of a day in the life. They are very helpful to help me hit the ground running, realizing the many diffulties awaiting my new career. Thank you for writing. I tis very helpful.