Prosecutors Offer Career Tips

November 14, 2005

They may not bring home the most enviable paychecks, but prosecutors at a Public Service Center lunch talk agreed they are well compensated through the value of their work. Assistant U.S. attorneys Dave Schiller '79 and Bill Gould '90, along with Joe Platania, an assistant commonwealth attorney and Washington and Lee law school alum, reflected on their experiences and offered tips to students interested in prosecution careers at a brown-bag lunch Nov. 7. 

"It's easy to think of the exciting money you will make at a firm, but don't let debt control the choices you make," said Platania. "You must ask yourself how you want to fulfill your life and be happy in your career."

Schiller, an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, has worked on such issues as Richmond's Project Exile, an effort to enforce gun statutes in response to a rise in homicide rates. He warned students of the low employee turnover rate in the Eastern District and of the office's requirement that applicants have five years of in-court experience. Although U.S. Attorney's Office positions are highly competitive, "coming from U.Va. Law, you are regarded as equally qualified as anyone."

Gould, an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said he prefers working with law enforcement and federal agents to solve crimes as opposed to his previous experience in private practice, which limited him to advocating only for his clients. Recalling his time in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, the largest office in the country, Gould reported a quick turnover rate, and attested to the unique work within the office, which prosecutes both local and federal crime. For those interested in working in a U.S. Attorney's Office, Gould suggested the D.C. office was a reasonable place to begin.

"The trick about the Justice Department is that once you are in, you are part of the club," he said, making it easier to relocate to offices across the nation.

Unlike Schiller and Gould, Platania works within the state system prosecuting misdemeanors and felonies. His career developed from his original job in a public defender's office. Platania never worked for a firm and attributed landing his current position to luck, timing, and experience. To those interested in his area of work, Platania advised gaining experience in the courtroom.

Students attending the talk leaned on Gould and Schiller for advice on whether to pursue work in a law firm before seeking a position in a U.S. Attorney's Office, in order to pay off loan debts.

Gould said it was advantageous to work in a firm with people connected to U.S. attorney's offices. "I've never gotten a job based on merit [alone]," he laughingly admitted.

His firm experience gave him a resume boost, but Gould was "unsure whether his five years there were worth the time." While working in a firm, you cannot and will not be able to emulate what you would be doing at a U.S. Attorney's Office, he said.

"It's hard to get into the USAO, so getting into a firm is the first logical step," Schiller added. "Once in a firm, you find and develop interests you learn you've never had."

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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