What Does The United States Attorney Do?

The United States Attorney prosecutes cases on behalf of the federal government.  Each US Attorney’s Office has its own area of jurisdiction and acts as the representative of the federal government in their state, district, or territory. The US Attorney’s Office also defends civil cases against the federal government and helps ensure that laws are upheld within their district or territory.

The position of United States Attorney (US Attorney) was established by the Judiciary Act of 1789. Today, there are 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices located throughout the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.  The United States Attorney that is in charge of each office is nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate. 

The Job Of A Federal Prosecutor

A U.S. attorney at court

When you think of a US attorney, you probably think of big cases like drug cartels and terrorists, but federal prosecutors actually do much more than that. They investigate crimes (large and small), represent the federal government at trial and seek to convict federal criminal defendants.  They also help with civil issues in addition to criminal ones—civil issues can include anything from handling lawsuits against businesses to enforcing discrimination laws to helping with class-action suits that cover entire cities or states. But how do they decide what cases they’ll take on?

How does their job differ from state-level prosecutors or defense attorneys? And just what does a US attorney do day in and day out once he or she is working on a case?  Keep reading to learn more.   

The Responsibilities Of An Assistant U.S. Attorney

Assistant U.S. Attorneys (“AUSAs”) represent the government in federal district court and handle both civil and criminal cases on behalf of their employers, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). They’re also known as “federal prosecutors” because they prosecute a wide range of federal crimes, including drug trafficking, wire fraud, identity theft, cybercrime, money laundering and murder.  Federal prosecutors handle only federal cases whereas district attorney’s prosecute state crimes.  Defense attorneys represent the person accused of the crime.     

AUSAs work in close coordination with law enforcement agents who gather evidence for trials while they build their own cases through research and interviews with witnesses or victims. Their efforts culminate when they present their findings to grand juries—the panels that determine whether there is sufficient cause to bring criminal charges against suspected offenders and proceed to trial for prosecution.

How Does A Lawyer Become An Assistant U.S. Attorney?

The process for becoming an AUSA can be rigorous.  An applicant will apply to a particular office and then be interviewed by the United States Attorney and a panel of other lawyers within that office.  The process is more competitive in larger cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. given the large number of attorneys that generally apply for these coveted positions.  The same is true for federal public defenders in larger cities which also attract very high caliber attorney applicants. 

Once offered a job as an AUSA, a lawyer becomes a civil service employee of the DOJ subject to the rules and regulations of federal government employment.  There is no term limit for serving as an AUSA and many lawyers in that position spend their entire legal careers employed by the DOJ.   


Former federal prosecutor, respected lawyer committed to delivering results. Following graduation from the University of Illinois College of Law, Paul Padda began his career in 1994 with the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. litigating complex civil cases in both federal trial and appellate courts. He later was selected to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) where he handled a wide array of civil matters in federal court on behalf of the United States of America. In 2004, Mr. Padda moved to Las Vegas to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney where he litigated both civil and criminal cases. Following 16 years of significant legal experience involving high stakes litigation, Mr. Padda decided to form a law firm that would assist individuals and businesses in vindicating their legal rights.