Attorneys general and public defenders are two of the most common state attorney jobs. Each of these career categories has chief attorneys and assistant attorneys who perform some of the same legal functions for a state. Assistant attorneys general and assistant public defenders generally take on less complex cases or overflow work that the lead attorneys cannot accommodate.
There are distinct differences between attorneys general and public defenders. Attorneys general, for example, cover a much broader range of legal issues. Public defenders are appointed by courts to represent criminal defendants who cannot afford legal representation. The state provides legal representation so defendants have the opportunity for a fair trial.
State attorney jobs for public defenders can require handling a large number of cases simultaneously. Public defenders are usually required to take all cases that are referred to them. A public defender’s career often begins by handling misdemeanor cases but can quickly progress into handling major cases such as murder trials.
Chief public defenders are often responsible for evaluating the work performed by other public defenders. They are also tasked with making sure other public defenders have an even caseload. Chief public defenders also need extensive knowledge of criminal defense programs as well as current trends and policies that impact their staff and clients.
In contrast, state attorney jobs in the attorney general’s office primarily concern high-profile cases such as murder trials, other significant felonies and fraud. Some of these cases have statewide impact. For example, an attorney general can investigate organizations that overcharge the state health or prescription programs. Cases can even take on national interest as other state attorneys general investigate and prosecute the same or similar cases.
An attorney general is the chief law officer of a state. The job includes overseeing law enforcement agencies and making sure state laws are properly and uniformly enforced. Attorneys general also provide legal counsel to governors, legislatures and other elected officials and agencies. Additionally, an attorney general provides legal counsel for state litigation.
A chief state attorney general often oversees subdivisions, such as a civil rights bureau. Civil rights bureaus enforce laws relating to discrimination due to race, age, sex, religion and marital status, to name a few. These types of discrimination often happen in employment, housing or educational settings.
State attorney jobs at top levels carry duties related to supervising other employees. This entails hiring, training and evaluating other attorneys and support staff. Chief state attorneys can also oversee and coordinate work schedules and resolve other employment-related issues or problems.
State attorney jobs require at least a four-year degree and three years of law school. Most do not require a particular undergraduate major, although exemplary grades are required to get into law school. In addition to educational requirements, attorneys need to be analytical and possesses excellent speaking, writing and researching skills.