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Attorney vs. Prosecutor: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Attorneys and prosecutors are both legal professionals who work within the criminal justice system. Though they share some similarities, there are several key differences between these two roles. In this article, we discuss the similarities and differences between an attorney and a prosecutor, and we provide additional information about each profession.

What is an Attorney?

An attorney is a professional who provides legal representation and advice to clients in exchange for compensation. They may represent clients in both criminal and civil cases. In criminal cases, attorneys may represent defendants who have been charged with a crime. In civil cases, attorneys may represent either plaintiffs or defendants who are seeking damages or to have a contract enforced. Attorneys may work in private practice, for a law firm, or for the government. Attorneys typically have a law degree and must be licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction in which they work.

What is a Prosecutor?

Prosecutors are responsible for bringing criminal cases against individuals or organizations accused of breaking the law. They work closely with law enforcement officials to investigate cases and gather evidence to support their prosecution. In some cases, prosecutors may also work with victims and witnesses to build a strong case. Prosecutors typically work for the government at the local, state or federal level. They may also work for private law firms or as part of a district attorney’s office.

Attorney vs. Prosecutor

Here are the main differences between an attorney and a prosecutor.

Job Duties

Both attorneys and prosecutors have similar job duties, such as researching the law, investigating a case and interviewing witnesses. However, their job duties differ in that a prosecutor’s primary duty is to build a case against a defendant, while an attorney’s primary duty is to defend a defendant.

A defense attorney may use a variety of tactics to help their client, such as pleading guilty to a lesser charge or finding mitigating circumstances that explain why their client committed a crime. A prosecutor typically tries the same case multiple times, no matter which attorney represents the defendant.

Job Requirements

To become an attorney, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. After completing your undergraduate studies, you must then attend law school and earn a Juris Doctor degree. Once you have earned your law degree, you must pass the bar exam in the state where you wish to practice law. Some states also require attorneys to complete continuing legal education credits on a yearly basis in order to maintain their license to practice law.

Prosecutors typically need to have a Juris Doctor degree as well, but they may be able to begin their career with just a bachelor’s degree if they are interested in working as a paralegal or legal assistant. Many prosecutors start their career as lawyers in private practice before moving into a prosecutor role. Some states also require prosecutors to complete continuing legal education credits on a yearly basis in order to maintain their license to practice law.

Work Environment

Attorneys and prosecutors work in different environments. Attorneys typically work in private practice, where they may have their own law firm or work for a larger company. They also work in government agencies like the Department of Justice (DOJ) or state courts. Prosecutors usually work in government agencies like district attorney’s offices or public defender’s offices.

Attorneys often work long hours to meet deadlines and complete projects on time. They may travel frequently between locations and spend much of their day sitting at a desk. Prosecutors may work similar hours but may be more likely to work overtime because of court schedules and other obligations.


There are several similarities between the skills needed for attorneys and prosecutors. Both need to be excellent communicators, both written and oral, as they will be presenting cases in front of a judge and jury. They also need to have strong research and analytical skills to build a strong case. In addition, both need to be able to think on their feet and be quick thinkers as they will need to be able to respond to questions from the opposing side.

However, there are some differences in the specific skills needed for these two jobs. Attorneys need to be good at negotiating as they often work with the other side to try to come to an agreement outside of court. Prosecutors, on the other hand, need to be good at building a persuasive argument as they need to convince a judge or jury that the defendant is guilty.


Attorneys can earn an average salary of $94,852 per year, while prosecutors can earn an average salary of $80,405 per year. Both of these average salaries may vary depending on the size of the company at which you work, location of your job and the level of experience you have prior to pursuing either position.


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