Conversations with Practitioners is our ongoing series in which we ask current practitioners about their careers.
1. What do you currently do?
I am an Assistant United States Attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia. Our office is a little different from other U.S. Attorney’s offices. Since there is no D.A. in the District, the office also handles local crime. I specifically handle domestic violence misdemeanors in D.C. Superior Court.
2. What does your job entail?
I’m more like a local prosecutor than a federal prosecutor. I am in the courtroom almost every day in the mornings, handling status hearings, detention hearings, motions hearings, arraignments, sentencings, and trials etc. If there is a trial, I will be there all day. If not, in the afternoons I spent a lot of time talking to witnesses and victims. Because of the work I do, I encounter a lot of people who are in vulnerable and tragic moments in their lives; it is crucial that I take the time and care to speak with respect and clarity during this time. I also spend the afternoons gathering evidence, investigating, turning evidence over to defense counsel, getting ready for upcoming trials, and negotiating plea deals with defense counsel.
My job involves a lot of jugging talking to different people: the court, defense counsel, witnesses, and law enforcement officers.
3. What drew you to doing this kind of work?
I have been focused on this kind of work for a while. Straight out of college, I worked as a paralegal at the Manhattan D.A.’s office in the sex crimes unit. In law school, I was in the Prosecution Clinic where I handled domestic relations misdemeanors in Albemarle County.
A big part of being a prosecutor is connecting with people in difficult, tragic moments in their lives. This includes victims, victims’ families, and even the defendant. There is something about the deep personal level of domestic violence cases that draw me to them. As a prosecutor, I want to bring about the best resolution to a case and for all those involved: whether that is by dismissing a case, getting the defendant help, or incarceration, if the case warrants that. The discretion you have as a prosecutor is incredibly intimidating – there is a lot of responsibility there that you have to take seriously – but you have the freedom to know that this is where you can use your intellect, training, and heart to hopefully find a way to resolve what is happening.
4. What did you do in law school or immediately after law school that has helped you develop your career?
During law school, I was part of the first class in the Law and Public Service Program which played a great part in developing my passion for public service. The classes, especially the practical skills classes were great. I also appreciated the community of other like-minded students in the program who were committed to public service.
I also participated in the Prosecution Clinic. If someone wants to be a prosecutor, they should absolutely do it. It is an amazing clinic and you will get experience working one-on-one with great attorneys will take the time to train and mentor you. And it was my first opportunity to experience being a trial attorney, in the courtroom, advocating for victims as a lawyer.
After law school, I went to a firm for three years. If you go to a firm with the idea that you one day want to go into public service, be very intentional, which can be hard to do. I sought out white collar work, criminal investigations, opportunities to go to court, pro bono, and deposition experience to round out my trial skills and criminal law knowledge. It’s crucial to go to the firm with an eye to grow and learn – seek out mentors and assignments that will challenge you and help you become a better attorney all-around.
5. Do you have any advice for current law students who are interested in working in your industry (or law students in general)?
You should take as many practical skills classes as you can. I took Practical Trial Evidence with Judge Crigler, which I still use every day in court. I regret not taking any of the public speaking classes with Professors Saylor and Shadel. You want to practice oral advocacy in front of your peers, so when you’re in court you can walk in with more confidence and gumption. I also recommend taking courses that teach you how to tap into your heart in conjunction with your brain. It’s easy in law school to feel that you have to take all the legal theory courses – the “meat and potatoes” bar exam courses. That’s certainly true, and it’s good advice. But personally, I found the most rewarding courses were the ones where I was encouraged to consider human perspectives foreign to my own life experience and to tap into my empathy and compassion as well as my intellect and legal skills to truly advocate – courses like the Human Rights Clinic, Poverty and the Law, and the Prosecution Clinic.
Vivian Kim is an AUSA in the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia. Prior to that, she worked at Morgan, Lewis and Bockius in New York. Vivian graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2012. She did her undergraduate degree at Princeton University.