Public Prosecutors

Columbia Law School Opens Doors for Students and Graduates Who Choose to Pursue Careers in Prosecution by Offering an Innovative Combination of Traditional Coursework, Practical Experience, and Individual Career Counseling.

New York, February 25, 2014—When Columbia Law School student Samantha A. LiTrenta ’14 received a job offer from New York County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. earlier this year, the offer was the culmination of years of hard work and goal-oriented preparation. 

Queens-native LiTrenta had dreamed of being an assistant district attorney in Manhattan since she grew up watching her father testify in criminal cases as a detective in the New York City Police Department. She came to Columbia Law School to make her dream a reality, focusing on criminal law in her coursework and working closely with advisers in Social Justice Initiatives (SJI), the Law School’s career services center for public-service, government, and volunteer work.
Samantha A. LiTrenta '14
The job offer “validates every decision I’ve made along the way,” LiTrenta said. “It feels amazing.”
Future Prosecutors
LiTrenta joins a host of other students and graduates who have made prosecutorial work their priority and gone on to positions in state and federal offices. Her fellow future prosecutors in the Class of 2014 include John T. Hughes, who like LiTrenta is headed to the Manhattan DA’s office; Michael J. Curtis, who will work for the Queens County District Attorney’s Office; Daniel M. Chung, who will be a prosecutor in the Bronx; and Brian M. Witthuhn, who will be joining the Nassau County District Attorney's Office. Many other students are still in the interview process for permanent positions at district attorneys’ offices
To prepare students for careers in prosecution, Columbia Law School offers an innovative combination of traditional courses, such as Trial Practice and Evidence, and experiential learning in SJI’s summer internships and semester-long externships including the Domestic Violence Prosecution Externship, the Externship on the New York Attorney General’s Role in Law Enforcement and Social Justice, and externships on federal prosecution in both the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of New York.
SJI Dean Ellen P. Chapnick
“The recent addition of these externships has allowed Columbia Law School students to obtain closely supervised hands-on experience in conjunction with sophisticated seminars,” said Ellen P. Chapnick, SJI’s dean. “Together with expert career advising by SJI Associate Director Kiran Singh, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney, they prepare our students well for these important public safety positions.”
The Domestic Violence Prosecution Externship, for example, allows students to handle their own caseload at the Queens County District Attorney’s Office under an appellate practice order that treats them as assistant district attorneys.  
Scott E. Kessler
“They have their own cubicle with their name on it, their own computer, their own phone—and access to everything an ADA has access to,” said Scott E. Kessler, a lecturer in law and the bureau chief of the Queens County Domestic Violence Bureau who supervises the Queens externs and teaches the accompanying seminar. “My students have an amazing conviction rate. They are fearless, determined to pursue justice for the victims, and absolutely incredible to watch in the courtroom.”
LiTrenta, who spent last summer interning at the Manhattan DA’s office and the fall as an extern in Kessler’s bureau, said the experience of handling her own cases had been invaluable.
“Getting to speak on the record in court—‘Samantha LiTrenta, appearing for the people’—was such a rush because that’s been my dream,” she said. “It was good to know this isn’t just something I think I can do; with the proper training, I am able to do it well.”
Hands-On Training and Career Counseling
LiTrenta and other students interested in public service jobs also have the advantage of top-notch career counseling from SJI advisers. For prospective prosecutors, Associate Director Singh, who worked for five years as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, takes the lead.
“Part of what I do initially is get to know the student and find out what’s really drawing them to the work,” Singh said. “DA’s offices and U.S. Attorney’s offices are really looking for people who are committed to criminal justice. They want students capable of working with people from all different walks of life and who are emotionally and intellectually mature enough to handle a lot of responsibility right out of law school.”
SJI Associate Director Kiran Singh
Singh takes each of her students through a rigorous interview preparation process, grilling them with hypotheticals, reviewing their written materials, taking an argumentative stance at times to toughen them up, and offering constructive feedback.
LiTrenta made the most of the experience, seeking Singh out before and after each round of interviews.
“Kiran actually ran out of hypotheticals to give me,” LiTrenta laughed. “She said, ‘I think you’re ready.’”
Kessler said the Law School “is doing an amazing job getting students trained for prosecution work. Students come in with a huge knowledge of New York criminal procedure and U.S. constitutional law.”
For LiTrenta, a job in the Manhattan DA’s office is a perfect fit.
“What I really like about prosecution is that you’re not working for one particular person’s needs on one particular day,” she said. “You’re really looking at the system as a whole and the community as a whole and saying, ‘What’s good for everyone?’ You’re really working for justice.”