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What does a City Attorney do?

By Amanda R. Bell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A city attorney can be either elected or appointed to office and helps the city government handle all of its legal issues. In larger cities he will often staff several assistant attorneys who specialize in specific areas of the legal system. His or her job is to represent the city during litigation, advise city officials in legal matters and prepare legal documents for the city. In areas where there are municipal court systems, he will often prosecute minor crimes.

The most important role of the city attorney is to be the legal representative for the city in which he or she works. This can include filing lawsuits on behalf of the city or defending the city against lawsuits. In larger cities or during major cases, he may contract legal matters out to other lawyers or hire other lawyers as assistants. He is, however, always ultimately responsible for making sure the city’s legal interests are protected.

The city attorney also acts as a legal adviser for city officials. This typically involves attending city meetings and fielding questions from city department heads concerning legal issues. In major cities, the attorney often oversees several legal departments, each of which specializes in a certain area. For instance, a medical lawyer may handle all health department issues, while a financial lawyer will handle all of the city’s accounting issues.

In cities with a municipal court system, the city attorney will often prosecute minor crimes. Just like any other prosecutor, he or she also has the authority to arrange plea bargains or other resolutions with individuals and their defense attorneys. They can also handle enforcement of building codes and drug and alcohol nuisances. While municipal court systems are not common in large cities, they are standard occurrences in smaller towns.

Other than handling litigation, advising city officials and prosecuting small crimes, the city attorney also handles the preparation of legal documents for the city. This can include writing regulations, agreements or contracts, as well as drafting city ordinances. While many believe lawmakers typically handle this, the city attorney is best suited for this job, because he or she can make sure the rights of both the city and its citizens are protected.

This kind of attorney needs to be well versed in almost every area of law. Even if an assistant city attorney is handling a particular specialty for the city, the city attorney still must oversee every legal issue the city may come across. This job is considered one of the jack-of-all-trades positions in the legal field, and it requires a well-organized and experienced lawyer.

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Discussion Comments

By anon253041 — On Mar 07, 2012

This really helped me with a school assignment! Thank you very much.

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