The job description for a county attorney depends on the county where the attorney practices. Generally speaking, county attorneys are public employees who work at the county level, representing the interests of the government in court in addition to advising public officials on legal matters. They do not practice law privately and the scope of the cases they handle depends on whether there is also a district attorney in the region. If there is no district attorney, county attorneys handle civil and criminal cases all the way to the level of district court. If one is present, county attorneys practice only in county court and may not be involved in criminal cases.
To become a county attorney, it is necessary to attend law school and pass the bar exam in the state where the attorney plans to practice. Focusing on public interest law while in school and pursuing internships offering experience in government offices is recommended, as this will prepare an attorney for practice as a county attorney. Once qualified, attorneys can apply to counties with openings to get work experience in an office before running for election as county attorneys. If a county hires, rather than electing, its attorneys, this job can be won through application and appointment.
The structure of a county attorney's office varies. For some county attorneys, the focus of the work is on civil matters like restraining orders, child custody disputes, and so forth, paired with advising county officials by request. Officials can have questions about policy and enforcement, as well as the legality of various activities conducted at the county level. County attorneys must keep up with the laws in the region and pay close attention to proposed ordinances and laws to identify potential conflicts.
Other county attorneys also handle criminal cases. Crimes like robbery, murder, and rape are charged as crimes against the government, rather than individual victims, and the county attorney represents the county in the suit, acting as a prosecutor. The county attorney develops a case, assembles witnesses, participates in evidence discovery, and goes to trial with the case if the case appears to have merit.
Pay for working as a county attorney tends to be much lower than the salaries available to attorneys working in private practice. These jobs do come with benefits like access to pension funds, health care, government vehicles, and specialized insurance products. People usually apply for positions as county attorneys because they are interested in serving the public interest.