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What does a Deputy Attorney General do?

By K. Kinsella
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A deputy attorney general serves in the justice department or legal department of a government body. The deputy attorney general is second only to the attorney general in terms of department authority. General duties of a deputy attorney general include offering legal counsel to government officials, representing the government in lawsuits, and assisting the attorney general. When the attorney general is absent, the deputy attorney general must handle the attorney general's affairs.

Government officials consult with the attorney general or the deputy before making policy decisions to ensure that government actions do not violate established laws. The deputy attorney offers opinions on legal matters pertaining to the state, and collaborates with other attorneys to determine the obstacles that may be encountered by policy changes. Legal counsel may be sought on matters including criminal law enforcement, education reforms, zoning laws, and citizens rights.

Deputy attorney generals often represent the government in court cases. Prior to trial, the deputy attorney general must work with the attorney general to determine whether the government has sufficient grounds to mount a legal case. The deputy attorney general gathers information related to the matter, and puts together a team of assistant attorneys to prepare the case. Finding and interviewing witnesses as well as taking part in jury selection to ensure a jury hostile to the government's interests are also some of the deputy attorney's responsibilities.

Many justice departments require the deputy attorney general to handle disciplinary matters related to other government employed attorneys. The deputy attorney must investigate instances of alleged malpractice, and when necessary bring charges against the individual in question. Teams of lawyers are assembled by the deputy attorney general to handle legal matters on behalf of the government, and consequently the deputy attorney general has the authority to promote junior attorneys to higher ranking positions within the justice department.

Attorney generals have to handle high profile cases and in doing so they often field questions from the media. Presidents, governors, and other politicians in positions of power often hold daily briefings that the attorney general is expected to attend. In the absence of an attorney general, the deputy attorney general is expected to attend these meetings, field questions from the media, and take on major cases. The assumption of the attorney general's role on certain occasions means that attorneys in this position are usually well positioned to permanently take on the attorney general role when it becomes available.

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Discussion Comments

By Markerrag — On Jul 07, 2014

@Vincenzo -- in a way, then, the deputy attorney general is a lot like a public defender. If a criminal case is assigned to a public defender, that lawyer has to do his best to defend his or her client even if that person did something so shocking and horrible that the lawyer can't stand the client.

But, that's the thing about practicing law. Attorneys have to do their best by their clients whether they agree with them or not. Only private attorneys typically have the luxury of picking and choosing their cases.

By Vincenzo — On Jul 06, 2014

The deputy attorney general is in a very unique position as an attorney because he does not have the option of refusing certain cases.

Take a private attorney, for example. Let's say a criminal defendant showed up and admits to do something so terrible that the attorney can't bring himself to represent that person. He can turn that case down with no problem.

A deputy attorney general is not in the same position. Those are the lawyers that wind up representing the state regardless of whether they agree with the law at issue or not. If there is a challenge to a state's abortion laws, prohibitions against homosexual marriage or anything else, a deputy attorney general has to defend the law at issue even though he might disagree with it. That can be difficult.

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