What is a prosecutor

The prosecutor

As smart as the young Robert Redford in the crime comedy "You Don't Kiss Prosecutors" from 1985 - no, you don't have to be if you want to be a prosecutor.

Even turbulent, amorous adventures, as can be marveled at in the film, do not necessarily belong to the core of the professional profile of a public prosecutor. But if you are looking for variety, excitement and a meaningful task in your professional career, you should look more closely at the profession of public prosecutor.

What does a public prosecutor actually do?

Who wouldn't answer “yes” when asked if they know what a prosecutor is doing? Our image is shaped by distinctive actors in numerous crime novels; Emilia Álvarez, the public prosecutor from the Stuttgart crime scene, for example, or Rainer Hunold as chief public prosecutor Bernd Reuther in the television series “The Public Prosecutor”.

Much of it is right, but some is also wrong. It is undoubtedly true that, as a public prosecutor, you will have a responsible managerial role because you are responsible for criminal investigations in relation to the police, the customs authorities or the tax authorities.

You have to make the important key decisions in the investigative proceedings you have conducted and you have to check and control whether the procedural acts of the departments that assist you are lawful. This entails a great deal of responsibility, especially since you as the public prosecutor decide whether a case will be heard in court or not.

No court in Germany can assign cases to itself for negotiation and decision. This always requires the public prosecutor's office, which at the same time holds a strong position of power, which demands a sense of duty and a high sense of responsibility from its employees.

"The equipment should be good, but at the same time functional and not excessive"

With all this, and this is the other side, you cannot expect that you will do your work as a prosecutor in such pompous and exclusive offices as one can often admire in crime novels. The judiciary is currently doing a lot to offer its relatives attractive accommodation in well-equipped offices with modern IT equipment.

As an employee of the state, however, one will always have to take into account that the equipment must be paid for with taxpayers' money. That is why the motto is: the equipment should be good, but at the same time functional and not excessive.

The public prosecutor is an organ of criminal justice that is on an equal footing with the court. Unlike the judge, he is not independent, but dependent on instructions. He is responsible for the prosecution of criminal offenses and he participates in criminal proceedings after the indictment has been brought.

Everyone is sure to have a prosecutor in black robe in front of them reading the indictment, or the pleading of the prosecutor at the end of the trial. The public prosecutor is responsible for the legality of the investigation, but also for the thoroughness of the investigation and for ensuring that the investigation is completed as quickly as possible.

The public prosecutor's training path

Anyone wishing to become a public prosecutor must acquire the qualification for the office of judge. To do this, he must successfully complete a law degree at a university with the first state examination in law and a subsequent preparatory service with the second state examination. The law course usually lasts nine semesters, the preparatory service, which is also known as a trainee lawyer, takes another two years.

Every lawyer - even the one who later becomes a lawyer or company lawyer - remembers his traineeship at the public prosecutor's office for a long time. Because there most lawyers experience for the first time during their training what it is like to have to act and decide independently and responsibly in the main hearing as a representative of the public prosecutor's office.

This experience is largely perceived as very positive, especially because it is always noticeable and tangible that behind every file and every case there is a person whom one has to live up to.

For graduates with above-average exam results, the prospects of achieving the professional goal of “public prosecutor” are currently and encouragingly good in the coming years. Today around 5,500 public prosecutors work for 140 public prosecutor's offices in Germany. 46 percent of them are women.

The age structure in the justice system of the federal states is not uniform. In general, however, one can say that the number of people leaving old age will be large in the next few years. For this reason, the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper already had a striking title in 2015: “The judiciary is running out of lawyers”.

Most federal states, e.g. Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, have uniform career paths for judges and public prosecutors. In these countries you work both as a judge and as a public prosecutor during your professional life. In a few other federal states, such as North Rhine-Westphalia, you have to decide whether to be a judge or a public prosecutor when applying.

The challenges in the public prosecutor's office

Either way, as a public prosecutor you will always be faced with demanding challenges. They can be used in the public prosecutor's office, for example in a general department. Then it is a matter of dealing with a steadily high number of preliminary investigations.

This is usually 80 to 100 procedures a month. Diligence, a quick grasp of the situation, the ability to set the right priorities and quick, accurate legal expertise are required here. In your department you work in a team with colleagues who are almost always characterized by collegiality and a great willingness to help.

Many public prosecutor's offices now have special departments or departments, for example for murder and manslaughter, white-collar crime and corruption offenses, narcotics offenses, sexual offenses, cybercrime or organized crime. Working in such a department requires in-depth specialist knowledge, perseverance and structured and disciplined work.

In a team with the investigating police officers, you specify the direction in which the investigation is to be steered. You submit applications to the court for intrusive investigative measures such as physical examinations, the seizure of cell phones, house searches or telecommunications surveillance.

You decide whether in your case there is reason to obtain an arrest warrant against one or more accused at the local court so that the implementation of the preliminary investigation ensures that assets are confiscated in good time before they can be removed by the perpetrators.

No public prosecutor has to work in the same specialist area from the start of his career until retirement. Changes from the general department to specialized departments and vice versa are common. This ensures variety and broadens the horizon of experience.

In general, as a public prosecutor, you must be able to use the German language well, both verbally and in writing. For example, the person who filed a criminal complaint must be able to understand why you did not bring the preliminary investigation to bear.

That is why you have to have an excellent command of the legal fundamentals, but at the same time be able to express yourself precisely and clearly in writing in such a way that non-lawyers can understand you. Because you will represent the prosecution in court, you should improve your oral presentation early in your legal education through constant practice.

Important skills: Assertiveness and social understanding

In white-collar criminal proceedings or in organized crime proceedings, you as a representative of the public prosecutor's office will face ten or more defense attorneys at the main hearing. This requires assertiveness, a convincing demeanor that works through personality, as well as the ability to deal with conflict and determination.

At the same time, you need a strong social understanding. In addition, you must keep an eye on the economic needs of the people involved in the proceedings, because in criminal proceedings, too, it is often a matter of working out sensible solutions that contribute to pacifying those involved.

When you get involved in the profession of prosecutor, you will quickly feel that you are working close to people. You especially experience their strengths and weaknesses. That is the fascinating thing about this job. In doing what you do, you always get a personal satisfaction from the fact that you are actively involved in ensuring the state order that is so important in a community.

Good work-life balance

Anyone who becomes a prosecutor knows that he cannot afford a yacht in the Mediterranean with his earnings. Everyone can read off the salary in the salary laws of the countries. All in all, the general conditions for working as a public prosecutor are good.

In addition to financial security, the family-friendliness of the workplaces and generally good collegiality play an important role. However, you should not be subject to a misunderstanding if you want to become a public prosecutor: Like Emilia Álvarez or Rainer Hunold, you are unlikely to be constantly investigating the scene of the crime.

The work at the desk takes up a lot more space than in the crime novels. You will go to the crime scene, you will interrogate the accused and witnesses yourself and you will be there during searches on site, just not every day. The work of the public prosecutor is nevertheless extremely attractive and can bring you satisfaction for a lifetime.

About the author:

Achim Brauneisen
Attorney General

Indispensable in law studies: You can download and order the latest Beck study guide here free of charge.

More information, tips and literature tooEducationandLegal clerkship can be found at beck-shop.de.

By the way: Test the NJW and the training magazines JuS and JA now for free with a trial subscription.