By April Christin • November 03, 2010•Writers in Residence
Assistant United States Attorney Carmen Lineberger exemplifies grace under fire. A graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Temple School of Law, Carmen is not only a federal prosecutor, but also serves as President of the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA), an international association of Black law enforcement professionals. Part One of the interview is available here. Part Two of the two-part interview in which Carmen speaks candidly about life outside of the office, becoming involved in other professional organizations, and what skills she believes make a good prosecutor. May the prosecution resume this witness.
How do you keep a balance between you professional and personal life? In January 2011, I will have been a federal prosecutor three years. I believe I keep a pretty good balance. One thing I used to do when I was a state prosecutor that I have not yet done as a federal prosecutor is teach as an adjunct professor at law school. Every semester I would teach a trial advocacy class or paralegal class or criminal justice in addition to holding my position with NBPA or in addition to my trial schedule. I have not added that back, so right now I have more free time than I have had in a long time. But some of the spare time is taken up with being NBPA president.
One way I keep my professional and personal life balanced is by sending out emails when I think about them, making telephone calls while I drive (hands-free, of course), and multi-tasking well. I also come in early and stay later when needed. If something starts falling behind with work or with NBPA, I just add an hour on the front end or back end of my day, or catch up over lunch.
Why do you volunteer for professional organizations, such as National Black Prosecutors Association? What I wanted to do was spread the word to other black attorneys that they should consider becoming a prosecutor. Maybe not become a career prosecutor but that they should consider giving back to the community for three to five, maybe ten or twenty years. I actually became a member of the organization and a board member at the same time. I did not know much about the NBPA organization and the only venue I had at the time to talk about becoming a prosecutor was law school and college where I was teaching. Being active in the NBPA has allowed me to fulfill that desire on a nationwide level trying to get the word out and trying to motivate others to become involved and get the word out in their areas. Being involved in the organization is also important to me because it lends support to other black prosecutors. If someone has a question or an issue and may not have anyone in their office to whom they can turn or who looks like them, they have the support of the organization. That is why I wanted to become involved in professional organizations like NBPA.
Why did you become an adjunct professor in addition to being a prosecutor? I got my LL.M. (Master of Laws) from Temple University Law School in 1998, and I did that because I wanted to teach. I was kind of bored in my job as a state prosecutor, believe it or not, and I felt like I needed to do something else. Teaching was another way to stay in contact with other individuals and talk to them about becoming interested in criminal justice, the law, or prosecution. It was a way for me to be a role model to show them that they can use their trial skills in this way, or they can use their legal knowledge to give back to their community and be a stronger role model in their community.
What are some of the most important skills in being a good prosecutor? First and foremost, it is important to be honest and to always try to do what’s right. Cases may not always go the way you want them, but if you are trying to do the right thing in being honest they usually will because honesty transcends. People will see in your argument that you are being genuine and that you are not just trying to win but that you believe in your argument.
Time management is a very important skill. Some people sit staring out the window and it takes them longer to get the job done. There is a lot of work to do, so if you are efficient with your time, you will have more time to work on it and you will not be rushed. You will be prepared and the work will be complete. As a local prosecutor in Philadelphia, the more time you had to spend talking to your witnesses whether civilian or law enforcement, the more comfortable and prepared they will be about testifying, the more their testimony will have the ring of truth because they would be able to play things back in their minds and often remember details about what happened.
Another skill is effective research and writing. This skill is equally important for both federal and state prosecutors. If you have good research and writing skills you will be more prepared in your argument, in your trials, and in your openings and closings because you will know the law and you will be able to differentiate your fact pattern from a case that the defense may cite because they may not be citing it for the right purpose.
To be a good prosecutor, you must also be articulate and able to convert your ability to communicate verbally into an ability to communicate in writing because they go hand in hand. I had a history professor in high school. He was actually the boys’ football coach, but he also taught English. He used to say, “Write the way you talk.” Well for those that knew how to talk, it really helped in their writing because the writing can be conversational even though it is still formal. I always think about that when I am writing.
What advice do you have for female law school students and young women lawyers who may be thinking about becoming a prosecutor?
I would say work on your research and writing skills because law school exams are going to be graded based on writing ability and you are going to get a better grade. Even though you may know the cases inside and out, if you can’t persuade the professor that you know what the case is about, you may not get a good grade. But to communicate with the professor on the paper you have to write that essay the right way. You can follow the IRAC all day long, but it still about the writing.
A prosecutor has to like people. Think about who you would want to represent you or your mother or your grandmother. For example, if your grandmother is hard of hearing and walks with a cane; who would you want to deal with her when she has to come to court and face the person who knocked her down. If you want to be a prosecutor, you have to be able to be that person. You have to be able to take the time and talk with all types of people. You have to be a social chameleon because everybody is not going to look like you. There are going to be people who are biased against females and against minorities. There are going to be people who are bigots; some may know better and others may not, but you have to treat them all with respect, regardless of how you might feel personally, because you represent the community.
A prosecutor also has to have compassion as well because everybody who is convicted of a crime may not need to go to jail. There may be someone who should be sentenced to something other than jail, maybe a drug program or some other alternate resolution because you really need to fix them rather than just warehouse them.
Being a prosecutor is not a nine-to-five job. If you try to make it a “nine-to-five” job one day, it may turn in to a “seven-to-eight” job the next day. So this job is not for the lighthearted. If you are a female, you are going to be up against men and you are going to be called names for having the same positive traits a man has. Typically your opponents are going to be males, so you are going to have to be better than them, two and three times better than them, and even then you still may not get the recognition. But if this is something you want to do, there is always going to be work for prosecutors.
Finally, I would recommend to anyone thinking about becoming a prosecutor to work hard, volunteer, look for internships in prosecutors’ offices, try to get into a clinical program in a prosecutor’s office, just get your foot in the door. If you can’t get into a prosecutors’ office at first, clerk for a judge so you can see what prosecutors do. Also consider internships in the public defender’s office because you are going to learn the same skills and you will be able to see what prosecutors and defense attorneys do, and then you can decide whether you want to be a prosecutor or a criminal defense attorney.
I want to express my heartfelt thanks to Carmen for her thoughtful and candid comments. It was truly a pleasure hearing her experiences as both a state and federal prosecutor. I am always amazed at what talented women we have in the legal profession. The prosecution rests.