Interview with Assistant District Attorney and Author Mark Pryor
Mark Pryor is an Assistant District Attorney with the Travis County, Texas District Attorney’s Office, as well as a published author in both fiction and non-fiction. He recently took the time to sit with us and answer a few questions about his professional experience, during which he shared his insights for aspiring criminal justice professionals. Readers can enjoy further insights from Mr. Pryor on his blog DA Confidential and can learn more about his books on his author site, Mark Pryor Books.
I started off at a big law firm in Dallas, tempted by the salary (and the need to pay off law school debt!). I realized pretty quickly that the promises of court time were not going to be fulfilled, and that's what I wanted. So after a couple of years I applied to the DA's office in Austin and managed an interview, and then a job. It's put me in front of judges and juries, which is where I always wanted to be.
What is your proudest moment as an Assistant District Attorney? As an author?
As an ADA, the best moments are always when I get a 'thank you' from the victim of a serious crime, or from a family member if the victim was killed. Sometimes victims get lost in the shuffle, and the system is as confusing and opaque to them as it is to a first-time defendant. It means a lot to me that I cannot just get a bad guy off the streets, but bring a victim, or their family, a measure of relief.
As an author, I think walking into a book store and seeing my novels on the shelves. That's not a feeling I've lost, even after two years. I love it too, when I get a stack of my books in another language, the Japanese version is simply awesome.
Why do you think a college education is important for law enforcement professionals to obtain? In what fields or circumstances would you recommend pursuing an advanced degree?
I think law enforcement is moving more and more towards science, using forensics and computers to close cases. I can't imagine having to work in a field like that without a college degree; I think a solid grasp of the basics of biology, computer science, and even the skill of writing are all crucial. Juries, for example, expect their witnesses to have a high degree of formal education, so from my perspective I'm always encouraged when a witness has a few credentials to their name.
An advanced degree is important, I think if you're looking to specialize within criminal law. As a lawyer, judge, forensic scientist, all these will need advanced degrees I imagine.
What advice would you give to new recruits who are just starting out in their careers?
I work with a lot of rookie cops, since my job takes me out once a week riding with the police. My advice would be to listen to those around you, the experienced people in your field, and just learn by listening. I'd also say, don't be afraid to ask questions – I love it when I'm out riding in the streets of Austin and a patrol officer asks me why we handle cases a certain way, or asks about the law. It's a sign of intelligence to ask questions, and I always appreciate when people ask me.
How do you see law enforcement in the US changing in the next five years? What do you anticipate will be the change drivers?
Technology. In my world, juries (and prosecutors) will demand more scientific evidence. Eye-witness cases are now very hard to prove, people recognize that there are problems with it. But something has to fill the gap, and that'll be technology. We're already tracking cell phones and using CCTV cameras, and DNA is huge of course.
How has your undergraduate degree in journalism complemented your work? Does it influence your approach to writing non-fiction?
It has certainly helped. Having that background has given me the confidence to believe in my writing, and the tools to help me do the research I need to produce a good and accurate book. As a prosecutor, it also helps me in my dealings with the media. A lot of law enforcement people are wary of journalists, and so go to great lengths to avoid them. Unfortunately, that often means a reporter has to write his story without a law enforcement point of view, which is a shame. I'm happy to work with journalists to make sure both sides are presented.
What can criminal justice students do to improve their competitiveness in the current job market?
I would encourage students to get work experience where possible. That gives you some hands-on experience but it also puts you in contact with people who might want to hire you, or will at least give you a good reference. I'd also say that getting some kind of formal education or training in the scientific/technical fields will be hugely helpful. As I mentioned, I think the law enforcement world is moving towards much more scientific-based evidence collection and presentation. Finally, I'll caution people about not getting themselves into too much debt right out of college. It's a big issue these days, and a debt burden can really hamper people when looking to relocate for jobs.