How I Got My Prosecution Job: Chris Bown, a Deputy District Attorney for the Salt Lake County District Attorney Office, and Robert Van Dyke, a Deputy County Attorney in Kane County, Utah

Rob VanDyke (SJQ 2009), Deputy County Attorney, Kane County


What do you do?

I am currently employed as a Deputy County Attorney in Kane County Utah.

Where are you from and where did you go to law school?

I am originally from Orem, Utah.  I completed my undergraduate degree at Utah State University and then I went to Law School at the University of Utah.

What kind of activities did you do in law school?

In law school, I engaged in several social organizations to meet people and get involved on campus.  I served in leadership positions in the J. Reuben Clark Law Society and the Federalists Society and I was a member in the inaugural year of the all too popular Jackie Chiles Law Society. I also was on the law school soccer and basketball intramural teams.  Academically and more specific to career development, I participated in Moot Court, the Innocence Clinic, and the Criminal Clinic with an internship at the Salt Lake City Prosecutor’s Office. I highly recommend both clinics to anyone who wants to practice in the area of criminal law.

How did you first make contact with your employer and how did you get this job?

When I was looking for a job I searched in every possible location.  I searched several online databases including the Utah Department of Workforce Services website, USAjobs, yahoojobs, and even Craigslist as I got more desperate (I don’t recommend this one.)  I also searched the want ads in several news papers.  Because I was looking for a prosecution position I also looked at the websites of every county in the state and several larger cities. This was very tedious but I actually received several interviews for jobs that I only found listed on the local website.  My current position with Kane County was posted on the county’s local website, in the want ads of the Salt Lake Tribune, and the PDO office also sent out an email about the posting.  I first made contact with the Human Resource Director for the County who was listed as the contact.

I spoke with her about the position and she was very happy to talk to me about Kanab and what a wonderful small town it is.  The position was only listed as temporary full time but over fifty people applied.

I interviewed and was accepted for the temporary position and then two months after I was hired the County Attorney offered me a permanent position.

What does your typical day involve for you/your work?

The County Attorney’s Office prosecutes all felonies in the County and all misdemeanors in the unincorporated areas of the County.  We also contract to prosecute the misdemeanors in Kanab City.  This takes about half of my work week.  The other half is devoted to advising the County Commission, the County Planning Commission and other elected officials and department heads.  I am in Court on average twice a week, and I also sit on several committees in the County that address County policy and other issues.  On an average day outside of court I spend two or three hours filling new criminal cases, preparing for court and responding to motions.  I then usually have an our or two each day when I meet with a county official, police officer or citizen (sometimes planned meetings but often they drop in.)  Almost every day I meet with a police officer to review a search warrant or give other advice on how to proceed in an investigation.  I then have random assignments to draft county ordinances, issue official memorandum to elected officials, or advise county employees on any given area of the law. I also manage three paralegal secretaries and direct their work load.

What are the best (and worst if you want) parts of your job?

One of the best parts of my job is working with people to effect justice.  As a prosecutor, at the end of the day your job is to “do justice” which often can be interpreted as “doing the right thing.”

It is very satisfying and liberating to be able to make decisions based on what I believe is right and not necessarily on what a client wants me to do.  I also really enjoy working with victims of crime and helping them feel like their voice is heard even in a justice system that focuses on the defendant.  The most difficult part of my job is keeping up with the demand of all the different areas of the law.  In larger counties an attorney in my position can have a specific specialization like prosecuting domestic violence or advising the Building Department.  Because Kane County is so small, with only three attorneys, we all have to know a little about all of the areas of law that affect the county and we have to be experts in several specific areas.  Every week, sometimes every day, I have a new challenge and the opportunity to learn a new area of law and develop my skills.  This however also keeps my job interesting and fun.

What tips and advice do you have for job-seeking SJ Quinney students and alum?

Never say no to an opportunity for experience unless you are choosing between more than one option.  I took a big risk in taking a temporary position, relocating my family, and moving to a place where I didn’t know anyone and wasn’t sure that it would be anything except another line on my resume.  For me the risk paid off big but even if it didn’t, the experience would have definitely led to more opportunity.


How I Got My Job-Chris Bown (SJQ 2001), Deputy District Attorney at Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office


 What do you do?

I am a Deputy District Attorney at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.  I have been there for close to 11 years as a prosecutor.  Currently, I am the lead prosecutor assigned to the Salt Lake County Drug Court Program and the Salt Lake County Alternative Resolution Court.  In my spare time, I also prosecute automobile homicides and other serious crimes involving automobiles, alcohol and/or drugs and/or failure to think.  I am part of the Homicide Call Out Team which is tasked with assisting law enforcement when a suspected homicide occurs by providing support at the scene and help in preparing the case for trial.  I have prosecuted all types of crimes including violent crime related to gang activity, fraud and property crimes, special victims crimes, and juvenile law.

Where did you go to law school?

I got my undergraduate degree in Political Science from BYU in 1996.  I then took a two year break to spend some time with my mom, who had a terminal illness.   After getting married, I was accepted to the University of Utah Law School and graduated in 2001.

What made you decide to go to law school? 

I went to law school for two reasons.  I always wanted to be a lawyer.  My father was a prosecuting attorney and my uncle was a defense attorney.  My first court experience was when I was eight and went down and spent the day with my father at the court and the Salt Lake City Police Lab.  Although I was removed from the courtroom by a surly bailiff for talking too loudly (that surly bailiff would have a heart attack in today’s courtroom) it was an experience that started me on the path to being a prosecutor because it was so exciting.  A couple of years, later I went to the Ronnie Lee Gardner murder trial with my father because it partially happened over UEA weekend so I was out of school.  I remember helping the bailiffs used my braces to check to see if their metal detectors were working and I almost walked into the elevator with Ronnie Lee Gardner after court one day.  I still remember the bailiff who was escorting Ronnie Lee Gardner telling me that I might want to choose another elevator.  More importantly, I remember sitting in the courtroom watching everything that was going on and realizing at that moment that this is what I wanted to do.  Sure, I dreamed of being a fighter jet pilot or astronaut too.  Those dreams were ended when I received a non-flying commissioned position at the Air Force Academy.  I turned it down, because I wanted to fly and their brochure said that the weekends were not your own.  I quickly accepted my scholarship to BYU and made a monumental decision that solidified my decision to become a lawyer.    The second reason was simply that I chose Political Science as my undergraduate degree at BYU. At that point, I realized I really wanted to be a lawyer because I didn’t want to be any other profession that a Political Science degree will get you.  I haven’t figured out what those other professions are yet but I am happy I chose wisely.

How did you first make contact with your employer and how did you get this job?

I got my job at the District Attorney’s Office from David Yocom after I passed the bar exam.  I started working there while I was in law school.  I was bored during my first year of law school and wanted to get some practical experience.  I knew that most places wouldn’t even touch a 1L, so I applied for a law clerk position at the District Attorney’s Office and they hired me after the first semester.  I was a paid law clerk for my entire time at Law School.  Also, as a 3L I did the Criminal Law Clinic where I entered the court for the first time as a practicing 3L and started honing my prosecution skills on traffic offenses and other misdemeanors.  As law clerks we were repeatedly told not to expect a job because there were no openings.  After I passed the bar, three positions opened up and I was hired.  It came down to a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck and good timing.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?

The best part of my job is that I get to seek justice every day and have the power to affect change.  Other perks of the job are the opportunity to get to know a lot of great people and I don’t just mean prosecutors and police officers.  Criminal law is unique because many of the people who are my opponents in court are people I consider friends outside of the courtroom.  The other great part of the job is that it is interesting.  Criminals never cease to amaze me in the efforts they go to commit a crime.  You just can’t make some of the factual situations up.  Finally, I like it because you aren’t at a desk all day.  Besides going to court, you get out and visit witnesses, crime scenes, automobile crashes and different crime labs like the Medical Examiner’s Office or the Utah State Forensic Laboratory.

The worst part of the job is seeing the death and destruction that occurs at the hands of some of the criminals.  Some of the hardest moments of my life are talking with a victim’s family about their loved one and realizing that although I can help hold someone responsible for the actions that led to a death or a life changing injury, the system is powerless to make that victim completely whole again.  This is especially hard when the loved one is a little child.  While this is difficult, it also makes me learn and recognize some important life lessons that I hope I never have to learn through your own experiences.  It also provides me with opportunities to be there to help someone in a time of need.

What advice do you have for job seeking S.J. Quinney law students? 

If there is any advice for those job seeking students who want to be a prosecutor, it would be simply to say it doesn’t matter if you get experience as a prosecutor or a defense attorney because it is being in the courtroom and dealing with the issues that matters most.  Take a job where it is offered and start building up your reputation and your credibility.  That is the only currency that really matters in court with the Judges and your fellow attorneys.  Learning by being a defense attorneys and prosecutors have their benefits and will prepare you to be hired.  On a general note, become a lawyer because you love it.  There are plenty of miserable attorneys out there doing something they don’t like.  Please don’t add to the misery.  Find what you like and go with it.