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What Does an Attorney General Do?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Five months after she was nominated by President Barack Obama and eight weeks after she was confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Loretta Lynch was finally approved by the Senate as the next U.S. Attorney General. Lynch is the first African-American woman to serve as Attorney General.

So what exactly does the Attorney General do?

Chief Law Enforcement Officer

There are district attorneys representing every county that take criminal cases to trial. And states have their own state attorneys and attorneys general. The U.S. Attorney General's Office, often referred to as the Department of Justice, is in charge of prosecuting federal crimes in federal courts, and the Attorney General is the head of that office.

While lower level attorneys in the office are often the ones actually in court, the Attorney General can set policy for the office, order investigations, and designate which laws will be a priority.

Chief Lawyer of the U.S. Government

The Judiciary Act of 1789 created the office of attorney general and outlined its original duties:

"... to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the president of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments."

When you need a lawyer you ask that friend or cousin who went to law school. (Or you consult our comprehensive directory of qualified attorneys!) When the U.S. government or any federal employee needs a lawyer, they go to the Attorney General's office.

Cabinet Member

Along with the other most senior executive branch officials, the Attorney General serves in the president's cabinet, advising and assisting the president in carrying out his or her duties. Specifically, the AG will counsel the president on federal legal and law enforcement issues.

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