By my count, the Wake County District Attorney's office has 43 Assistant District Attorneys who handle the prosecutions for a nearly million person county in one of the most prosperous regions in the country. The federal government's United States Attorney Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina prosecutes federal crimes in Raleigh and throughout eastern North Carolina.
The total annual salary paid for prosecutors in the Wake County DA's office is just over $2,900,000. That salary, split among 43 people, averages at just over $67,500.
When you consider that the federal government starts Assistant United States Attorneys at $50,000, but that within two years, a good performing federal prosecutor can reach a GS-13 pay grade at $72,000, the State of North Carolina's compensation for assistant district attorneys (and assistant public defenders) is simply inadequate. The difference in compensation between a state prosecutor and a federal prosecutor is further exacerbated by inadequacy of the North Carolina's retirement and insurance programs. Benefits at the federal level are far more generous.
The result is an underpaid group of civil servants – and the same goes for the assistant public defenders – many of whom likely carry significant amounts of student debt from expensive undergraduate and legal educations that can't be discharged in bankruptcy.
Median income in the office is about $57,000. About two-thirds of the office make less than a second year federal prosecutor. The point here is not that federal prosecutors are overpaid, but that state prosecutors are grossly underpaid.
I suspect if you looked across the state, you would see much the same pattern. Underpaid prosecutors and public defenders working throughout.
But it's not like the State of North Carolina doesn't know how to compensate people. Let's look at the University of North Carolina School of Law, an organization that has an abysmal job placement record. After paying between $60,000 and $110,000 in tuition and fees (depending on the in-state/out-of-state differential) over three years (not including cost of living and debt financing), 21.7 percent of UNC Law's 2013 class reported that they were not employed or were employed in short-term or part-term positions.
Another 18.5 percent of the 2013 class reported working for firms with less than 50 lawyers, which is another way of saying, working as an attorney at a firm where the salary was unlikely to pay enough to justify as much as six figures in law school tuition.
The average full professor at UNC's Law School in 2013 made just over $170,000. The average professor – full, associate or assistant – made just over $155,000.