The U.S. Attorney General and Attorney General Working on Private Basis

Before starting telling about the activities of a private attorney general, let’s define the status of the U.S. Attorney General. The U.S. Attorney General is the chief counsel for the United States. He or she is appointed by the President of the United States and is a part of the Presidential Cabinet. Apart from being chief counsel for the government, the U.S. Attorney General also manages and leads the US Department of Justice. He or she also represents the U.S. government in legal matters brought to the Supreme Court. If the matter is not considered to be of great importance, the U.S. Attorney General may direct the U.S. Solicitor General to argue legal matters before the court. 

And now let’s consider another side of attorney’s general practice, the private one. So, the term “private attorney general” is commonly used nowadays in the United States to define a private party, who brings a lawsuit that is regarded as the one of public interests. That means that positive court decision would be beneficial for the general public and not just for the plaintiff. The private attorney general recovers attorney's fees in case of prevailing. This principle is aimed at provision more encouragement to private citizens to pursue cases that may be positive to the whole society. 

At the same time the term “private attorney general” has more general meaning. It denotes any person who is authorized by a general power of attorney from someone else, or who represents trial cases dealing with public interests in any civil or criminal court proceeding.

We know that in our days most criminal prosecutions in the United States are handled by public prosecutors who in their turn are public employees. But what is significant, is that until the late 19th century the majority of criminal prosecutions in the United States were handled by private persons, and what is rather curious, they not always were lawyers. Those persons were asked to serve for private parties for corresponding fees or they could also work for court. Such private criminal prosecutions still have legal basis in several countries in the Anglo-American legal tradition. In the United States those procedures are adopted in several states. The U.S. Congress made the private attorney general principle into law with the passing of Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976.