Criminal Defense Lawyer: Job Description and Requirements

A criminal defense lawyer requires significant formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Essential Information

Criminal defense lawyers represent clients or organizations who have been accused of criminal misconduct. Criminal defense lawyers employed by the government are known as public defenders. A criminal defense lawyer researches, prepares and argues a case on the behalf of a client in order to defend them from the criminal charges. Like all attorneys, they must earn a bachelor's degree, then complete three years of law school, specializing in criminal defense, before taking their state's bar exam. The job of criminal defense lawyer can pay well and may be prestigious, but the work is often stressful and the hours can long and irregular.

Required EducationJuris Doctor (J.D.) degree
LicensingMust pass state bar exam
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)10% (for all types of lawyers)
Median Salary (2013)* $114,300 (for all types of lawyers)

Sources: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Criminal Defense Lawyer

Seven years of education is required to be a criminal defense lawyer. Four years are spent at the undergraduate level. The specific major of the bachelor's degree an aspiring criminal defense lawyer earns isn't typically important, but maintaining good grades and acquiring research, investigative, analysis and communication skills is recommended.

After graduating, an aspiring criminal defense lawyer applies to law school by completing the Law School Admission Test. Then, three years of education are completed in a criminal defense law education specialization that results in the J.D. degree.

Job Description

Criminal defense lawyers typically work at least 40 hours a week, but longer hours are common. Additionally, work hours may be irregular because evenings and weekends may be required by clients or law firms. New criminal defense lawyers usually join up with an existing firm; however many go on to open up their own firms. Criminal defense lawyers regularly travel to courtrooms, law libraries, prisons, hospitals, offices and the homes of clients.

Research and case preparation are the two main duties performed outside of actual trials. Criminal defense lawyers have examine evidence, laws and statues, and past judicial rulings in order to build up the strength of their arguments. Once all this research is gathered, a criminal defense lawyer prepares it by creating an effective argument strategy for the courtroom. When in the courtroom, a criminal defense lawyer must constantly adapt and choose the most effective argumentative methods available to them in order to win a case.

Job Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all criminal defense lawyers need to be licensed with the state (www.bls.gov). To be admitted to the Bar Association, a written examination is completed in addition to an ethics examination. There is no nationwide bar examination, but the majority of states use the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE).

The states that don't use the MBE normally use the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE). The MBE is a six hour examination while the MEE is a three hour test. The qualifications for most bar examinations include possessing a college degree and graduating from a law program accredited by the American Bar Association.

The BLS stated in May of 2013 that the median annual salary for lawyers was $114,300. Furthermore, the BLS predicts 10% job growth for lawyers between 2012 and 2022.

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