State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

Criminal Lawyer Career

The principle of freedom which Americans highly prize is demonstrated in this nation’s commitment to the presumption of innocence in a criminal trial. In many other nations, the accused is presumed guilty until he proves his innocence or the government inadequately proves its case. Yet in the United States of America, the presumption of innocence requires the prosecution to prove its case against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt before he would be pronounced guilty.

Under the U.S. Constitution, everyone accused of a crime has the right to a lawyer’s defense.  It is criminal lawyers who represent defendants in and out of court. They make several attempts to settle the case outside of court but occasionally, they must go to trial.

Educational Requirements

A criminal lawyer must hold a juris doctorate and an attorney’s license in order to practice criminal law. Experience in criminal law is advisable before obtaining a position as a criminal lawyer. However, significant clinical experience may be equated with some criminal law experience for a recent graduate. Or, participation in internships, volunteer positions or part-time jobs with public defenders and criminal prosecutor offices can be the necessary work experience required.

Pick from the links below, depending on your education level that best describes your situation

Featured Law School:

University of Dayton
Featured Program: Online Hybrid Juris Doctor: ABA-approved JD program; Prepare to sit for the bar exam in most states; Semester-long legal externship.

Featured Programs:

Washington University School of Law, Top-20 law school - 1-Year Online Master of Legal Studies, No GRE/LSAT required.
Arizona State University Online - Earn Your Master of Legal Studies in as little as one year.
Purdue University Global - Online Bachelor's in Legal Support and Services - Paralegal Concentration
Rasmussen University - Online Paralegal Associate Degree and Post-Degree Certificate Programs
Post University - Online Associate and Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies

Throughout their careers, criminal lawyers often seek out additional training and continuing education programs to sharpen and expand their legal skills.

Job Description

The primary role of a criminal lawyer is to represent their defendant in the criminal court system. This encompasses arraignments, pretrial hearings, settlement conferences, trials and sentence hearings. They defend adults and juveniles at the federal, state and local level. In order to represent clients in federal courts, a criminal lawyer must first apply for admission to practice in that court.

Typically, criminal lawyers are working on several cases at one time, each at different stages in the criminal process. Throughout the criminal process, criminal lawyers offer legal counsel to their clients that would be in their best interests. Criminal lawyers’ extensive knowledge of the law helps them safeguard their client’s constitutional rights.

There is a vast amount of time spent gathering evidence like police reports, eyewitness testimonies and any other information pertinent to the case. As a result, criminal lawyers utilize the expertise of paralegals, private investigators, litigation consultants and others to assist them.

Attorney with Clients

The following tasks are characteristic of a criminal lawyer’s occupation:

  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Performing legal research
  • Creating exhibits for demonstrations in court
  • Accruing additional evidence in support of their case or for arguments against the prosecution’s charges
  • Examining the crime scene
  • Gathering expert witnesses to testify in court

Salary & Job Outlook

The average salary of a criminal lawyer is $78,500. However, the salary can range from $45,000 to $130,000.  Interestingly, private criminal lawyers make the lowest earnings among lawyers. Experience and rising to the top of the career ladder however increases a criminal lawyer’s pay scale.  

Traditionally, a criminal lawyer begins as a junior associate at a law firm, a prosecutor, or a public defender.  Next, a criminal lawyer can advance to senior associate at a law firm or as a solo practitioner who is essentially self-employed.  The ultimate aspiration for a criminal lawyer may be as a partner in a law firm.

These aren’t the only career paths available to a criminal lawyer. Alternatively, a criminal lawyer can work as a district attorney. District attorneys are employed by the government and prosecute cases on behalf of the state. Another option would be as a non-profit lawyer. Non-profit organizations will hire criminal defense attorneys to represent persons who cannot afford private counsel themselves.  

Competition is high for criminal lawyer positions in law firms.


Back to Top

General Resources

Law Exams

Lawyer Career Specialties