What does a Criminal Lawyer Actually Do?

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Criminal Lawyers, other times called criminal defense lawyers or public defenders, defend individuals, organizations, and entities that have been charged with a crime. These charges can be anything from DUI, thefts, embezzlement, or even fraud. Criminal lawyers handle a wide range of cases. 

What are the Responsibilities of a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

A criminal defense attorney’s scope of work includes attending hearings, plea bargains, revocation hearings like parole and probation hearings, appeals, and post-conviction remedies. It is part of the lawyer’s responsibility to represent a defendant in the federal, state, or appellate courts. The following are also part of a criminal defense lawyer’s responsibility:

  • Study the case and speak to witnesses
  • Read about laws, statutes, crime codes, and procedural law related to the case
  • Develop a case for the defendant and create a strategy for the case
  • Help the defendant get a lesser charge by bargaining with the prosecution
  • File and argue motion to suppress and motion to dismiss
  • Support the defendant during the trial
  • Draft and file appeals for the defendant

How Much Does a Criminal Lawyer Earn?

Depending on the size and scope of the topic, a criminal lawyer’s salary varies depending on the clientele or the geographic location of the law firm. Usually, public defenders and non-profit lawyers earn a modest amount between the range of $30,000 to $50,000. 

If a criminal lawyer is employed by a firm, there’s a good chance that they earn more. Criminal defense attorneys with more experience also earn more. Representing high-profile, wealthy defendants also means higher pay. 

In a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the following is the annual salary range for lawyers, including criminal lawyers, in the US: 

  • The top 10% of the lawyers earn more than $208,000 annually or $100/hour
  • The bottom 10% of the lawyers earn less than $58,220 annually or $27.99/hour
  • Average yearly salary: $120,910 annually or $58.13/hour 

What are the Requirements to Become a Criminal Lawyer? 

To practice as a criminal defense attorney, the following are the requirements needed:

  • Education: All lawyers must have a bachelor’s degree and a law degree. These two degrees combined usually take about 7 years of school. 
  • License: Before a lawyer is allowed to practice the profession, they must pass the bar examination. 
  • Certification: Sometimes, criminal lawyers also get a certification from the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification (NBLSC). This organization is a non-profit group that is accredited by the American Bar Association. They provide board certification for lawyers. They are also an outgrowth of the National Board of Trial Advocacy.

What Skills and Competencies are needed to Become a Criminal Defense Attorney?

A criminal defense lawyer must possess the following skills and competencies to be successful in what they do:

  • They must be excellent in their oral and writing skills. Enough that they will be able to argue their client’s case in front of the judge and the jury. 
  • They must have good investigative skills for them to be able to build their client’s case and to create a good defense.
  • Analytical skills and critical thinking skills are also very important to ensure that the strategy they develop is legal and that they can analyze cases well.
  • As a lawyer, they must have a thorough knowledge of state and federal laws, court procedures, evidentiary laws, and local judges, to ensure that they can defend their case competently.
  • A lawyer must also be able to establish a good client-attorney relationship. This requires strong interpersonal skills. In criminal defense practice, the ability to retain and attract clients is very important. 

Is it a Good Idea to Become a Criminal Defense Attorney?

As crime rates spiral upwards and criminal law changes, the number of people sentenced to prison has risen nearly threefold over the past 30 years. Crime rates have increased and prison populations are exploding across the country. As new criminal laws are codified and more Americans are charged under state or federal laws, lawyers with experience in this area will become increasingly important. 

The BLS says that there is a projected 8% growth in jobs for all attorneys from 2016-2026 relative to other occupations and industries. This rate compares with the 7% growth forecasted overall.

What is the Work Environment Like for Criminal Lawyers?

Criminal lawyers work a challenging job that requires long hours. They need to meet clients at various venues, which can be exhausting. Some of them work in small firms or private practice while others hold government positions as public defenders. Criminal lawyers have a demanding career. Most of them work on the local scene while some lawyers who work nationally often travel a lot.

Criminal defense lawyers usually work about 40 hours each week. But for some working in large firms or are self-employed, they need to put in more hours of work, preparing documents and doing research work. 

Similar jobs

Working as a criminal defense attorney can be interesting and challenging at the same time. The following jobs also belong to a similar path as a criminal defense attorney. Their annual salaries are:

  • Judges and hearing officers: $117,190
  • Paralegals & legal assistants: $50,940
  • Arbitrators, mediators, & conciliators: $62,270
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