Career Development

Criminal Lawyer Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More

The practice of criminal law is highly specialized, with many overlapping areas of practice and a variety of different specialties.

The practice of criminal law is highly specialized, with many overlapping areas of practice and a variety of different specialties.

In general, criminal lawyers represent individuals who have been charged with a crime or are under investigation for a crime. In these cases, it’s the job of a criminal lawyer to protect their client’s legal rights and make sure they receive a fair trial. This might involve pleading their case in court or working behind the scenes on more procedural matters. They may also work to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor, which could result in reduced jail time, probation, fines, or other penalties for their clients.

Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be a criminal lawyer and what it takes to become one yourself.

Criminal Lawyer Job Duties

Typical duties of a criminal lawyer include the following:

  • Conducting research to build a case from start to finish, including studying regulations and precedents, interviewing witnesses and clients, and collecting evidence
  • Communicate regularly with clients to ensure that they understand the criminal process and their rights and responsibilities during proceedings.
  • Preparing a case for trial by creating written documents such as motions, briefs, subpoenas, pleadings, and discovery requests
  • Scheduling court appearances and meetings, and keeping files of all legal matters pertaining to cases
  • Assisting clients in identifying their options, advising them of possible outcomes, and helping them understand the consequences of each option
  • Negotiating with prosecutors on behalf of clients to reach a plea agreement or to get charges dismissed
  • Presenting evidence on behalf of clients during trials including conducting witness interviews, collecting forensic evidence, and interviewing experts for testimony

Criminal Lawyer Salary & Outlook

The median annual wage for criminal lawyers is $92,000. The highest earners make more than $160,000 per year.

The demand for criminal lawyers is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade. This is due to the fact that crimes will continue to be committed and there will always be a need for legal representation in these cases.

Criminal Lawyer Job Requirements

The requirements for a criminal lawyer are as follows:

Education: A criminal lawyer should have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. They must also have earned a law degree from an accredited law school. Law school is often three years, but it may take longer to complete the program. Students must take classes such as evidence, contracts and torts. They must also complete a significant amount of legal research and writing in order to graduate with their law degree.

Training: Criminal lawyers are required to complete an internship in a law office or a prosecutor’s office. This experience allows them to gain the experience they need to handle trials and other legal matters.

Certifications & Licenses: All lawyers are required to earn a license to practice law in the state where they are employed. These licenses require them to pass a bar exam. Criminal lawyers are also required to complete continuing legal education courses to maintain their licenses.

Criminal Lawyer Skills

The following skills are required for this job:

Aptitude for public speaking: Criminal lawyers often speak before judges, juries, or other large groups of people on behalf of their clients. They also make arguments in front of judges and juries during trials. Strong public speaking skills are necessary for success in this career.

Research skills: Criminal lawyers need to be able to do extensive research on legal issues, precedents, and case law to prepare their cases.

Communication skills: Criminal lawyers must be able to clearly communicate with clients, witnesses, judges, juries, and other attorneys.

Analytical skills: The ability to analyze facts and arguments is crucial in the courtroom.

Negotiation skills: Criminal lawyers must be able to negotiate effectively with prosecutors or opposing counsel to reach an agreement on the best possible outcome for their clients.

Judgment: Criminal lawyers must have excellent judgment because they are responsible for deciding which cases to take on and how best to defend their clients’ interests. They also must decide when it is appropriate to settle a case or appeal a verdict.

Criminal Lawyer Work Environment

Criminal law is a high pressure field that requires lawyers to keep working long hours. Criminal lawyers normally work in an office, with colleagues and clients coming and going throughout the day. They may have to travel extensively for trials and other appearances in different jurisdictions. The job can be emotionally draining, because they may have to deal with people who have been charged with serious crimes. 

Criminal Lawyer Career Path

Getting Started

Criminal defense lawyers typically spend a significant amount of time on the telephone, contacting prospective clients and building a reputation for their law firm. They often spend a lot of time reviewing court records to determine whether they want to take a particular case. Attorneys who work for public defenders’ offices typically have less autonomy in their cases than other defense attorneys. Most criminal lawyers spend little time in court during the first two years because they are still establishing their practices.

Five Years On The Job

In the next phase, criminal defense lawyers might specialize in a particular type of crime or kind of client, such as drug cases or sexual assault cases. Those who remain generalists learn how to defend a wide variety of crimes while learning how to litigate in different courts and before different judges. Those who have been successful enough to build up their client base and reputation may be able to pick and choose the cases that they want to handle. The hours can be long and irregular; many lawyers take on pro bono (free) cases in order to increase their experience and skills.

Ten Years On The Job

Successful criminal lawyers are hard-working and tenacious individuals who can manage long hours and stressful situations. These people have an excellent reputation, win most of their cases, and earn high incomes from court appearances, consulting, and negotiating settlements. They may serve as judges or enter politics or become in-house counsel for a corporation or a large law firm.

Criminal Lawyer Trends

Here are three trends influencing how criminal lawyers work. Criminal lawyers will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

AI Sentencing

While the technology is still in its infancy, it seems inevitable that automated sentencing will become more common in criminal law in the coming years.

Automated systems have already been developed for many aspects of criminal law, including pre-trial evaluations and post-conviction proceedings, but these are relatively low stakes applications when compared to life sentences. 

However, it seems likely that AI systems will eventually become commonplace when it comes to handing out long prison sentences—potentially reducing bias against specific demographics or races while increasing the consistency of punishment across similar cases.

Technology Is Changing The Way Lawyers Work

With more and more documents becoming digital, lawyers are finding that they can manage their case files more efficiently than ever before.

The widespread use of electronic court records and discovery has led to an increase in the number of legal professionals who specialize in technology law.

Many of these attorneys advise clients on the best ways to store and share data securely while also minimizing liability related to cybersecurity breaches.

Impact of AI on Criminal Law

Recent advances in artificial intelligence have made it possible for computers to analyze massive amounts of data and perform tasks that would have been impossible for humans to accomplish alone.

In the legal profession, this trend has led to a new form of evidence known as “predictive coding” where a computer scans massive amounts of data and identifies items that are relevant to a case, allowing attorneys to focus their efforts on these specific pieces of information. 

How to Become a Criminal Lawyer

1. Planning Your Career

If you’re thinking about a career as a criminal lawyer, it’s important to consider the long hours and late nights that come with this type of work. Lawyers often have to be available outside of normal business hours in order to meet deadlines and respond to emergency requests from clients.

It is also important to know that the legal field can be emotionally challenging; criminal cases often involve violence or loss of life, which can take a toll on those involved. 

2. Writing a Resume

The best resumes for criminal lawyers include details about their past legal experience, evidence of their work ethic, and education. You should emphasize your ability to stay calm under pressure, resolve problems, and think on your feet.

Make sure to focus on your trial experience rather than simply listing the cases you’ve worked on. Emphasize any notable events related to the trial such as a case that received media attention or one that provided an opportunity for you to work with a high-profile attorney

3. Applying for Jobs

Criminal lawyers often rely on connections and word-of-mouth to find job openings. Look for opportunities to network with people who are already working in the field. Contact alumni of your law school or anyone you know who works as a lawyer. Look at social media for groups related to your area of practice. Also consider joining professional legal organizations and attending conferences. Use these networks to help you learn about companies and their need for new employees. 

4. Ace the Interview

Since there is so much competition for criminal lawyer positions, you need to really stand out from the crowd. Research the legal field and practice the kinds of questions you might be asked during an interview. Think about the kind of work experience you have and how it can best prepare you for this role. For instance, have you worked in an legal office with a team before? Did you work on projects with deadlines? You’ll want to mention these experiences during your interview.

For this role, being organized is key, so it’s also important to demonstrate your ability to handle multiple tasks at once. Demonstrate how well you’ve handled stress in your previous role. And don’t forget to be personable – this isn’t just a job interview, but also a chance to get to know each other.


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