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The Different Areas of Law: A Career Guide on Becoming a Criminal Lawyer

Criminal Law

November 5 2019 - With so many different areas of law to choose from, you're probably feeling a bit overwhelmed if you're in law school and trying to decide. One type of lawyer that we're all familiar with is a criminal defense attorney.

Whether you're a fan of Law and Order, loved L.A. Law, or watched Saul Goodman religiously on Breaking Bad, you know about a defense attorney. If you want to make sure that everyone gets adequate representation, whether guilty or not, specializing in criminal law is a great option for you.

Keep reading to learn more about this specialty.

What Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Do?

Criminal defense attorneys represent people who have been accused of a crime. There's generally two tracks you can take to becoming a defense attorney: work as a public defender or work in private practice.

A public defender is employed by the government (state or federal) and is appointed to represent defendants who are indigent, or can't afford an attorney on their own. Public defenders often have huge caseloads, as many defendants come from low socioeconomic statuses.

If you go into private practice, you'll be retained by clients who can pay for their own defense. You can be selective about the cases you take on and you often have many more resources to investigate the case, bring in expert witnesses, and have more time to devote to each case.

Job Requirements

Before heading to law school, you must have an undergraduate degree. Your major isn't that important, yet many students choose majors like pre-law, criminology, or criminal justice.

Many experts suggest focusing strong reading, writing, and critical thinking skills, rather than trying to learn specific legal content. You'll learn all of that in law school.

Working in any of the different areas of law will require you to earn your Juris Doctor (JD) degree, which can only be earned at an accredited law school. You'll take classes in criminal law, civil law, and electives of your choosing. Upon graduating from law school, you'll have to take the bar exam to become licensed in your specific state.

While in law school, it's beneficial to volunteer with a law clinic focused on criminal representation or trial advocacy.

Salary and Career Outlook

The median pay for lawyers is $120,000+ and the job outlook is strong. Of course, your pay will vary, depending on what kind of defense attorney you become. Public defenders generally earn less than defense attorneys in private practice though.

Pay will vary depending on what area of the country you're in as well. Bigger cities with a higher cost of living tend to have higher salaries while smaller cities often pay less, as it is cheaper to live there.

Which of the Different Areas of Law Will You Choose?

Criminal law is just one of the different areas of law that you can choose from. Time in law school, different classes, and volunteer and internship experiences will help you to decide which specialization you are most interested in.

If you found this useful, be sure to check out some of our other career-related articles.

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