You've probably seen defense attorneys in action on television on your favorite court drama, but did you know how much work really goes into this demanding career? One of the cornerstones of the American justice system is a fair criminal trial for anyone accused of a crime. If you want to learn more about criminal justice programs that can prepare you for a career as a defense attorney, use our search tools to request more information today!
Defense Attorney Job Description
This career can often demand long nights and tough weeks. Even before a case goes to trial, you may spend hundreds of hours gathering evidence, creating a case, and looking for weaknesses in your own and the defense's case. When you go to court, you may spend a long time making your case to the jury and trying to support your client.
Being a defense attorney may also mean being in the public eye, particularly if you play a role in high-profile cases. For example, lawyers for Steven Avery, the subject of the popular Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, had to give frequent press conferences to defend their client since public opinion skewed so heavily against him.
Defense attorneys, rather than helping those who want to bring a suit against a company or person, represent those who have been arrested or accused of a crime. This may mean that they take on pro-bono cases or support those who cannot afford to pay for representation. If you want to uphold one of the core tenets of our justice system and don't mind working difficult cases, you may thrive in a career as a defense attorney.
How to Become a Defense Attorney
Becoming a defense attorney does require a lot of education and targeted work experience, but following these steps can help you get a career that you find enjoyable and fulfilling.
You need to begin with a bachelor's degree from an accredited school. You may find it helpful to start with a degree in criminal justice, as the courses required in this major can give you a good background in the criminal justice field. You may take courses like Introduction to Criminology, Law Enforcement Administration, Correctional Administration, and Criminal Investigation. If you have a bachelor's degree in another field, you may still be able to continue your education in this field.
After you earn a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or another field, you need to go to law school and get a law degree. Upon graduation, you should have a J.D. (Juris Doctorate). You may take classes like Advanced Comparative Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, and Corporation Law. Throughout the course of this degree, you can gain experience in different legal settings.
You may have to get outside work experience while earning your bachelor's degree and law degree. Getting a competitive position may be easier if you volunteer for social service agencies, complete an internship at a local law firm, or work at the courtroom.Once you have your degree, you must take a bar examination. This tests your knowledge of the law and is required for licensure as an attorney in your state. Once you have passed the bar examination, you can begin the process of applying for your attorney license. With an attorney license, you can officially begin working as a defense attorney in your state. However, you may need to get specialized experience in criminal law before you can apply for a job with a law firm. This may involve working in the public sector for several years if you do not have relevant work experience.
Defense Attorney Salary and Career Outlook
As a defense attorney, you may have a fairly solid job outlook to look forward to. From 2016 to 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects job openings for lawyers to increase at an average rate when compared to other professions. During this time period, that works out to an estimated 65,000 job openings across the country. The job outlook is better in certain states. In Nevada, job openings are expected to increase by 31%, while job growth for lawyers in New Mexico will only grow by 1%.
Defense lawyers may earn a competitive range of salaries, particularly in larger cities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for an attorney is $119,250. In Washington, D.C., the average salary for a lawyer is $189,560. The mean wage in Montana is on the lower end, with average salaries ranging from $72,970 to $102,040.
Defense attorneys are incredibly important in the American justice system, providing legal support to those who need it most. Learn more about criminal justice schools in your area. Request information about programs today to get started!
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