Criminal lawyers, also known as criminal defense lawyers and public defenders, defend individuals, organizations and entities that have been charged with a crime. Criminal lawyers handle a diverse spectrum of criminal cases, white collar crimes, drug crimes, ranging from domestic violence crimes, sex crimes, violent crimes and driving under the influence (DUI), theft, embezzlement, fraud and extradition.
Criminal Lawyer Job Description
Criminal lawyers represent defendants facing criminal charges in state. Their scope of practice includes bail bond hearings, plea bargains, trial, revocation hearings, appeals and post-conviction remedies.
Some of the tasks that criminal defense lawyers routinely perform are:
- Assisting suspects who have requested the presence of a lawyer during police interrogations and other procedures
- Assisting suspects during critical pre-trial phases
- Engaging in plea negotiations with the prosecutor, to obtain a reduced sentence or to have the charges dropped
- Researching the facts and laws involved in the criminal case
- Actively defending criminal suspects in court during trial
- Raising defenses that may be available and advantageous for the defendant (such as self-defense, defense of property, etc.)
- Interviewing key witnesses to obtain testimony
- Filing for an appeal or retrial if available
Also, many criminal defense lawyers continue to work with a defendant until well after trial. This is because the client may often need legal assistance with post-trial issues such as parole or probation.
Criminal lawyers must have excellent oral and written advocacy skills in order to argue a client's case before a judge and persuade a jury. Investigative and research skills are also important in building a client's case and establishing a strong defense. Criminal lawyers must also have strong creative thinking and analytical skills to develop a legal strategy, analyze case law and litigate complex cases.
Criminal lawyers must also have an in-depth understanding of state, federal and local rules, court procedures, evidentiary laws and local judges to navigate the criminal justice system efficiently and competently. In addition, excellent interpersonal skills are necessary to build a strong client-attorney relationship. Criminal defendants are a finicky group who sometimes go through many lawyers before settling on one they like. Therefore, the ability to attract and retain clients is essential to a thriving criminal defense practice.
Most criminal lawyers work in private practice or in a solo firm. Some work for non-profit agencies or for the government as public defenders.
Criminal lawyers often work long, irregular hours. They frequently meet with clients outside their office at the courthouse, prisons, hospitals and other venues.
Most criminal lawyers maintain a local practice. However, for criminal attorneys with a national practice, frequent travel is required.
Criminal Lawyer Job Outlook
Criminal law is a growing practice niche. As crime rates and criminal laws spiral upwards, 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 and federal laws, the need for criminal lawyers to defend the accused will also rise.
Experience and Reputation
Experience representing clients in the same type of case you have is a key factor in choosing your criminal defense attorney. For example, a lawyer that has a great reputation for nursing home litigation, is not necessarily the right choice for fighting drug trafficking charges.
Ask friends and co-workers if they know the names of any attorneys they would recommend. If people you respect and trust have good things to say about the lawyer in question, then you are off to a good start. Remember, your future and your good name are in the hands of the person you choose, so be sure that person knows what he or she is doing.
Do I Need a Criminal Justice Lawyer?
If you are involved in any way with criminal charges, you may wish to contact a criminal justice lawyer as necessary. If you are facing criminal charges, a criminal defense attorney can help represent you in court. Or, if you have been the victim of a crime, a criminal prosecutor can help you through the process. Many victims of crime choose to work with their own private prosecutor instead of a state-appointed prosecutor.