Criminal Lawyer: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a criminal lawyer. Learn about education and licensure requirements, average salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Criminal Lawyer?

What good would a show about the courts be without lawyers picking apart alibis or tearing down the evidence against their clients? Criminal attorneys are that breed of lawyer who work with both individuals and businesses that are victims of criminal activity or are accused of such activity. If these lawyers work for the District Attorney of a region they will be charged with defending the state or prosecuting criminals in city or state courts. Attorneys regularly deal with evidence, analyze law briefs, communicate with clients and interrogate witnesses in court.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Requirements Juris Doctor
Job Responsibilities Research and analyze legal matters, prepare legal documents, interpret laws and argue cases in court
Licensure Pass the bar examination in the state where you will practice
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 6% for all lawyers*
Average Salary (2015) $136,260 for all lawyers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Criminal Lawyer Do?

As a criminal lawyer, or prosecutor, you will likely work for a government agency on cases against individuals accused of law violations. You may also work as a criminal defense lawyer to defend accused individuals. Your main responsibilities will be to present your case in court, research and analyze legal matters, interpret laws and prepare legal documents.

What Type of Education Do I Need?

You will need to obtain a bachelor's degree and Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree in order to become a practicing criminal lawyer. While no specific undergraduate degree is required, many 4-year schools offer a pre-law program track that can help prepare you for eventual enrollment in law school. Some undergraduate programs even offer joint B.A./J.D. programs that can accelerate your education by one or two years.

Once you've completed your bachelor's degree, you will need to pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in order to apply to law school. Law school takes about three years to complete, and you will take courses on contracts, civil procedures, legal writing and constitutional law. Some programs also offer a concentration in criminal law, where you might take courses on criminal investigations, the death penalty and criminal law theory.

Do I Need a License to Practice?

In order to practice law, you must pass the bar examination. The bar exam is administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBEX) or your state's board of law examiners. Generally, you must take the exam in the state you intend to practice, but there are some exams administered by the NCBEX that are acceptable in several states.

Once you've passed the bar exam, you must still be admitted to the bar by the admitting board in your jurisdiction. Each state may have slightly different requirements for licensing, so you should always check with your state's board for specific details.

How Much Could I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyer salaries vary widely depending on years of experience and the field of law. As of May 2015, lawyers earned an average annual salary of $136,260. Specific statistics for criminal lawyers were unavailable, but lawyers working for local government agencies reported earning an average of $99,060 annually, while those working for state government agencies made an average of $86,760 annually.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Alternative career fields can include arbitration or mediation, as well as postsecondary teaching. Arbitrators or mediators need at least a bachelor's degree, and they help mediate disputes between organizations or individuals and keep them out of court. College teaching typically requires a doctorate, and there are a plethora of law-related areas to pursue, from economics to history or sociology. An experience lawyer may consider becoming a judge or hearing officer. These men and women are normally appointed or elected into their positions, and they preside over courts in a variety of jurisdictions.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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