How to become a criminal defense lawyer

How to become a criminal defense lawyer

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Criminal defense lawyers are responsible for defending people charged with misdemeanors or serious felonies. Their work involves carrying out research on cases, representing their clients in court and negotiating deals with the prosecution with regard to punishments among many other duties aimed at defending the interest of their clients in court and secure their freedom or get them lesser sentences. To qualify as a criminal defense lawyer, they are usually required to undergo relevant training before they can be allowed to practice.


The first step to becoming a criminal defense lawyer is to get an undergraduate degree after basic education. The undergraduate degree takes about 4 years in a college or university. Some schools also offer pre-law curriculums which can help individuals who desire a career in law. Though there are no specific courses that they have to take, it may be of benefit for individuals with an interest in becoming criminal lawyers to take classes in history, government, sociology and public speaking among other that make a potential law school candidate well rounded. Obtaining good grades is also important.

After successful completion of undergraduate studies and obtaining the degree, the next step is to get into law school. Enrollment into law school usually requires one to pass the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). Other requirements for admission may include some work experience and letters of recommendation. The law school must be recognized by the state bar authority or American Bar Association.

Those who successfully get into law school have to complete training that combines specialization courses in criminal law and other core courses that adequately prepares them for criminal defense career. The program takes 3 years and includes practical experience. Many law school programs also require internships. The program generally includes criminal law writing and research, evidence, litigation strategies and ethics in law. Successful completion of law school education earns graduates  a Juris Doctor (J.D.) qualifying them to take the state bar exam; which then earns them the license to legally practice criminal law within that state.

Education for criminal defense lawyers doesn’t stop when they gain licensure. In some states, the lawyers are required to pursue further education that keeps the updated on new developments in their legal field.

Gaining experience in criminal defense law

Law schools usually offer clinical programs that give criminal defense law students the chance to work in the law schools’ legal clinics; offering supervised free legal service and advice to other students. Other options for gaining experience while still in law school include internships in which the students work in a law firm with experienced lawyers or professors of law; or working as part-time research assistants and law clerks.

Once fully qualified and licensed, criminal defense lawyers can go on to work as employees in established law firm or choose to go solo and start their own criminal law practice. Note that besides passing the bar exam, a background check and character evaluation may also be a requirement for becoming a criminal defense lawyer.

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