Criminal law is the body of law that defines criminal behavior and regulates punishment for offenders. It involves a system of legal rules that are in place to deter wrongful conduct and protect society. The statutes are enacted by both state and federal legislation making it a complex area of the law. Individuals who violate these laws face serious consequences, and often require the assistance of a criminal lawyer. Read on to learn more about criminal lawyers.
What Does a Criminal Lawyer Do?
Criminal law makes certain behaviors illegal and each state outlines the conduct that is considered a crime. Each state also sets the punishment for these crimes, which can range in severity from minor fines and community service to prison or even the death penalty. A crime falls into one of two categories: misdemeanor or felony.
Misdemeanors are minor crimes which can result in a fine or less than a year imprisonment. Common crimes in this category include:
- Petty theft
- Disorderly Conduct
Felonies are more serious, and offenders can face more than a year in prison or the death penalty depending on the severity. Crimes that are considered felonies include:
- Aggravated Assault
Regardless of the crime a person is charged with, they are afforded the right to counsel by the Sixth Amendment in the U. S. Constitution. If a person facing criminal charges is unable to afford an attorney, the court will appoint one to represent them.
A criminal defense lawyer has many duties including helping clients understand criminal law. They take a deep look at the case to help develop the best defense for their client. After deciding on the defense, they gather evidence, file motions, and attend court hearings. Criminal lawyers also ensure their client’s constitutional rights are not violated anytime during the criminal process.
Criminal lawyers working as prosecutors or district attorneys are tasked with presenting evidence and pursuing prosecution on behalf of the government. They sometimes collaborate with criminal defense attorneys to offer the defendant a plea bargain, which is an agreement between the prosecutor and defendant, in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence or dropped charges.
Professional Requirements to Become a Criminal Lawyer
A criminal lawyer is a licensed attorney and obtaining a license requires you to first receive a bachelor’s degree, and then a Juris Doctorate degree (J.D.). There is no single field of study required for admission to law school, but common undergraduate majors for prelaw students include political science, English, and Business. After you receive your bachelor’s degree, you must pass the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), as your score is one factor law schools rely on when making admission decisions.
Law school is a three-year program that entails one year studying basic law and the following two years concentrating on a specific area or the law. After graduating law school, you must take the bar exam in the state in which you intend to practice. If you wish to practice in more than one, you will be required to take the bar exam in each of those states.
Additional Education and Experience
A Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree is available for law school graduates. This internationally recognized program gives you a more in-depth look at criminal law.
Additional Licensing Requirements
The specific additional licensing requirements to practice law varies by state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost all states mandate that lawyers complete continuing education courses on a regular basis — usually every one to three years. This keeps them up-to-date on new laws, current case precedent, and issues in their practice area.
Where Can You Work as a Criminal Lawyer
Most criminal lawyers work in law firms or private practices, with those employed by larger firms generally earning the highest salaries. Some also work for the government as public defenders, prosecutors, and district attorneys. Another option is working for a non-profit organization to represent low-income clients unable to hire counsel on their own.
While they spend a good amount of time in an office, criminal defense attorneys also meet with clients at the courthouse, prison, and other settings. Because they often handle more than once case at once, it is not uncommon for these legal professionals to work long, irregular hours.
How do Criminal Lawyers Get Paid
The cost of hiring a criminal lawyer will vary depending on several factors, including the attorney’s expertise, reputation, and geographical location as well as the severity of the charges. Most attorneys charge more for felony cases as the punishments are more severe and usually require more court appearances.
Typically, criminal defense lawyers charge an hourly rate, since it is hard to predict how many hours they will spend on the case. Other lawyers may charge a flat rate for a particular charge – a DUI, for instance, – and in this instance, the fee remains the same regardless of how long it takes to resolve the case.
Depending on the arrangement, some lawyers allow clients to get on a payment plan while others require a retainer. A retainer is a fee paid upfront that acts as a deposit of sorts, and the lawyer uses this as he works on the case.
It is vital to discuss the fees and the arrangements with the attorney before signing a contract. Also, be sure to ask the lawyer what is and is not included in the fees. If you are unable to afford an attorney, you may be eligible for a public defender. If you cannot hire a criminal lawyer due to financial reasons, contact a public defender in your area.
Family Criminal Lawyers Salary
The median wage for attorneys is $119,250 annually ($57.33/hr) as of 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook. However, the BLS does not distinguish between fields of practice, so this accounts for all licensed lawyers.
In general, experienced criminal lawyers working in larger firms or with wealthy, well-known clients fall at the higher end of the spectrum. Some lawyers with seniority and expertise may make $200,000 per year or more.
Employment Outlook for Criminal Lawyers
The employment rate for lawyers is expected to grow at a rate of 8% between 2016 and 2026. This rate is the average for all U. S. occupations. Competition for jobs in the legal field is expected to remain strong as more students graduate law school than jobs become available.
Hiring a Criminal Lawyer
If you have been charged with a crime, no matter how minor, you can face serious penalties and consequences including jail time, community service, probation, and steep fines. While some people choose to represent themselves throughout the legal process, the right criminal lawyer can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case. Because they know the ins and outs of the law, they can assess your case and evaluate your chances of beating the charges. They can also help you understand the criminal justice process and ensure your rights are protected.
If you’ve decided to hire an attorney, it is essential to find one that is best for your individual case. Since crimes range from misdemeanors to felonies, the right criminal lawyer will have the necessary skill level needed to defend your case. For example, if you are charged with a felony, the attorney should have experience with crime scene investigations, evidence, and police/witness interviews. Your lawyer should also be familiar with the state and local courts.
When you find a potential criminal lawyer, you should set up a consultation, which is often free of charge. This introductory meeting gives you the opportunity to inquire about the attorney’s experience, expertise, and legal fees.
How to Find the Right Criminal Lawyer
Finding the right criminal lawyer can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. You can save yourself some time and worry if you know where to start your search. The most reliable way to find an attorney is asking family and friends if they know of or have used a criminal defense lawyer that they would recommended. If you know a lawyer that practices in another subject area, you can also ask them for a recommendation.
Another option is searching an attorney database. There are several databases available that let you search by practice area or location. Some even provide information about the lawyers, including experience, case examples, and disciplinary records. Also, the American Bar Association website will direct you to licensed attorneys in your state.
You should feel comfortable enough with your criminal lawyer that you can speak openly about your charges and your concerns regarding your case. It may take meeting with more than one attorney before you find the one that is the best fit.
|Degree Level||Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) in law is optional|
|License/Certification||Licensure in state of practice|
|Key Skills||Time management, oral discussion, negotiation, debate, observant, effective communication, able to handle highly stressful situations|
|Number of Jobs (2016)||792,500|
|8% growth rate (average growth rate)|
|Median Salary (2017)||$119,250*|
|On the Job Training||Moderate term of on-the-job training|
|Top Earners||Top earners in the bankruptcy field are generally employed by large family law firms|
(*Source: the BLS)