How to Become a Successful Criminal Defense Attorney

Have you decided that you want to stand up in court and defend clients who have been accused of breaking the law? Criminal defense lawyers are an essential component of the American criminal justice system. Making the decision to advocate for the rights and futures of criminal defendants is an important initial step on the road toward becoming a successful criminal defense attorney. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you work hard to make a name for yourself as a criminal defense lawyer.

Take Advantage of Criminal Law Courses

Law schools often require first-year students to take at least one criminal law course. Use this course as an opportunity to determine if criminal law is right for you. If you think that you may want to practice criminal law research other criminal law classes that may be offered by your school. Many schools offer courses in state criminal law, federal criminal law, race and crime, white-collar crime, and criminal procedure. Immerse yourself in these classes, get to know your criminal law professors, and focus on learning the skills that are essential in the field.

Focus on Legal Writing & Critical Thinking

Criminal defense attorneys spend a lot of time researching cases, combing through statutes, and analyzing the law. Research, writing, and critical thinking skills will be invaluable when you practice as a criminal defense attorney. If your law school offers legal writing, legal research, and/or critical thinking courses – take them. Participate in clubs and groups that sharpen your analytical skills. Participate in research contests. If you are chosen for law review, work as hard as you can to become a more persuasive writer. If you aren’t chosen for law review, reach out to journals and publications to sharpen your skills.

Intern in the Field of Criminal Law

While the education you get in law school will help to provide a solid foundation for your legal career, nothing can beat real life experience. Take advantage of internship opportunities with local judges, prosecutors, and criminal defense attorneys. You may feel like you should stick to internships that focus strictly on defending criminal clients. However, getting experience on the other side of the coin as a prosecutor can be invaluable. The better you understand criminal law as a whole, the better you can defend your clients. An internship can allow you to get hands-on experience in various areas of criminal law without committing to a single practice.

Decide If You Want to Focus on One Area of Criminal Law

There are thousands of state and federal crimes on the books across the country. Some criminal defense attorneys will take any criminal case that comes through the door. Others will decide to focus their legal practices more narrowly, and only handle certain types of criminal cases.

If a particular area of criminal law is particularly interesting to you, you may want to consider becoming well-versed in the laws and procedures of that specific area. Attorneys who focus on one area of the law tend to be sought after.

You may decide that you want to be a jack-of-all-trades and practice criminal law broadly. This can allow you to dabble in many different areas of the law, have a broad base of knowledge, and help a wide range of people.

Speak With Practicing Criminal Defense Attorneys

One of the best ways to learn about working in criminal law is by speaking with practicing criminal defense attorneys. These attorneys can shed light on what they like about their job, what they dislike about their job, and what they wish they had done differently in preparation. You can take their answers and learn from their victories and mistakes. Use this information as you search for your first job as a criminal defense attorney after law school.

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