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Defense Attorney: Duties, Outlook and Requirements

A defense attorney requires several years of graduate education and training. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and other requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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A defense attorney's job is to represent and fight for their client's case in court. They explain to the client what legal options are available as per their situation. Job growth for lawyers is about average, and employment competition is fierce.

Essential Information

Defense attorneys are lawyers who specialize in representing people on trial for crimes they allegedly committed. The defense attorney provides a case for his or her client against the prosecution attorneys. Defense attorneys need a law degree and must pass the bar exam in the state they wish to practice in.

Required Education Law degree
Other Requirements Pass bar exam
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for all lawyers
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $115,820 for all lawyers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Defense Attorney Duties

One of the largest aspects of a defense attorney's job is that of criminal defense. First, the defense attorney meets with a client; the court may have appointed the attorney to this client, or the client may have hired the attorney privately. After meeting the client and hearing an explanation of his or her situation, the defense attorney explains the legal options, which often include going to trial or making a plea agreement.

If the case goes to court, the defense attorney is responsible for presenting evidence that will acquit his or her client. Should the client be found guilty, the defense attorney often handles an appeal, if the client wishes to appeal the decision. If the client decides to make a plea instead of going to court, the defense attorney is responsible for helping to obtain the fairest possible terms.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the outlook for lawyers in general was on par with the average American occupation. While employment growth was expected to be 6% between 2014 and 2024, attaining a job as a lawyer is very competitive. The BLS also says that much of the growth in the employment of lawyers stems from the demand for legal services from government, individuals and businesses. However, growth may be affected when businesses turn to other sources for legal tasks.

Education Requirements

The first credential an aspiring defense attorney must earn is a bachelor's degree from a 4-year accredited university. Pre-law programs are available at many schools throughout the United States, though a major in pre-law is not required to become a lawyer of any sort. Other appropriate majors for prospective attorneys include political science, history and even accounting.

After earning a bachelor's degree, the potential defense attorney must take the written Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which is required for entering law school. The student must earn a score that meets the standards of the school to which he or she wishes to apply.

Law school often takes three years of full-time study. During this time, the student may choose criminal defense as his or her specialization. Some required course topics may include criminal law, Constitutional law and civil procedure. Upon graduation, the student earns a Juris Doctor (J.D.) and must then take and pass his or her state's bar exam to qualify for law practice.

Defense attorneys meet with clients, go over their case, provide them with options they can take, and then represent them in court. All attorneys must complete a 4-year bachelor's program and law school, then pass the bar exam to become licensed.

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