Criminal Lawyer: Employment & Career Info

Discover what the job duties of a criminal lawyer are. Learn about education and licensing requirements as well as job outlook and salary to determine if this is the right career for you.

Career Definition for a Criminal Lawyer

Criminal lawyers serve as both an advisor and an advocate for their clients in the process of navigating the criminal court system. Job duties of a criminal lawyer include meeting with clients, interviewing witnesses or complainants, interacting with the police and district attorney or prosecutor, researching case law and appearing in court.

Education Bachelor's degree and law school degree
Job Skills Intuitive, hard-working, flexible, good speaking and writing skills, analytical reasoning
Median Salary (2015)* $115,820 (for all lawyers)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% (for all lawyers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Becoming a criminal lawyer can be a lengthy process. Criminal lawyers need to complete a four-year undergraduate degree and then attend a three-year law school program. Many potential criminal lawyers take courses in criminal justice, law enforcement and law before specializing in criminal law in law school. After completing your education, it is also necessary to pass a written bar exam in order to be licensed to practice law in a specific state; some states also require a written ethics examination.

Required Skills

To be successful as a criminal lawyer, you'll need to be hard-working, intuitive, willing to work long and irregular hours and capable of dealing with stressful and demanding situations. An ability to connect and communicate well with others, express yourself clearly when speaking and writing and create and analyze arguments will serve you well as a criminal lawyer.

Career and Economic Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for all lawyers is expected to grow at a rate of 6% from 2014 to 2024, which is about as fast as the average growth for all careers. In May 2015, the BLS reported a median annual income of $115,820 for lawyers of all areas of law; compensation varies by geographic area and years of experience.

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Alternative Career Options

Similar career options in this field include:


Those who desire a career in law but are intimidated by the extensive educational requirements should consider becoming a paralegal. Paralegals analyze all the facts in a case, research pertinent information, such as laws and related cases, write reports, create and organize legal documents, assemble evidence and file appropriate documents with the court. They also assist lawyers in trial preparations and support them during court appearances.

To work in this profession, earning an associate degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's degree and a paralegal certificate is necessary. Obtaining optional professional certification is also beneficial when seeking employment. As predicted in BLS data, paralegals and legal assistants will see an 8% increase in job opportunities between 2014 and 2024. The median yearly salary for these legal workers is $48,810, as seen in BLS reports from 2015.

Criminal Investigator

For those with an interest in criminal law and bringing the bad guys to justice, a career in criminal investigation could be a good fit. Criminal investigators gather evidence at crime scenes, talk with suspects and witnesses, research records, participate in surveillance activities, arrest suspects and testify in court proceedings. To qualify for employment, a criminal investigator needs a high school diploma and is required to complete a police academy program. Some police departments may also require college courses or a degree in criminal justice or a related field. Most criminal investigators generally begin work as a police officer and are promoted into an investigator position after acquiring on-the-job experience.

In May 2015, the BLS reported that criminal investigators and detectives received an annual median income of $77,210. According to the agency, detective and criminal investigator jobs are expected to decline by 1% between 2014 and 2024.

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