Salary and Career Info for a Criminal Justice Lawyer

A career as a criminal justice lawyer requires significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Criminal justice lawyers may work for local, state or federal government agencies or may be employed by a private law firm or company. The median annual salary reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for all lawyers was $115,820 as of May 2015.

Essential Information

Criminal justice lawyers are licensed professionals who have completed three years of law school and hold a Juris Doctor degree. Criminal justice lawyers work for local, state and federal government agencies or within private law firms or corporations to represent clients who have been accused of a crime.

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

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Criminal Justice Lawyer Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not list wages specific to criminal justice lawyers, but it does report that in 2015, the median wage for lawyers overall was $115,820 a year. According to the BLS, the top four employers of lawyers that year were legal services firms, local governments, state governments and the federal executive branch. The average yearly wages for lawyers employed by these four industries ranged from $86,760 for those employed by state governments to $141,920 for lawyers working in legal services. The BLS predicts that demand for lawyers will increase 6% during the 2014-2024 decade.

Criminal Justice Lawyer Career Information

Criminal justice lawyers work with individuals accused of a crime and represent their cases in criminal court. Much of a criminal lawyer's time is spent with gathering facts, analyzing the information, filing the necessary legal paperwork as it relates to the case and attending hearings. Criminal lawyers can work with cases that range from misdemeanors to high-profile murder cases. Criminal justice lawyers work for local, state or federal agencies as well as private law firms. Many private lawyers do choose to take on local, state and federal appointment cases. Lawyers must be licensed by state boards to practice.

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Educational Requirements

Becoming a criminal justice lawyer requires completing both a bachelor's degree program and a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree program. During undergraduate studies, individuals should consider taking a variety of courses that help develop rhetorical and research skills and legal knowledge, such as history, political science, public policy, writing and communications. As a part of the admissions process into law school, students must submit Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) scores. The LSAT is a 3-part exam that tests reading comprehension, analytical reasoning and logic.

Law degree programs include courses in constitutional law, torts and civil procedures. Students interested in criminal justice can take courses specific to this specialization, including criminal procedures, juvenile justice, evidence or federal criminal law. Many law degree programs also offer clinics, which allow students to participate in criminal justice cases while being supervised by experienced attorneys.

Licensure Requirements

Becoming a licensed criminal justice lawyer requires passing a state bar exam as well as the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). State bar exams can vary depending on the state. The MBE is a 6-hour exam that tests on multiple areas of law. Additionally, law school graduates are required to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), which is an ethical standards test. Once all necessary tests are completed and have received a passing score, the results are sent to the State Supreme Court, which then awards a license to practice law in the state.

The BLS projects that jobs for lawyers will increase by 6% from 2014 to 2024, which is as fast as average when compared to all occupations. Criminal justice lawyers are required to graduate law school after earning a bachelor's degree, and to pass their state bar exam. Those planning to enter the field of criminal justice can tailor their studies to focus on this area of specialization by taking studies in criminal procedures, juvenile justice and criminal law.

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