Salary and Career Info for a Defense Lawyer

Defense lawyers require 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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Clients depend on defense lawyers to argue their case in court. They perform a great deal of legal research and other duties pertaining to each case. Defense lawyers must complete college, earn a law degree, and pass a bar exam to become licensed so that may practice law, either for a firm or independently.

Essential Information

Defense lawyers represent, defend and advise clients in a variety of legal matters, including criminal cases and civil suits. They can be found working in private practices, law firms and in various sectors of government. Lawyers must complete an undergraduate degree program as well as a 3-year Juris Doctor (J.D.) program and earn state licensure.

Required Education J.D. from an accredited law school
Other Requirements State license
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for all lawyers
Average Annual Salary (2015)* $136,260 for all lawyers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary Information for Defense Lawyers

Salary ranges for defense lawyers can vary significantly depending on where they are employed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean 2015 annual salary for lawyers employed by state and federal government were $86,760 and $134,400, respectively ( The average annual salary for lawyers in general that year was $136,260, as reported by the BLS.

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Career Information for Defense Lawyers

Defense lawyers can be found in government or private practice providing their clients with legal advice and defense in court cases and civil litigation. Criminal defense attorneys specialize in defending people who have been charged with crimes, while public defenders are appointed to represent clients who cannot afford to hire an attorney. Besides arguing the defendant's case in court, defense lawyers also spend a significant amount of time outside of court conducting legal research, interviewing clients and locating witnesses.

Education Requirements

Generally, defense lawyers must successfully complete about seven years of postsecondary education; four years to earn a bachelor's degree and then three years to complete law school and earn a law degree. Students must pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) before being admitted to law school and pass the state bar exam after graduating from law school to earn a license to practice law.

Career Outlook

According to the BLS, overall employment of lawyers is projected to increase by 6% from 2014 to 2024, which is about as fast as the national average for all jobs ( Competition for employment is expected to be intense due to the large of number students steadily graduating from law school. In addition, budgetary considerations may affect job growth for government-employed attorneys.

Lawyers willing to relocate may find more opportunities, though working in a new state may require lawyers to take that state's bar exam in addition to any they've already passed.

Defense lawyers can work for various agencies, or be self-employed, hired directly by clients or designated as public defenders. These professionals go through extensive schooling and other requirements to become lawyers. Once the process is complete, they could earn salaries of around $136,000.

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