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Criminal Lawyer: Majors for Aspiring Criminal Lawyers

While no specific undergraduate law degree exists for those who look to become criminal lawyers, criminal justice is a popular undergraduate field of study. Many universities offer pre-law programs as well.

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Essential Information

No specific undergraduate law degree exists for those who wish to become criminal lawyers. Among other choices, criminal justice is a popular major for undergraduate students who wish to become criminal lawyers. In addition, some schools specifically offer undergraduate pre-law programs that are a stepping stone to law school. These programs don't constitute majors per se; students still need to select a major of their choice. A pre-law program often emphasizes coursework in history, political science and criminology.

Students pursuing an undergraduate degree, which can lead to studies in law, must first have a high school diploma or the equivalent.


Pre-Law Program

Many aspiring criminal lawyers complete a pre-law program during their undergraduate studies. Pre-law is not a major; students select a separate major and also register for classes that will prepare them for law school. Students may work with an advisor when selecting pre-law classes. Undergraduate students are encouraged to seek broad-based liberal arts studies to develop skills in writing, oral communication and critical thinking. Those who wish to become criminal lawyers should take courses that address the following topics:

  • Economics
  • Ethics
  • Philosophy of law
  • Public speaking
  • U.S. history
  • Criminology

Criminal Justice Major

Students majoring in criminal justice are exposed to a multidisciplinary program that, in addition to criminal law, covers law enforcement, courts, corrections, criminal behavior and investigations. Those who major in criminal justice can not only pursue careers as criminal lawyers but are also qualified to become parole officers, probation officers, criminal investigators or legal assistants. Some common course topics include:

  • Criminal law
  • Criminal investigation
  • Law enforcement administration
  • Criminology
  • Legal reasoning
  • Research in criminal justice

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Employment growth for all types of lawyers is expected to be 6% between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A lawyer's salary varies depending on a number of factors, including geographical location, employer and area of law practiced. The median yearly salary for lawyers was $115,820 in 2015, according to statistics compiled by the BLS.

Continuing Education Information

Those with an undergraduate degree who wish to become criminal lawyers must earn a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree. Many large and well-known colleges and universities offer full- and part-time J.D. degree programs. In some programs, the first year offers introductory courses in all areas of law. In subsequent years, students take electives in a chosen area of study, one of which is criminal law. Criminal law courses include criminal defense, prosecution, procedures, evidence and white collar crimes.

Students interested in a career in criminal law may want to pursue and undergraduate major that includes a pre-law curriculum. Additional schooling is required, specifically earning a Juris Doctorate, in order to practice criminal law.

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