Job Description for a Criminal Lawyer

Lawyers must obtain advanced degrees and pass the bar exam to assist their clients.
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Lawyers must obtain advanced degrees and pass the bar exam to assist their clients.

A criminal lawyer does more than argue in front of a judge as you may see on television. Criminal defense lawyers research and present cases on behalf of their accused client who. According to the U.S. criminal justice system everyone is guaranteed a trial by jury and presumed innocent until proven guilty. Criminal cases range from theft and fraud to violent and drug crimes.

Advise Clients

A criminal lawyer has direct contact with a defendant and must work with that person to explain his involvement in the situation and how court proceedings will go. A defense lawyer also must explain and interpret the nature of the accused's crime, the laws surrounding it and what the potential outcomes are in regards to jail time, fines or other penalties. As the voice of a client, the lawyer has the power to negotiate plea bargains if applicable.

Conduct Research

A criminal defense lawyer researches a case to adequately argue for a client's innocence. This work involves interviewing witnesses and reviewing police reports, statements and any evidence that the prosecution may use to try to bring a conviction. The lawyer must know the crime codes and procedural law to properly understand the case before going to court.

Argue a Case

A criminal lawyer will argue to the judge and jury the innocence of his client. This process may involve calling witnesses, having expert testimony and presenting evidence. A criminal defense lawyer may also represent a client before government bodies and agencies in procedural hearings, speaking on the behalf of the client.

Career Path

Often, criminal lawyers start off as public defenders working with the state and being assigned clients who cannot afford a lawyer. The experience gained in the courtroom is a start towards moving into one's own practice or joining a law firm. As an appointed public attorney, you are required by law to represent your client to your fullest ability despite personal opinions of their guilt or innocence.

Pay and Job Outlook

In 2010, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics found the median pay for a lawyer to be $112,760 yearly and job outlook to be on par with most professions. Your final income can vary greatly, though, depending on if you are a public defender or a solo practice lawyer, for instance, and the amount of pro bono work you do.

2016 Salary Information for Lawyers

Lawyers earned a median annual salary of $118,160 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, lawyers earned a 25th percentile salary of $77,580, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $176,580, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 792,500 people were employed in the U.S. as lawyers.

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