If you ask people to describe what lawyers do, they would most likely tell you a description that’s similar to what a criminal defense lawyer does. No surprise, considering that TV shows and movies almost always depict lawyers as those who represent criminals and/or their victims in courts. However, what pop culture doesn’t portray properly is the fact that there is more to criminal law than what meets the eye.
What is a Criminal Lawyer’s Job Description
Criminal defense lawyers and justice attorneys are the same, especially when asking what does a criminal lawyer do. These type of lawyers are specialists when it comes to defending people or companies that have been taken to court for criminal charges. Criminal justice lawyers can either have their own private practices or be employed by the state’s criminal courts and are appointed to those who can’t afford to retain a lawyer for their defense—the latter ones are called public defenders.
If you’re planning on practicing in the United States, you have to be prepared and deal with circumstances regarding arrests, investigations, charges, appeals, etc. Most criminal defence lawyers have their own “specialization” such as murder defense or drug defense. You can also serve as someone’s legal counsel even before they are arrested or charged with anything, given that they already have a belief that they’re going to be investigated in the near future.
Criminal Lawyer Salary
The average salary for these justice attorneys are around $78,500. On the other hand, it can still go as high as $130,000 or as low as $45,000.
Who are some well-known top paid criminal law lawyers that I should know about?
There are several notable criminal defense lawyer salary that have been put into limelight because of the cases that they’ve handled, as their clients are almost always celebrities facing charges that range from DUI to murder, putting them on the short list when asking how much does a criminal lawyer make.
- Johnnie Cochran – Best known as the head defense attorney for OJ Simpson during the trials for the murder of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. He succeeded in acquitting Simpson from the murders. Some of his clients included Rosa Parks, Michael Jackson, and Tupac Shakur. Most of his successful cases involved civil rights suits and police brutality cases.
- Anne Bremner – Bremner is a Seattle-based attorney that has handled several high profile cases involving people such as Mary Kay Letourneau, Amanda Knox, and Rebecca Zahau.
- Shawn Holley Chapman – Chapman is well known for representing A-list starlets like Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and the Kardashian sisters. She has worked with Johnnie Cochran for previous cases.
- Robert Shapiro – He is dubbed as a “celebrity lawyer” because of his clients. He was part of OJ Simpson’s defense team, which was headed by Johnnie Cochran, landing him on top of the criminal justice lawyer salary charts. Interestingly, he is also one of the co-founders of LegalZoom.
How to Become a Criminal Lawyer
- A Bachelor’s degree – There’s no pre-requisite for what kind of degree you have before you become a criminal defense attorney. So long as your grades meet the requirements of your target law school, you’re good to go.
- A Juris Doctor – During your years at law school, you would need to take up specialty courses such as criminal law, legal research and writing, torts, constitutional law, etc. By your last few semesters, you get the freedom to choose classes that are closely related to your chosen path of becoming a criminal lawyer.
- License – As per usual, prior to practicing your profession, you need to pass the bar exam and obtain a license in your chosen state.
Criminal Law Schools
Are there any schools or degrees that can be recommended for those interested to become criminal defense attorneys?
There are a number of top criminal law schools in the United States that offer programs with specialization in criminal law. However, two of them that stand out the most are: Harvard Law School and Stanford Law School.
- Harvard Law School (Cambridge, MA) – Harvard Law School has it’s own Criminal Justice Institute that serves as a study program for their law students who would like to pursue a career in criminal law. This program tackles all aspects of criminal justice (both local and global) as well as public policy. They give third-year students the opportunity to have first-hand experience in handling real cases with the supervision of their faculty members. Annual tuition – $49,950
- Stanford Law School (Stanford, CA) – Stanford Law School almost always goes head to head against Harvard Law when it comes to the ranking of best criminal law schools in the country. However, there’s no denying that both have exceptional programs for criminal law. Their third year students can attend classes such as sentencing and correction, juvenile crime, and investigation at the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. They can also put their knowledge into practice at the Mills Legal Clinic. Annul tuition – $48,870
You can obtain a criminal law degree from either one of these settler institutions.