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What is a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

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A criminal defense lawyer defends clients who are charged with committing crimes in court. You would call a criminal defense lawyer if you or your family member was accused of a crime and you needed legal counsel. The criminal defense attorney would advise you about what to do before and after the arrest, arraignment and trial. Often times, it’s best to choose a criminal defense lawyer who is familiar with that court system and area. If you can’t afford an attorney, then the court will assign you a public defender, or a government paid criminal defense lawyer.


Most criminal defense attorneys pick a specialty within the area of criminal law, like securities law, DUI/DWIs or domestic violence. They may also have specific expertise with certain courts like juvenile, federal, state or military courts. Some criminal defense lawyers may also have the expertise to represent you in appellate court, depending on the attorney’s experience. Criminal defense lawyers often work as solo practitioners, but sometimes work as a small group or a large law firm.

Despite the public perception that a public defender is a thankless job, many attorneys start with little experience out of law school. However, after several solid years of experience, they eventually move up the ranks in the public system hierarchy or start a private practice. The connections they make working as a public defender often come in handy when they need to make a deal with the police or a prosecutor.


Criminal defense attorneys often negotiate on behalf of their clients, both pre and post trial, with the police or the prosecutors to make a deal on charges or penalties. These lawyers and their staff prepare all the paperwork, decide the strategy for defense, review all evidence, conduct legal research, and order new tests for DNA and other evidence. They must also interview witnesses and police, find defense experts for trial, prepare the defense witnesses, prepare the client for questioning, give convincing arguments to the jury, and act as your legal counsel at trial. If you lose your case, criminal defense attorneys can then file writs or appeals, if necessary.


Unlike other law fields, the growth in criminal defense law doesn’t seem to stop. New law graduates join the profession every year, so the competition is still intense, but less so than civil law. Criminal defense law is a profession where book knowledge is important, but real life understanding of how a particular court and its staff operate maybe equally as valuable. A criminal defense lawyer is a job that is necessary for the US judicial system to run properly. When governments put lawyers on the payroll, they rarely get rid of the position unless there are major budget shortfalls.


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