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What is a Criminal Justice Lawyer?

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A career as a criminal justice lawyer requires extensive training and education. Most criminal justice lawyers either work as criminal prosecutors or as criminal defense attorneys.

Education and Training

An aspiring criminal justice lawyer must first get a bachelor's degree. To get into law school, an applicant should have good LSAT scores, quality undergraduate coursework and a good interview. It's important to pick a high quality law school that offers a comprehensive program in criminal law.

Law students should attend moot court competitions and practice trials, as well as work on the law journal. Law students should develop excellent speaking, debating, writing and researching skills. Many law schools run clinical training programs along with summer clerkships. Students can work on practice trials/projects for legal aid offices, public defender's offices, government agencies and private law firms

After obtaining a JD, a law graduate will study for the bar exam. Passing this exam allows the law graduate to be licensed, or admitted to the bar, of the state's highest court. Some lawyers who practice in multiple states may take a longer multistate bar exam. For federal courts and agencies, a different set of qualifications must be met.

Criminal Prosecutor

One kind of criminal justice lawyer is a prosecutor. In a criminal trial, the prosecutor makes the decision whether or not file criminal charges against a defendant. A prosecutor must fully research the case and decide if the evidence is strong enough to support a trial or whether it is better to make a plea bargain with the defense attorney. The burden of proof is on the prosecutor, since the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. In addition doing research, interviewing witnesses, examining evidence, a prosecutor must present the case to the jury in the most persuasive way possible. The prosecuting attorney must also make connections and keep civil relations with the judge, courtroom staff, and the defense team.

Criminal Defense Lawyer

A criminal defense lawyer is another type of criminal justice lawyer. In a criminal trial, the defense attorney provides the defendant with legal counsel. If a defendant can't afford legal counsel, then a public defender is appointed. A public defender is a government-paid criminal defense lawyer. A criminal defense attorney must develop a comprehensive defense strategy to counteract the prosecutor's case. When necessary, the lawyer must advise his client when to accept a plea bargain and when to go to trial. A criminal justice defense lawyer must review all evidence and legal research, interview witnesses and prepare the defense experts. The defense lawyer's ultimate goal is establish “reasonable doubt” in the prosecutor's case so the jury will find the defendant not guilty.

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