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How do I Become a Criminal Defense Attorney?

By Cayden Conor
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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A criminal defense attorney handles criminal law cases, including felonies, driving under the influence (DUI), and murder. To become a criminal defense attorney, you will have to complete law school and successfully pass your local or regional bar exam. Most students who are interested in pursuing a career in criminal defense take extensive courses in this area of the law, and may even choose to attend a school with a dedicated program.

Once you decide to become a criminal defense attorney, you have to start the appropriate educational program. When planning your undergraduate schooling, you should choose courses that complement your choice. An undergraduate who plans to become a criminal defense attorney should take political science courses, along with courses related to criminology and psychology, if available.

A student who plans to become a criminal defense attorney can gain great benefit from being able to understand forensics sciences, including DNA testing. Undergraduate science courses, such as biology and chemistry, should be a large part of your curriculum. Most important, make sure the undergraduate school you attend is an accredited school.

During the last year of your undergraduate degree, you must choose a law school. There are many factors to look at when choosing a law school to become a criminal defense attorney, including cost. If you do not have a law school in mind, compare the curriculum of several schools and choose the one that best fits your needs and expectations. In most place, you'll need to take an admissions test before you can attend law school. In the US, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is required for most schools.

Law schools, like undergraduate schools, have a set curriculum, depending on the field you choose. Courses required to become a criminal defense attorney include those on criminal law, evidence, prosecution and defense, and investigation. Make sure you take all of your school's requirements to complete your degree successfully.

Once you graduate from law school, take the bar exam for the state or region where you want to practice. After you pass this exam, you must decide whether you want to work for a law firm, or if you want to be a sole practitioner. If you work for a small firm, you are likely to be exposed to several areas of law, which benefits your work as a criminal defense attorney. If you work for a large firm, you start out on the bottom rung, and usually only work in your field. Working with a firm gives you the benefit of tapping into the knowledge of experienced attorneys, while going right into a sole practice does not afford you this opportunity.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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