What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do?

The crux of the criminal defense lawyer job description is to effectively represent in court those charged with crimes. Whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony, the Constitution of the United States guarantees that all citizens charged with crimes be provided with representation. In providing representation, the criminal defense attorney works closely with the client to develop a strategy that will result in a determination that the client did not commit the offense. Or if the client pleads guilty or is determined to be guilty by a judge or jury, the criminal defense attorney will seek to minimize the client’s punishment.

So what does a criminal defense attorney do on a typical workday? There are four activities that consume most of a criminal defense attorney’s time: meeting with clients, preparing court filings, negotiating with the prosecution, and going to court. On a typical day a criminal defense attorney will meet with his or her client, often at the jail where the client is being held while awaiting trial. The attorney will discuss the specifics of the case with the client to get information to help build a defense to the charge(s). The criminal defense lawyer will use this information in the various motions and pleadings he or she will have to draft on the client’s behalf, during plea negotiations, and during the trial.

A criminal defense lawyer’s typical day is often consumed with preparing the paperwork related to the case. For most criminal cases, particularly complex cases where the charge carries a significant penalty, the criminal defense attorney will draft and file many motions and pleadings. The defense attorney must also respond to motions and pleadings filed by the prosecution. Oftentimes a motion will require a trip to court to argue its merits before the presiding judge.

Throughout the process, even as the criminal defense attorney is preparing a case for trial, he or she will meet with the prosecutor to negotiate a plea bargain on behalf of the client to have the criminal charges reduced in exchange for the client’s guilty plea. Should the case ultimately go to trial, a criminal defense attorney’s time will be consumed preparing both documents for the trial and working on the arguments that he or she will make in court.

In addition to first year Criminal Law and Constitutional Law classes, law students should take related elective classes to prepare for a fast-paced, exciting career as a criminal defense attorney. Helpful courses include Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Criminal Litigation, Sentencing, Prison Law, as well as the many crime-specific electives that vary widely from law school to law school. Students should also consider participating in criminal law clinical programs now prevalent in law schools as they are valuable in helping prepare for the field.



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