The defense attorney uses knowledge and courtroom skills as an advocate for the accused. To pursue a career as a defense attorney requires excellent communication and interpersonal skills to gain the trust of clients from very diverse backgrounds.
The defense attorney carries a great deal of responsibility and those entering this career should enjoy working with people. Essentials skills are creativity, perseverance, and reasoning ability as you will handle and analyze unique legal cases.
Defense Attorney Career Requirements
A bachelor’s degree is a requirement for applicants to law school. The undergraduate curriculum should include courses that emphasize spoken and written communication skills, research, analysis, and logical thinking.
The undergraduate major is not as important as acquiring a multidisciplinary background. Students who plan to specialize in one aspect of law are advised to take related undergraduate courses. Aspiring patent lawyers would find a background in engineering or science useful while future tax lawyers will need extensive accounting knowledge.
Defense Lawyer Education and Training
To become a defense attorney requires on average 7 years of full-time study after high school. All law school applicants must have a bachelor’s degree to qualify for admission to law school. This is then followed by 3 years of law school. After graduating from law school, students will need to pass the bar exam of the state in which they will practice before they begin their career.
Law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) require taking the LSAT. At this time, there are about 200 ABA-accredited law schools. Competition for admission to law school is intense and acceptance depends on the aptitude for the study of law the applicant has demonstrated.
Law school applicants are considered through their undergraduate GPA, the quality of the undergraduate institution, work experience, letters of recommendation, personal statement, and the score achieved on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Personal interviews may also be conducted, but that’s an exception to the rule. Competition for acceptance into law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) is intense. The weight placed on each of the qualifiers varies by the admission policies of the school.
When studying for a law degree at an accredited school, the first half of your education is focused on constitutional law, civil procedure, legal writing, and other core components. The last two years of law school allow you to select your area of specialty in law and gain practical experience. Legal clinics and mock court trials help students gain practical experience as do internships with law firms during summer months.
As an attorney you are licensed by the state where you plan to practice. Almost all states require the 6-hour Multistate Bar Examination which covers a broad range of legal issues. In addition, there may also be a locally prepared State bar examination and an ethics exam is required in some states.
The Multistate Performance Test required by some states may be taken at the same time as the bar. This is a one time requirement to test the practical skill levels of a new lawyer. In 2008, most law school graduates were required to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) which focuses on professional responsibility and judicial conduct. The MPRE can also be taken now during law school at accredited schools and is usually offered after completion of ethics courses.
Defense Attorney Salary
The income for a defense attorney will depend on whether the new attorney opens his own practice, is a member of a larger law firm, or joins the legal staff of a large corporation.
An attorney who joins a private law firm to begin his career can earn about $108,500 in his first year. A salaried position in business of government pays approximately half as much but has associated benefits of insurance and retirement plan contributions.
Defense attorneys who initially open their own private practice earn considerably less than those who join firms with established clients.
Defense Attorney Career Opportunities
Most newly licensed attorneys begin working in salary positions. They are often hired in associate positions and will work with experienced lawyers and judges to gain training in courtroom procedures, learn case management, and build research skills.
Others choose public service in salaried positions as public defenders. With experience, it is possible to become a partner in an established firm or to be appointed or elected as a judge at the state or federal level.
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