What does a Criminal Law Lawyer do?

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  • Written By: Charity Delich
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 February 2020
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A criminal law lawyer may either represent a person who has been accused of a crime or the government in prosecuting the accused. In a typical criminal case, a defense lawyer represents the defendant while an opposing attorney, called a prosecutor, stands in for the government. A lawyer who practices defense law can wear a number of different hats – from defending a person against a speeding ticket charge to advocating for an alleged criminal during a murder trial. Prosecutors, on the other hand, are responsible for representing the government in cases like a speeding charge or murder trial.

A criminal law lawyer can work for the government or a private law firm, or as a solo practitioner. Criminal defense attorneys who are hired by the government to represent defendants are often called public defenders. In some countries, a public defender is provided to a defendant, who cannot afford to hire an attorney, at no charge.

One of the primary tasks of this type of lawyer is to advocate for his or her clients. In order to effectively do this, an attorney may need to put aside his or her personal opinion about a case. For example, a criminal defense attorney must sincerely champion his or her client's cause regardless of whether the attorney actually thinks the client is guilty or innocent.


A criminal law lawyer frequently makes appearances in court. In addition to spending time at trial, he or she may make a number of other court appearances on behalf of clients. For instance, these lawyers may need to appear at bail hearings or other administrative hearings.

Aside from appearing in court, a criminal law lawyer performs a number of other tasks. For instance, he or she usually spends a good deal of time interviewing their clients prior to hearings or trials. If a prosecutor offers a defendant a plea bargain, a defense lawyer is responsible for discussing the deal with the defendant. During this meeting, the defense attorney usually advises the defendant on whether or not to agree to the plea bargain and explains any potential legal implications.

A criminal law lawyer frequently conducts legal research in order to find case law or statutory interpretations that will help bolster his or her client’s case. Taking depositions or statements from witnesses is another key aspect of a criminal attorney’s job. Additionally, the attorney may hire investigators to look into certain components of a case, and will be responsible for interpreting and analyzing any evidence found by the investigator. Criminal attorneys may also hire expert witnesses to support the defendant’s case.


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Post 1

Criminal lawyer? Isn't that a redundant term?

All kidding aside, the main job of a defense attorney seems to be to make the state prove its case. Here's the thing about the criminal justice system -- in a jurisdiction with an effective prosecutor's office and solid police force, the accused is guilty as can be about 95 percent of the time. In those situations, all a defense attorney can do is make sure his or her client receives a fair trial and that justice is done.

Anyone interested in going into criminal law should take a hard look at being a deputy prosecutor. Those who like law and order and crusading for justice would be better off prosecuting criminals than defending them.

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