Medicine and law are the two professions most people think of when asked to name a successful career choice. Of those who choose the legal profession, many find that becoming a criminal lawyer is the most challenging option, as well as the most rewarding. Being a criminal lawyer also opens the path to a number of future career options, which include defending criminals, prosecuting them or even becoming a judge.
Develop good study habits at an early age. The admission exams for most law schools also include a look at your grades going as far back as high school. Poor study habits will reflect negatively on your admission into a top-quality law school. A good general education at the high-school level is sufficient, as long as your grades are good. You may wish to take some extra courses in social studies and public speaking, if they are offered, since this will help you accumulate knowledge and skills that will be useful to you later.
Obtain funding to attend a 4-year university. Grants and student loans are the primary method of funding for most universities. You will need to complete 4 years of college and earn a bachelor's degree before you can apply to law school. It does not particularly matter what course of study your degree is in, although a degree in criminal justice will be most in tune with the career path of becoming a criminal lawyer.
Take the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT. The LSAT is given four times per year at hundreds of locations across North America. The test is divided into five 35-minute sessions, with each designed to test your aptitude for practicing law. The LSAT exam is used as a benchmark by law schools that are members of the LSAC, by most law schools in Canada and by a number of law schools that have not yet been approved by the ABA. Find out when and where the test will be given by following the LSAT link in the Resources section.
Apply to law school. Be prepared to apply to several schools before you are accepted to one. The legal profession is always in demand, and class sizes are limited. Make sure the school you ultimately select is accredited by the American Bar Association. More information about accredited schools can be found on the ABA website, which is listed in the Resources section.
Complete law school. After selecting a school, you will need to complete 3 years of study. At the end of this period, you will have a law degree. In most cases, you still cannot work as an attorney at this stage, but you can gain experience by working as a paralegal in a criminal lawyer's office while you wait to take the bar exam.
Pass the state bar exam. Each state has its own exam. You will need to pass this exam in the state(s) where you intend to practice law. The bar exam is often described as being the hardest test you will ever take, and many people have to take the exam several times before they receive a passing grade. After passing this exam, you will receive a license to practice law, and can begin to practice criminal law in that state.
Spend as much time as you can watching court. Most cases are open to the general public, so there is nothing prohibiting you from watching. This will not only give you a better grasp of the courtroom procedure, but will also familiarise you with the judges in your area, so you will have an idea of what approach will work best in a particular judge's courtroom.