Criminal Lawyer Qualifications

A criminal lawyer is one that specialises in criminal law and the defence of criminals. A criminal lawyer can serve as a private attorney, a public defender or as a specialist in the field providing expert knowledge and advice. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most criminal lawyers are in private practice. The average annual salary for a lawyer in private practice is £70,525 as of 2007, according to the BLS. There are a number of qualifications that must be obtained for a career as a criminal lawyer.


Criminal lawyer's educational qualifications begin by obtaining a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree is obtained after the successful completion of 4 years of undergraduate study. Although there is no recommended "pre-law" undergraduate major, a student intending to become a criminal lawyer should major in a related field as an undergraduate. Classes that strengthen the skills necessary to be a criminal lawyer include writing and public speaking as well as government, politics and history. Criminal justice is a popular choice for undergraduates heading for this career choice.

After obtaining a bachelor's degree, a student must pursue a law degree by going on to three years of law school. Law schools are notoriously hard to get into. You must be accepted by the law school which bases its decision on factors like undergraduate grades, work experience and your score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The first year of law school is spent in intensive study of the core courses in law, such as torts, contracts law, civil procedures and constitutional law. The next two years are geared to give attention and work-related experience to a specific field of specialisation, such as criminal law. Students conduct mock trials and participate in moot trial competitions to strengthen their knowledge of criminal law.


In order to practice law in any state in the U.S., a potential criminal lawyer must pass the state bar exam in the state of intended practice to obtain her law license. No one may take the bar exam who has not obtained a bachelor's degree and successfully completed three years of law school. All states except Louisiana and Washington require a passing grade on the six-hour Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) as well as the three-hour Multistate Essay Exam (MEE). Louisiana and Washington require the MEE as well as their locally prepared state bar exam. Some states require the successful passing of a Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). Requirements vary from state to state and are subject to change.

Personal Qualifications

The practice of criminal law takes a person with particular personality traits. Leadership, responsibility and morality are high on the list. Potential criminal lawyers should enjoy working with others. Criminal lawyers work with other people everyday as liaisons between the government and the client. Potential criminal lawyers also must possess an innate ability to speak and lead with authority and confidence. Stamina and creativity are also essential. These traits are important when involved with cases concerning new legal precedents and unique problems.

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About the Author

Kelly Banaski-Sons has been a writer since 1991. Her work has been seen in print publications like "The Sacramento Bee," "PREP Magazine," "The Manchester Times" and on websites like Divorce360 and AOL. She is a featured expert for and other websites. She has a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice from Kaplan University.