Skills needed to be a criminal lawyer

Updated April 17, 2017

Criminal lawyers deal with laws involving crime and may serve on the side of prosecution teams that attempt to prove a defendant's guilt or as defence attorneys protecting the rights and advocating in favour of the defendant. To become a lawyer of any kind, you usually need an undergraduate degree and a law degree and must obtain a license, through your state, from the American Bar Association. Beyond the technical requirements, though, criminal lawyers should possess certain skills and aptitudes to be effective.


A criminal lawyer needs strong communication skills. At an interpersonal level, defence lawyers must communicate with clients and prosecutors with crime victims in a way that promotes trust. "Individuals planning careers in law should like to work with people and be able to win the respect and confidence of their clients, associates, and the public," suggests the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Written communication skills are also a must for criminal lawyers. Among other areas where writing skills come into play, criminal lawyers must synthesise their research into legal issues affecting their cases into legal briefs. (See Reference 4)


Because of the amount of legal and investigative research a career in criminal law demands, criminal lawyers must be highly organised so that information is where they need it, when they need it. Moreover, criminal lawyers often work on more than one case at a time and must be present for hearings, interviews, conferences and trials in a variety of locations, making time management a necessity. Though a criminal lawyer may delegate research and other duties to subordinates, the lawyer is ultimately responsible for keeping all the work in order.

Critical Thinking

Criminal lawyers apply critical thinking skills to their research on legal matters and the facts of each case. Reason must often supersede a criminal lawyer's personal feelings or opinions. Defense lawyers and prosecutors must, for example, use objective, impartial critical thinking to "defend or prosecute an accused person to the best of their ability, regardless of their opinion as to the person's guilt," according to the Guide to Online Schools website.

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About the Author

Scott Roberts studied communications at the University of Southern Indiana and has written for local newspapers throughout his adult life. He has created articles for more than 70 international clients. An accomplished artist, he has illustrated and written cartoons for newspapers and He lives in Southwest Michigan.