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What is Criminal Law by neilharvey

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									                                              Criminal Law
1. What is criminal law? What does it cover?
Criminal law is a very broad area of the law that encompasses prosecution and defense. Attorneys in
private practice represent defendants charged with crimes, mostly felonies, and work for the public
defender’s office. Attorneys who work for the state prosecute those crimes. Criminal law even covers
collateral issues. For example, sometimes as part of the punishment, the government will forfeit
someone’s property, which includes things like driver’s licenses hearings and administrative hearings. All
cases are not necessarily criminal but may stem from criminal allegations.

2. What does an attorney do who works in criminal law?
Criminal law attorneys spend a lot of time in court, probably more time than most other areas of law, and
take a lot of cases to trial. These attorneys try more cases than any other area of practice. Three quarters of
the practice are in court and the other quarter includes preparing and filing motions. Prosecutors try to put
defendants in jail or try to get money out of them. The goal of a prosecutor is to make the criminal pay for
his or her crime one way or another. Prosecutors enforce and uphold the law and encourage respect for the
law. On the defense side, attorneys try to mitigate the effects of criminal activity and, when someone
admits to doing the crime, they try to make life tolerable for the defendant or try to prove the defendant’s
innocence.

3. What is an average day like for an attorney who practices criminal law?
An average day consists of going to court and handling three to four cases, pre-trial conferences and then
more court cases. Criminal law attorneys will see a lot of the court room compared to other areas of the
law and have the opportunity to travel and see many court rooms all over the state. Criminal law attorneys
also spend a substantial amount of time arguing with judges and juries. Attorneys in private practice also
spend a lot of time doing research, writing motions or preparing for the next court room appearance.

4. What is the average salary for an attorney who practices criminal law?
Working for the government, salary ranges from $40,000-$45,000 and in private practice it starts at
$55,000 and goes up from there. The spectrum in pay varies from earning $40,000 a year as an entry level
prosecutor to $200,000 for attorneys in private practice with a lot of experience. The average is probably
$60,000 a year.

5. Is there currently a demand for criminal law attorneys?
Yes, there is more of a demand than for corporate attorneys. As long as there is crime, there is a need for
criminal law attorneys.

6. Is there more of a demand for criminal law attorneys in one area of the country over another?
Obviously, big cities with a lot of crime like Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Chicago have more of a
demand. The demand follows where the crimes are taking place.

7. How difficult is it for students right out of law school to get a job in criminal law?
 It is moderately difficult unless you graduated in the top ten percent of your class; then it is significantly
easier. It also depends on how much you want to make because it is difficult to get a job that pays more
than $60,000 a year in criminal law. Finding employment is not too difficult if you work in the public
defender’s office or for the government as a prosecutor. Working in criminal law through private practice
is more difficult.

8. In what type of a work situation can an attorney practice criminal law? Big firm? Small firm?
Government work?
Most criminal defense private practices are small law firms with three attorneys or less. Very few big
firms practice criminal law, though attorneys can practice criminal law through government work. Any
government agency, like a public defender’s office, runs similar to a large firm.
                                                             Criminal Law
9. What are the most rewarding things about practicing criminal law?
The amount of trust clients have in their attorneys is very rewarding because the outcome of their lives are
dependant on how well the attorney defends them. It is also rewarding to see justice being done by getting
an acquittal for a defendant who is innocent or seeing through a plea bargain that a client is treated fairly.
Many criminal law attorneys also find it rewarding when their clients are released from prison and the
client can be with their families again. It is also rewarding to defend the constitutional system.

10. What are the most difficult things about practicing criminal law?
Even though this is contradictory, the most difficult thing about practicing criminal law is the
responsibility associated with a client’s trust in an attorney. Also, when someone’s life is on the line it is
difficult for attorneys to leave cases at work and not think about them at home. Living with an injustice
when innocent people are found guilty is also a challenge.

11. For students who are interested in practicing criminal, are there certain undergraduate classes they
should take? Majors that are better? Minors that are better?
Courses in forensic science, public speaking and writing are all very helpful. It is important to focus on
classes that require a lot of writing and speaking. Since criminal law attorneys spend most of their time in
court, it is extremely important to know how to speak clearly to get a point across. English majors are
encouraged because they have a good grasp of the language.

12. For students who are interested in practicing criminal law, would it be better to go to a school that
holds itself out as having a specialty in criminal law or just the best ranked law school the student can get
into?
Getting into the best ranked law school possible is more important than attending a school renowned in
the specialty a student is interested in. Once an attorney has practiced for two or three years, people know
them by the reputation they’ve built and not by the law school they went to; thus the law school an
attorney attended eventually plays a lesser role.

13. For students who are interested in practicing criminal law, are there certain law school classes they
should take?
Moot court, trial advocacy, and advanced evidence classes are all important to take. Classes offered on
federal sentencing and criminal law clinics are excellent opportunities to participate in.

14. For students who are interested in practicing criminal law is there anything else they should do to
prepare themselves for that field of law?
Any experience students can get in the criminal justice system through volunteer work is great. Also,
spending a lot of time in court to see and feel what it is like to stand in front of the pulpit with a judge is
good experience to have.

15. Other Comments
Practicing criminal law is very challenging and it takes a person with the right personality. To do well as a
criminal law attorney, one must believe in what he or she is doing or else it would be really hard to be in
the business.
Information compiled based on interviews with the following attorneys:

           Peter Goodall                                                 Michael Holje
           Thomas M. Cooley 2002                                         University of Utah 2003
           Yengich, Rich & Xiaz                                          Brown, Bradshaw & Moffat LLP
           May 13, 2005                                                  April 27, 2005
Criminal Law

								
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