Pros and Cons of Being a Criminal Lawyer


Pros and Cons of Being a Criminal Lawyer


There are many pros and many cons of being a criminal lawyer. Let’s dive straight in with the pros first.


Pros of Being a Criminal Lawyer


Reason #1 – Being a Criminal Lawyer is a Dignified Endeavor

In a civilized society, the work of a criminal lawyer is extremely important. Even in so far as in the eyes of the founding fathers of the United States of America, the work of a criminal defense lawyer has been recorded in the Sixth Amendment of the Bill of Rights and says:  “to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

Among the nation’s most admirable we have a number of criminal defense attorneys, those that were more than willing to defend the rights of individuals against tyranny. 

Two of the most highly respected criminal lawyers were Abraham Lincoln and John Adams. 

In one of his defense cases, John Adams was responsible for defending some British soldiers after they were accused of being involved in the Boston Massacre

While Adams knew that providing legal representation to these soldiers would not be widely supported, that didn’t stop him and he still forged ahead.

He even understood that the future of his political career may well hang in the balance if he were to undertake the work. 

He understood that his personal safety was a stake. He still did it.

Adams believed that providing a criminal defense for the British soldiers was the right thing to do – the patriotic thing to do. 

He won the case and in so doing helped the United States become a nation that is thoroughly committed to the defense of basic human rights. 



Reason #2 – The Work is Never Boring

Love variety in your work? Love variety in your life? Criminal defense work could be for you!

Everyone is different. Meaning that even if your client’s charges are exactly the same as one of your previous clients, the case will still be different. 

The facts may be identical. The case? It will still be different.

Every case will require a unique strategy, a unique approach, regardless the case may seem similar to another. 

The witnesses will be different. The law enforcement officers and prosecutors will be different – both those that you work with and those you work against. 



Pros of Being a Criminal Lawyer

Reason #3 – You’ll be a Changed Person

In this line of work, you’ll find that you change as a person. 

You work with individuals that are facing tough times ahead. 

As a result of this, chances are that you’ll value your own life and the life of your family all the more. 

You develop a greater understanding of many of the hardships in life. 

It doesn’t matter that you don’t always agree with an individual’s actions, you still understand how the events took place and you understand what those events have led to. 

There’s no doubt that as a criminal defense lawyer you’ll become a different person than you were. In some ways, not all, that is a good thing. 


Pros of Being a Criminal Lawyer

Reason #4 – The Stakes can be High

Many criminal attorneys love the sheer excitement, the passion involved in a winner-takes-all, loser-loses-all scenario makes the job to be the best there is. 

Depending on the case, the high stakes and the ‘buzz’ that comes with those high stakes is hugely attractive. 



Pros and Cons of Being a Criminal Lawyer

Reason #5 – A Terrific Profession for Debate and Argument

To be a good criminal defense attorney, you need to enjoy debate and argument. And for most criminal defense lawyers, this side of the work is highly stimulating. 

Winning arguments must be well-researched, well-reasoned, and well-organized.

The majority of the work is conducted outside of the courtroom. The dramatic pitch is fired inside the walls of the courtroom. But an excellent plea deal that is struck inside the office is no less gratifying. 



Pros of Being a Criminal Defense Lawyer



Reason #6 – Make a difference

There’s no doubt that a criminal defense lawyer can help an individual when seemingly all the chips are down. 

Irrespective of what the individual has done – or what they may not have done – a good defense attorney is critical for the judicial processes to move onwards. 

A defendant is going to need assistance to achieve the best possible outcome. For a defendant to represent themselves, it’s very much a rarity they’ll achieve the optimum outcome.

Defense attorneys assume the burden of responsibility and the stress that comes with it. 

When that individual’s freedom, their livelihood, the money they earn, their very reputation in society, their family life, and everything else is on the line, it’s up to the critical defense attorney to do much more than merely help with the case. 

A defense lawyer helps their clients by providing a line of defense to the things that matter most to the client.

For obvious reasons, this can make a defense lawyer feel really good about themselves.



Reason #7 – Defense of the Constitution

Further to the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment serves to provide the world with assurance that the United States will brook no unreasonable searches or seizures.

And once more, it is the criminal lawyer that has the duty to ensure that police work is conducted in a proper manner in an effort to solve crimes and protect the people.

With no Bill of Rights and no Constitution, the United States as a nation, it can be argued are a pretty toothless bunch in terms of defending the freedom of our own people.

A former district attorney and now a criminal defense lawyer, Stephen Handy had this to say about his time working at the DA’s office:  

It didn’t take long to see sloppy police work and cases sitting on my desk where I did not believe the person was guilty of any crime. I also learned how easily someone can be arrested, charged, and convicted of a crime they didn’t commit.



Reason #8 – Earn a Great Living

Depending on the work that you actually do, as a defense lawyer, you can earn a great living. 

A retainer for a top defense lawyer for cases that are of major significance such as major felonies or federal cases can sometimes be in excess of $100,000. And that’s merely to get started.

When an individual is accused of a very serious crime and this accusation could mean they spend the remainder of their life in jail (or they may even lose their life depending on where the crime was committed), they’ll pay their lawyer everything it takes and more.



Pros and Cons of Being a Criminal Lawyer

Reason #9 – Defending the Individual

For many lawyers that work as criminal defense attorneys, they are asked how they feel about the fact that they work for criminals and their main goal is to see those criminals walk free. 

Regardless of the might of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, assumptions are made, all too frequently, that once accused the individual simply has to be guilty. 

Take a moment to imagine this scenario: It’s 4 a.m. There’s a loud banging at your front door. It’s the local police and they’ve surrounded your home. They don’t wait for you to get out of bed and open the door. Instead, they burst in, guns at the ready, yelling at you and your family.

No doubt, if such a scenario were to occur, it would be one of the worst days of your life to date. 

Your neighbors may hate you from this time on. Your friends, your coworkers, and even your own family begin to doubt you. Some of them believe that you’re guilty of committing a serious crime. 

Nevertheless, the fact is that you’re entirely innocent. The police are guilty of making a gross error. But all you have in your favor right now is one, single criminal defense lawyer to help you. 

So who are you going to thank once your criminal defense attorney gets you off on a crime you didn’t commit? Certainly not Ghost Busters!



Reason #10 – It’s Not Physically Demanding Work

Of benefit to many, there’s nothing physically demanding about the work of a criminal defense lawyer – or the work of any lawyer for that matter. 

Criminal lawyers work in offices. They work in courtrooms. They spend some time in prisons conferring with clients. They review evidence at crime scenes or at the police precinct.

Seldom is there any physically demanding work to be done, if ever. 



Pros of Being a Criminal Lawyer

Reason #11 – Development of Valuable Skills

To be successful in the practice, criminal defense lawyers must rapidly develop advocacy and research skills. 

There’s little to no time to over decisions being right or wrong. 

Criminal defense lawyers must also have highly effective communication skills. 

They must be good at conducting accurate research

They must be good at analyzing and arguing facts and the law. 

Criminal defense lawyers must prepare for trial almost on a daily basis. A civil lawyer may only need to prepare for a trial one time each year or less. 

A good criminal defense lawyer can transition into almost any other trial practice in the civil world and be successful. That’s because they’ve gained the necessary skills in the office and the courtroom.



Reason #12 – Retire When You Wish

For as long as your mind is still functioning properly, you can remain in the law profession. 

Many people, particularly those that have physically demanding jobs, look forward to retirement. On the other hand, many lawyers prefer to continue to work, even if on a part-time basis. Some lawyers work well beyond the standard retirement age. 

Providing that you are compos mentis, if you wish, you can work as a criminal lawyer well into your 80s. And because you have so much experience and you have accumulated so much knowledge, you’ll likely be a terrific asset not only to your clients but also to your firm. 



Reason #13 – Set up on Your Own

You can, as a criminal lawyer, start your own business.

You can, as a defense lawyer, either work for yourself or you can set up a firm.

If you opt to start a firm, you can hire other attorneys to work alongside or for you, together with associated staff.

If you set up your own firm, you can earn a lot more money each month than you might as an attorney working alone or if you work for a firm.




Cons of Being a Criminal Lawyer


Reason #1 – Your Clients May be Bad People

Regardless of innocence or guilt, clients in this line of work can be accused of 

Putting the question of guilt or innocence aside, criminal defense clients are often accused of perpetrating abhorrent deeds.

Your client may have caused physical injury or they may have murdered someone. 

It can be depending on the crime very tricky for a criminal lawyer to assist clients that are accused of gruesome acts, particularly if the acts involve minors or grievous violence. 

How to set aside facts when trying to provide the best possible defense for your client?

If you feel you would be unable to put aside your personal views so you can focus on your work, then you’re going to have a hard time as a criminal defense lawyer. 



Reason #2 – Respected by Society?

Individuals that habitually live outside of the law (as well as many law-abiding citizens) have little to no respect for criminal lawyers. This is, in part, because lawyers as a whole have a bad reputation for being thieves and liars. Otherwise, with respect to the criminal lawyer fraternaty, people find it difficult to separate the work of a criminal lawyer from the acts that their clients are accused of committing.
People outside of the law (and even inside of it) have a hard time separating the defense lawyer from the bad acts their client is accused of committing.

The fact is that defense lawyers are in the business of safeguarding the constitutional rights of citizens. That may be the rights related to unlawful searches and seizures. It could be the right to a fair trial. Or the right to life and liberty.

Guilty or innocent, such constitutional mandates are applicable to everyone.

When a person is accused of committing a crime, no matter how heinous, those very same rights don’t suddenly disappear. Rather, those same rights are perhaps now more important than at any time to date.

Defense attorneys are frequently viewed with the same eyes as the accused they are attempting to defend.

It’s not easy to handle this, even more so if you are a person who worries about personal status or about what others think of you.



Pros and Cons of Being a Criminal Lawyer

Reason #3 – It’s a LOT of Work

For the most part, criminal defense lawyers tend to carry very sizeable caseloads. 

For each new case, there’s the intake, there’s the investigation, analysis, then trial prep.

Having a full comprehension of winning or losing when at trial is only achievable when the case has been fully worked up. 

With no review of discovery, no investigation, and no trial preparation when advising your client to accept a plea borders on legal malpractice, regardless of how much experience a lawyer has. 

To manage this, criminal lawyers must work long hours, all the more so if many of their cases do, in fact, go to trial. 

Every individual hour invested in a trial calls for numerous hours of behind-the-scenes preparation. 

If you’d prefer to work a standard 9 to 5 then go home to family without having to do more work and without work-related worries, then this line of work is not your line of work. 



Cons of Being a Criminal Lawyer

Reason #4 – Loans for Law School Can be Daunting

In the US and many other countries, law school doesn’t come cheap.

Some lucky individuals can afford to pay out of pocket. Some receive scholarships. But for many – for most – they must take out loans.

The way it currently works is that since lawyers do, in fact, have a lot of potential for making good money after graduating, there are fewer grants and fewer other forms of financial assistance available for schooling needs.

In some cases, new lawyers must take associate jobs – jobs that they aren’t interested in or they don’t particularly want to do simply because the debts are such a burden.



Reason #5 – Networking Pressures Weigh Heavily on Time

Unless your work is court-appointed, as a criminal defense attorney, or any attorney really, networking obligations are a fact of life.

While online advertising, billboard advertising, and yellow page ads can attract clients, the primary way that most lawyers land high-paying clients is the traditional way – from referrals.

Recommendations by word of mouth.

You need to be well-known and well-regarded if you wish to do well at attracting referrals. Meaning that many lawyers must invest hour upon hour at various social events, charity events, and much more.

You may already be totally at the limit of your workload, but add in the pressure to network and you’ll have almost zero family life or time to yourself.



Pros and Cons of Being a Criminal Lawyer

Reason #6 – Your Income May Not be as Good as You Thought it Would Be

Criminal defense attorneys are paid in a variety of ways.

Retained work (the client is responsible for paying you directly).

Court-appointed work (clients are unable to afford to hire a lawyer).

Court-appointed work means that you as a lawyer are paid by the government. For this kind of work, the hourly rate is much less than it is for retained work and may amount to somewhere in the line of between $20 and $60 per hour.

For retained work, you could be earning as much as between $200 and $800 per hour.



Reason #7 – Some Clients Suck

Law clients can be problematic to deal with.

Law clients, particularly those that are high paying have high expectations, and some of them will not shy away from criticizing you.

They try to second guess you.

They don’t always trust that you hold their best intentions.

They make demands to get their money back.

Sometimes they won’t pay you.

They post defamatory statements about you online.

Their family, their friends, even if they are unaware of the facts will do it too.

Problems they have become your problems and that can become old pretty quickly, especially when those problems easily could have been avoided.

Sometimes clients are abusive or mentally unstable. It could be because of depression.

Defense clients are not beyond committing new crimes while you’re still working with them.

They fail to listen to your advice. Or they listen but they don’t take that advice in spite of your best efforts.

They fail to show up at court and you’re left hanging, looking like a fool.





Reason #8 – Other Lawyers Can Suck

Many lawyers are no doubt pleasurable to deal with. However, many lawyers are quite the opposite.

For lawyers that are engaged in debate in a courtroom, it’s certainly not unusual that verbal abuse will quickly flow.

Lawyers are not above making threats (usually legal ones) to win out.

Lawyers can be arrogant, and some take great pleasure from speaking down to others.



Reason #9 – Work-Related Stress, Depression, and Burnout is Commonplace

Whether it’s paid on retainer or court-appointed, criminal defense work means long hours. It means days completely filled with meeting clients and witnesses, attending court, and providing assistance in matters where the stakes are high.

Self-care can quickly go out the window because there’s not a lot of time for sleeping, eating well, exercising, spending time with family or friends, taking vacations, or turning off the cellphone.

Because of the sheer amount of work focus, criminal defense lawyers often ignore concerns related to health and happiness.

Criminal lawyers may ‘medicate’ using substances (such as alcohol), as a result of which, many leave the field of criminal law to work on other types of law or leave the profession altogether.



Reason #10 – Criminal Defense Work Takes a Toll on Family Life

As a criminal lawyer, it’s very difficult to put your family first.

Clients expect you to be there for them in this time of great need, especially if they’ve paid you a lot of money.

This entails weekend conferences and late-night telephone calls.

It means lots of emails that need an urgent response; text messages as well.

And if you’re involved in a trial, there’s no way it’s going to wait for you while you take your child to the doctor, or because your kid has a dance recital.

Days in the office are filled with client meetings, phone calls, court appearances. This means preparation for trial occurs during the evening hours and over the weekend.

If you wish to go for a vacation, it can be very difficult to escape the office for long enough. If you do manage to escape for a vacation, it involves a whole lot of work in advance, as well as dealing with a huge backlog on your return.

Your spouse will carry almost the entire burden that home life offers.

And you’ll have to spend a lot of time apart from one another.

Is it any wonder that numerous lawyers go through a divorce?



Cons of Being a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Reason #11 – As a Practicing Criminal Lawyer You Can Change as a Person

It can be a good thing, as we noted above in the ‘Pros’ section. But it can also be a bad thing. Your worldview, as a criminal lawyer will change. 

Attorneys in this field of the law oftentimes become skeptical and cynical. 

They may change with respect to pain and suffering and become hardened, losing perspective with regards to how others feel about the work they do. 

Biases may be developed against government agencies or individuals.

There’s no doubt that once you begin practicing as a criminal defense lawyer, you’ll become a different person. 



Do You Want to Become a Criminal Lawyer?

You love variety, you love to learn, you adore a fast-paced environment, you enjoy meeting new people on a daily basis. There’s every chance you’re well suited to criminal defense practice.

You yearn for stability, you like peace and quiet, you much prefer a set/reliable work schedule. Chances are you’re not going to be happy as a criminal defense lawyer, even if you are passionate about the idea that you’d be making a difference.

If you don’t believe you’d make a good criminal lawyer, you may be interested in another field of law – check out Pros and Cons of Being a Lawyer

Otherwise, if you’ve decided law is not for you as a profession, maybe you’d like to consider the following careers instead:

Teaching. Interesting read: Pros About Being a Teacher.

Doctor. Interesting read: Benefits of Being a Doctor

If you need legal help, Are Free Legal Consultations Really Free?

If you’re about to enter college, you may find this article of interest: Pros and Cons of Renting Textbooks.

Maybe you need to relocate – find out about the Benefits of Renting a Furnished Apartment.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *