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Criminal Law: General

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Criminal Law
General

Criminal law provides the most immediate entry to, and the most active practice in, trial work of all arenas of litigation. While corporate litigation associates spend much of their early years in research and pre-trial discovery practice, young criminal lawyers are handed case files and sent to court almost immediately. Although most cases end in plea bargains, these lawyers argue motions, negotiate outcomes with their adversaries, and enjoy a reasonable chance to get early jury trial experience. Criminal law attorneys often conduct trials right from the beginning of their careers, and some criminal law attorneys will go on to file and argue appeals as they become more experienced.

The most common career options for a general criminal law practice are:

Prosecution:

U.S. Department of Justice/U.S. Attorney’s Office (federal): Attorneys who work for the U.S. [...]

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Criminal law provides the most immediate entry to, and the most active practice in, trial work of all arenas of litigation. While corporate litigation associates spend much of their early years in research and pre-trial discovery practice, young criminal lawyers are handed case files and sent to court almost immediately. Although most cases end in plea bargains, these lawyers argue motions, negotiate outcomes with their adversaries, and enjoy a reasonable chance to get early jury trial experience. Criminal law attorneys often conduct trials right from the beginning of their careers, and some criminal law attorneys will go on to file and argue appeals as they become more experienced.

The most common career options for a general criminal law practice are:

Prosecution:

U.S. Department of Justice/U.S. Attorney’s Office (federal): Attorneys who work for the U.S. Department of Justice or a U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecute federal crimes and crimes committed on federal property.

Attorney General’s Office (state): State Attorneys General represent the state in civil and criminal matters before trial, appellate and the supreme courts of the state and the United States.

District Attorney’s Office: Most district attorney’s offices prosecute felonies and misdemeanors that are committed within a county’s borders.

City Attorney’s Office: Some counties only prosecute felony crimes, leaving the misdemeanor offenses to the city attorney’s office to prosecute. City attorneys generally prosecute minor code enforcement cases as well.

Defense:

Federal Public Defenders: Federal public defenders defend individuals accused of federal offenses who are being prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice or a U.S. Attorney’s Office in federal court.

State Public Defenders: The Office of the State Public Defender works solely on death penalty appeals, representing indigent capital defendants in the California Supreme Court and the United State Supreme Court.

County Public Defenders: Some counties have governmental offices for public defenders, who defend indigent criminal defendants in charges brought by the County Attorney’s Office. Many counties also have Alternate Public Defender Offices (ADOs) in addition to their Public Defender Office. ADOs represent individuals when a conflict precludes the Public Defender from taking the case.

Appellate Defenders: Some states have non-profit appellate defenders that provide appellate representation for indigent defendants before state appellate courts.

Private Practice: Many criminal defense attorneys work in private practice, either in a small firm or solo practitioner’s office. Private criminal defense attorneys can either be retained by individual defendants or appointed by a judge to represent a particular defendant. They are generally paid at a flat rate although some work on an hourly basis.

Contract work: Some smaller counties and cities may not have an official Public Defender’s Office. Instead, they often contract with individuals or individual firms to represent indigent criminal defendants within the city or county. Even counties with Public Defenders will contract out criminal defense work if a conflict prevents the Public Defender's Office and the ADO from representing the defendant. Contract work is generally assigned through an independent defense counsel's office.

Appellate Projects: Individuals convicted of crimes are entitled to an appeal. Each appellate district typically has an appellate project that contracts with attorneys to handle these appeals. Although attorneys have the option to present an oral argument, most appellate work is now a paper practice.

Government employers on either the prosecution or defense side of the aisle put a very high premium on practical experience or clinical training during law school. Students interested in criminal law have a variety of clinical programs and externships at SLS to choose from for this hands-on, practical experience.

 
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