Defense Attorney Job Information

The defense attorney job profile is the public image of the lawyer's role as a court legal representative. The defense attorney operates in the adversarial legal arena, defending their client and cross examining witnesses, making a case against the prosecution. The public image is only part of the role of a defense attorney. The rest of the work involves extensive legal preparation, an advisory role, and a lot of essential legal procedures. 

The Work Environment

The defense attorney really works as a case manager for clients. An attorney is hired to achieve good legal outcomes for these clients. That involves a lot of work before even going to court, including:

  • Research into relevant legal issues
  • Interviewing clients and witnesses
  • Establishing the facts of the case
  • Issuing subpoenas to obtain information from the prosecution or plaintiff
  • Preparation of legal documents in accordance with court requirements
  • Coordination of court operations
  • Analysis of legal issues
  • Preparation of defense brief (Relevant information is collected and systematically organized)
  • Taking client instructions
  • Advising clients on legal issues and options

The Court Work

Representing their clients, defense attorneys do much more than their popular image suggests. The defense attorney's primary role is to make a case for their client according to the principles of law. The attorney has to convince a judge (or in some cases a jury) that their client is legally not at fault. This involves:

  • Cross examination of prosecution or plaintiff witnesses: The intention is to expose errors in testimony, proving their client's legal position according to the needs of the case.
  • Legal argument: Legal argument is a form of logic applied to law.  The defense attorney's case may depend on proving that evidence against the client is defective, or that the prosecution argument is flawed, or that the client didn't actually commit a breach of law. The defense attorney must express the client's defense credibly, and make a clearly understood case in favor of the client. Convincing a judge or jury can be hard work, and the defense attorney must make their argument logically, based on evidence and testimony. 
  • Advisory issues: The defense attorney is obliged to make issues clear to the client as they arise during the court case. The attorney can also provide legal options, and explain their ramifications. A "plea bargain", for example, may need to be explained in detail, with the attorney conferring with the prosecution about arrangements.

Wages and Hours

Typical wages range from $100,000 to $140,000, depending on fee structures. Private practice lawyers earn significantly more in fees. Hours will vary depending on the nature of the work, court appearances and related issues. 

The Career Environment

In the US, 27% of attorneys are self employed. The career environment for defense attorneys is based on demand for services, which is usually high. In some cases defense attorneys may be appointed by the court, but in most cases they're hired on the basis of need or specialization in particular areas. The main areas of law are the primary specializations, but some attorneys may specialize in particular forms of law, like criminal, industrial, employment law and many more specialties.