Since I shared the best things about being a criminal lawyer, I figured I should also talk about the other side of things. When it comes to career advice and learning from those already doing a job you’re interested in there is so much focus on the positive aspects, but people rarely give you the full picture and get deep into what the bad parts are. I know a lot of law students and young lawyers read my blog so if you’re considering becoming a criminal defense lawyer these are the things you need to know.
… And for everyone else, hopefully this gives you the inside scoop on what it’s really like to be a criminal lawyer. (Because Breaking Bad, Suits & The Good Wife are not doing it justice lol)
1. Doing 5 Other Different Jobs as Well
This one is a bit of a double-edged sword. I like being able to help people and wear different hats, so I get some enjoyment out of this, but in general one of the worst things about being a criminal lawyer is that you are routinely having to do things outside of the typical constrains of a lawyer, and often they’re things you have zero training in. I often feel like I am forced into being a social worker or therapist. You will be asked to help people in ways you are not trained for and you have to just do what you can while getting them set up with the proper help they need. I have spent countless hours finding people temporary housing or setting them up with drug addiction treatment. It’s part of the job that can be really rewarding but also really frustrating.
2. The Time Commitment / Schedule
They say crime never sleeps … and that means neither do criminal defense lawyers! Especially when you’re starting out in criminal law and building your practice you can expect a lot of middle-of-the-night calls. People get arrested at all hours and have a right to speak to their attorney so you need to be ready to wake-up and talk to them. Aside from helping people under arrest, the schedule also requires a lot of non-9-5 work because you need to accommodate people working 9-5’s. Your client, witnesses, etc may not be able to meet you in your office until after work so many of your interviews will be in the evenings.
What I will say about the time commitment though is that it really ebbs and flows, and the happiest criminal lawyers are those that take full advantage of having a less-busy day or less-busy week. If you’re in a complex multi-day trial it’s highly probable that you’ll be working 12-14 hour days. But, once that’s over you may only have one or two bail hearings or sentencings for the next week and thus can take more time to yourself. Embrace the 11am sleep-in when you can. Meet your friends for 2pm coffee when you can. By embracing the free time during slower periods you’ll find the busier periods much more manageable.
3. People Won’t Like You
While I think the tides are turning when it comes to public perception of criminal defense lawyers, in general you will still be vilified by the media and there is still a general perception among the public that defense attorneys are slimy, awful people who are just there to help criminals get away with things.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth (I’ll spare you from my rant on how defense attorneys are an essential part of making the justice system function and holding police & Government in check) but it is the prevailing narrative and you will deal with a lot of negativity from outsiders about what you do.
Because as a defense attorney you’re dealing with sensitive matters and tensions are high you’ll also deal with situations of clients melting down and freaking out at you and you may even deal with that from members of the prosecution on occasion. This can be hard to deal with and something you need to be prepared for with a good support system you can turn to.
4. Dealing with Challenging People
Similar to the above, the nature of the job means that you will sometimes have to deal with people who are challenging to deal with for a variety of reasons, whether it be their own mental health challenges, addiction issues or unresolved trauma. These are people that are so worthy of your time and compassion and criminal lawyers really don’t get praised enough (in my opinion) for their patience with people. I never ceased to be amazed by my colleagues seemingly bottomless wells of compassion and empathy. Dealing with clients in tough situations with the added layer of emotional trauma and addictions can be emotionally draining.
While it is (thankfully) very rare, you may also find yourself on occasion in situations that make you feel unsafe. Whether it is because a client has lost is temper and is screaming and throwing things, or whether it is a victim’s family chasing you down the courtroom halls and threatening you (both of which have happened to me) there can be situations where you feel unsafe. Again, having a support system is key to dealing with this.
And there you have it. This sounds pretty doom and gloom, but I encourage you to read my post on the best parts of being a criminal lawyer if you haven’t already. 9 days out of 10 I am truly grateful for my job and absolutely love it! I just wanted to share this post to give you a more real look at the hard parts people don’t often talk about.
And as always, I want to share my outfit details! The dress I’m wearing in these photos is Gucci inspired and it’s under $40! I love a good button front a-line dress for a professional but comfortable look. I’ll also share the links for similar heart shaped glasses and white shoes!