I Want to be a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Ex-Bitter Columns, Lawyer

QI am a junior in college, at a good (well reputable) private, liberal arts school, considering law school. I have friends who want to go to law school because it looks good, others because they don’t know what to do, others still that want to delay their inevitable entry into the real world, I, however, want to go to law school to practice law (at least I think I do).

I enjoy the show Law and Order (ok I know this isn’t much but law interests me), have several friends whose parents are attorneys (they seem interesting and happy), enjoy reading and writing, like being in school, and am fond of and good at helping people solve problems.  Further, I have a firm belief (based on my personal experience) that not all people accused of crimes are guilty. I want to help those people (and even the guilty ones) better their situation. That’s right, I said it, I want to be a criminal defense attorney (and work with juveniles as a criminal attorney/legal advocate as well).

I don’t want to make a lot of money although I want to own a house, put my kids through college, maybe have a sports car some day, etc. I don’t mind working hard (if it is something I enjoy I even like it) and I don’t have aspirations to work for a big law firm. I would be very happy in a medium sized firm in the Seattle, WA area eventually earning enough money to retire and die someplace warm. I think this will require me to be earning (during my top earning years) $150,000-200,000/year.

I won’t be the brightest guy in law school, but I won’t be far behind (I know, with some work, I could be in the top half), and my grades are good enough to get into a second tier law school (top 50). I will be looking at taking out loans to the tune of $120,000. Am I out of my mind to expect the lifestyle mentioned above? Are my chances in law (especially with the economy now) dismal at best? I would appreciate a healthy-helping of that honest advice you are good at dishing out. Thank you!!

AYou might be the first person ever to have expressed a genuine, credible reason for wanting to go to law school! Good on ya, lad!

With that said, here’s my healthy-helping of honest advice: Go to law school! You WANT to be a lawyer. You want to practice criminal law and help the wrongfully accused, disadvantaged, etc. That’s as good a reason as any. In fact, it’s a helluva lot better than most reasons to go to law school.

Having said that, there are some things to consider. One, young criminal defense lawyers don’t make much money. Most start in the Public Defender’s office where the starting pay, depending on where you live, is between 25K and 50K. So don’t expect to make 150-200K for quite some time – or to pay off those student loans until your fifty or so. To make big money in criminal law, you need a big-time reputation and lots of well-heeled criminal clients. Think white-collar crime, my brother. That’s where the money is.

If you love what you do, the money will ultimately take care of itself. Whether you eventually make 100K or 300K, that’s impossible to handicap at the moment. The real question is simply this: Do you want to be a lawyer? If the answer is yes, go for it.

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