Defense lawyers are an essential part of any civil or criminal trial, and their participation ensures that both sides of a dispute are adequately represented. The scope of legal defense work is huge. Becoming a defense lawyer is usually more about choosing what sort of law you want to practice than it is about deciding which side you wish to represent. Knowing that you want to focus on defense work is a great start, but the next step is to determine how. Once you have some solid ideas about where you want your career as a defense attorney to go, it is time to work on getting legal experience, beefing up your resume, and finding a job to get your foot in the door.
Law school can be a good place to start taking steps to become a defense lawyer. If you have not yet enrolled in law school, look for schools with programs dedicated to training defense lawyers. Some law schools have civil or criminal defense law clinics, for instance, where students can help practicing attorneys file and defend on-going cases. Most schools also offer a variety of opportunities for mock trial and litigation preparation, which enables students to get a feel for how to structure persuasive defending arguments.
The thought of defense law often brings to mind public defenders, criminal courtrooms, and high-profile defendants, but the truth is that defense lawyers also work in tax proceedings, child custody disputes, employee benefit disagreements, and all places in between. Defense law is more of a practice technique than it is a practice area. The nature of the law is that there is always a party bringing a lawsuit, and also a party defending against that lawsuit. As such, almost all courses that law schools offer can plausibly be beneficial for the student who wants to become a defense lawyer. The important thing about choosing courses is to follow your own interests, then look for ways to fit defense work into those interests.
Work experience is one of the best ways to hone the skills needed to become a defense lawyer. Many law firms and government agencies hire interns during the summer months, which can be a great way for aspiring lawyers to get a hands-on feel for the field. Look for firms or groups that specialize in doing defense work. Even if an employer does not have a paying job available, it might nonetheless have opportunities to volunteer on case work or observe proceedings. At the very least, lawyers are often willing to talk with law students about the work that they do, and while these conversations do not always lead to jobs, they can be invaluable in terms of gaining insights.
There is no set course one must follow to become a defense lawyer. Once in the field, many defense attorneys find that the skills they gleaned in one area of defense law are transferable to other areas, as well. A lawyer who starts as a public defender working for the government, for instance, may later use the defense strategies learned there in a job as a private attorney defending tax fraud allegations. Like any other legal skill, defense work gets better with time and experience. If you put in the effort to making yourself well-rounded in the law and passionate about the work you do, you should have no trouble finding the right path to become a defense lawyer.