Working as a Defense Attorney

The sixth amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees everybody accused of a crime the right to a lawyer. A defense attorney is a lawyer for someone who is a defendant, a person, or corporation that has been accused of a crime in a court of law. The defense attorney fights for their clients' interests in court.

A defense attorney could work as a public defender, a lawyer who represents people who are too poor to afford their own attorney. They could have their own practice or work for a private corporation. No matter who they work for, a defense attorney prepares a client's case, argues it in front of a judge, and helps their client understand their options.

The job of a defense attorney is far from easy. They often have high caseloads and work long hours until the job is done. The road to becoming a defense attorney is also tricky. They need to earn a bachelor's degree, complete law school, and pass the bar before becoming an attorney. But for many defense attorneys, the satisfaction of getting clients a second chance is worth the work.

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to being a defense attorney. For example, did you know that they make an average of $47.58 an hour? That's $98,963 a year!

Between 2018 and 2028, the career is expected to grow 6% and produce 50,100 job opportunities across the U.S.

What Does a Defense Attorney Do

There are certain skills that many defense attorneys have in order to accomplish their responsibilities. By taking a look through resumes, we were able to narrow down the most common skills for a person in this position. We discovered that a lot of resumes listed analytical skills, interpersonal skills and problem-solving skills.

When it comes to the most important skills required to be a defense attorney, we found that a lot of resumes listed 15.4% of defense attorneys included legal advice, while 11.8% of resumes included defense counsel, and 10.5% of resumes included legal documents. Hard skills like these are helpful to have when it comes to performing essential job responsibilities.

When it comes to searching for a job, many search for a key term or phrase. Instead, it might be more helpful to search by industry, as you might be missing jobs that you never thought about in industries that you didn't even think offered positions related to the defense attorney job title. But what industry to start with? Most defense attorneys actually find jobs in the professional and government industries.

How To Become a Defense Attorney

If you're interested in becoming a defense attorney, one of the first things to consider is how much education you need. We've determined that 13.6% of defense attorneys have a bachelor's degree. In terms of higher education levels, we found that 7.3% of defense attorneys have master's degrees. Even though most defense attorneys have a college degree, it's impossible to become one with only a high school degree or GED.

Choosing the right major is always an important step when researching how to become a defense attorney. When we researched the most common majors for a defense attorney, we found that they most commonly earn doctoral degree degrees or bachelor's degree degrees. Other degrees that we often see on defense attorney resumes include master's degree degrees or high school diploma degrees.

You may find that experience in other jobs will help you become a defense attorney. In fact, many defense attorney jobs require experience in a role such as law clerk. Meanwhile, many defense attorneys also have previous career experience in roles such as attorney or internship.

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Average Salary$98,963
Job Growth Rate6%

Defense Attorney Career Paths

Top Careers Before Defense Attorney

Law Clerk
15.7 %
Attorney
12.4 %

Top Careers After Defense Attorney

Attorney
24.2 %

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Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the rights job to get there.

Average Salary for a Defense Attorney

Defense Attorneys in America make an average salary of $98,963 per year or $48 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $142,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $68,000 per year.
Average Salary
$98,963

Best Paying Cities

City
Average Salary
Sacramento, CA
Salary Range77k - 153k$109k$109,356
New York, NY
Salary Range69k - 141k$99k$99,157
Seattle, WA
Salary Range66k - 117k$89k$88,833
Houston, TX
Salary Range59k - 131k$88k$88,273
Phoenix, AZ
Salary Range55k - 112k$79k$78,991
Saint Louis, MO
Salary Range55k - 99k$75k$74,576
$44k
$153k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyCompanyStart DateSalary
Public Defense Attorney
Public Defense Attorney
Public Health Seattle & King County
Public Health Seattle & King County
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$130,50901/29/2021
$130,509
Workers' Comp Attorney-Defense
Workers' Comp Attorney-Defense
Robert Half
Robert Half
01/28/2021
01/28/2021
$90,00001/28/2021
$90,000
Public Defense Attorney
Public Defense Attorney
King County Washington
King County Washington
01/26/2021
01/26/2021
$70,77401/26/2021
$70,774
Workers' Compensation Defense Attorney
Workers' Compensation Defense Attorney
Godshall Recruiting
Godshall Recruiting
01/12/2021
01/12/2021
$125,00001/12/2021
$125,000
Public Defense Attorney
Public Defense Attorney
Cowlitz County
Cowlitz County
11/24/2020
11/24/2020
$70,72811/24/2020
$70,728
See More Recent Salaries

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Defense Attorney Demographics

Gender

male

50.7 %

female

44.9 %

unknown

4.4 %

Ethnicity

White

79.4 %

Hispanic or Latino

7.2 %

Black or African American

5.7 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

49.2 %

French

8.2 %

Chinese

6.6 %
See More Demographics

Defense Attorney Education

Degrees

Doctorate

73.6 %

Bachelors

13.6 %

Masters

7.3 %

Top Colleges for Defense Attorneys

1. Stanford University

Stanford, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,354
Enrollment
7,083

2. Harvard University

Cambridge, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$50,420
Enrollment
7,582

3. Duke University

Durham, NC • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,695
Enrollment
6,596

4. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

5. Yale University

New Haven, CT • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,430
Enrollment
5,963

6. Cornell University

Ithaca, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,188
Enrollment
15,105

7. Georgetown University

Washington, DC • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,104
Enrollment
7,089

8. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI • Public

In-State Tuition
$15,262
Enrollment
30,079

9. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

10. University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame, IN • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,391
Enrollment
8,568
See More Education Info
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Internship
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Top Skills For a Defense Attorney

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 15.4% of defense attorneys listed legal advice on their resume, but soft skills such as analytical skills and interpersonal skills are important as well.

Best States For a Defense Attorney

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a defense attorney. The best states for people in this position are Massachusetts, California, Nevada, and New York. Defense attorneys make the most in Massachusetts with an average salary of $104,050. Whereas in California and Nevada, they would average $103,939 and $97,707, respectively. While defense attorneys would only make an average of $97,029 in New York, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. California

Total Defense Attorney Jobs:
646
Highest 10% Earn:
$186,000
Location Quotient:
1.66
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. District of Columbia

Total Defense Attorney Jobs:
128
Highest 10% Earn:
$173,000
Location Quotient:
5.41
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. New York

Total Defense Attorney Jobs:
247
Highest 10% Earn:
$178,000
Location Quotient:
1.56
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Defense Attorney Employers

1. Robert Half International
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$102,308
Defense Attorneys Hired: 
20+
2. United States Army
4.0
Avg. Salary: 
$108,656
Defense Attorneys Hired: 
10+
3. United States Marine
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$109,808
Defense Attorneys Hired: 
7+
4. Legal Aid Society
4.3
Avg. Salary: 
$125,535
Defense Attorneys Hired: 
6+
5. Cigna
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$106,550
Defense Attorneys Hired: 
4+
6. United States Navy
3.8
Avg. Salary: 
$109,744
Defense Attorneys Hired: 
4+
Updated October 2, 2020