Nearly all jobs in criminal law are related to offices, courtrooms, or crime scenes. Criminal attorneys generally work in law firms or have their private practice. Some of them may be employed as public defenders or work for NGOs. Though their job is primarily based in an office, they often meet their clients at prisons, courtrooms, rehab centers, hospitals, or other places. The majority of criminal attorneys work locally, but those who have a national practice may be required to travel frequently.
Private companies usually engage forensic accountants to lower or eliminate internal fraud cases. Besides, they may collaborate with private investigators. Forensic accountants who have private practice may help state or local law enforcement agencies with investigating.
Criminal law professionals exposed to the greatest risks of injuries and violence include homicide detectives, criminal investigators, DEA, and FBI agents.
Licensed forensic psychologists might be employed by the US government, state, or local authority. However, they mostly offer consulting services to federal agencies or courts as private practitioners.
Homicide detectives and criminal investigators are typically based in offices. However, their jobs’ nature requires them to visit crime scenes far more often than they want. Their vocation might be exciting and rewarding but is extremely stressful. Besides responding to grueling crime scenes, violent deaths, and severe injuries, these criminology degree jobs often risk their lives when chasing or fighting with criminals.
FBI agents’ working environment depends on one of the five programs they choose as their major. Agents who specialize in cyber crimes will spend their working time in offices instead of investigating major crimes and have to be on crime scenes most of the time. Notwithstanding the major department, FBI agents spend much of their time analyzing information and other evidence.
Similar to the FBI, DEA agents may work primarily on the field. However, they might be required to work undercover, which comes with high risks. As they rarely have their law enforcement credentials with them, they may be arrested by local police officers who aren’t familiar with their activities.
Criminal law clerk jobs have fixed working hours, typically from 9 to 5, and are supposed to work 40 hours a week. This should also apply to criminal attorneys. However, the reality is the opposite. Criminal lawyers quite often must work overtime, so their typical working week has more than 40 working hours. That is particularly the case with attorneys who work for large firms or have their private practice. They always have some extra work to do — to prepare or review documents and carry out research.
Although forensic accountants have regular business hours, they may also happen to work overtime, depending on the nature of the case they’re working on. On the other hand, forensic psychologists are free to define their working hours. Criminal law degree jobs allow them part-time consulting, along with their private practice. Sometimes, they might be required to work evening shifts or over the weekend, especially if hired by government organizations, hospitals, clinics, rehab, and correction centers.
FBI and DEA agents have fixed Monday to Friday office hours; however, they have to work night shifts and weekends. Similarly, they always have to be available as the crime can happen anytime. The same applies to homicide detectives and criminal investigators. Plus, they have rotating shifts and may be required to work longer hours.
How to Become a Criminal Law Professional
All criminal law major jobs require a university diploma, regardless of the exact positions. In addition, some occupations may need extra training or courses. Besides, their professions’ nature requires them to have a specific set of skills and knowledge to excel in their jobs.
A criminal lawyer professional who wants to thrive in their career must have excellent verbal and written advocacy skills to defend their client in court and persuade a jury to reach a verdict in their favor. Investigation and research skills are essential for constructing the entire case and building a powerful defense.
Furthermore, a criminal lawyer job requires exquisite creative thinking and analytical skills to develop strategy, study the case law, and litigate more complicated cases. Expertise and profound knowledge of laws, codes, statutes, and regulations are necessary, while good interpersonal skills are needed to establish a solid relationship with a client.
Homicide detectives and criminal investigators must possess exquisite people skills and know how to deal with people who aren’t behaving well. Likewise, they need good speaking skills to be comfortable when speaking with suspects or witnesses. Taking the initiative shouldn’t be a problem for them, as they must take control of the crime scene investigation and give orders and instructions to the officers. Lastly, they must have exquisite self-control, i.e., they must control their emotions, especially when handling criminals suspected of serious crimes.
Like other criminal law careers, forensic accountants must have great analytical skills to seek divergences in finances. These skills are also needed for determining patterns or their absence. Communication skills are necessary as forensic accountants sometimes have to testify at court and cooperate with others included in the investigation. Last but not least, forensic accountants must have exquisite attention to detail to notice even the tiniest inconsistencies that may show something is wrong.
A forensic psychologist’s role requires good communication skills to communicate with criminal law professionals, victims, and convicts regularly. They must be as objective as they can, without being overly sensitive or emotional. However, they should show compassion for the victims or involved parties. They need to come up with critical observations and pay attention to details.
Regarding other criminal law jobs such as DEA and FBI agents, strong language skills and fluency in foreign languages such as Russian, Arabic, Spanish, and similar are desired, as agents, especially DEA, will be required to work undercover or abroad. This is yet another reason they’ll need strong interpersonal skills. All agents must know how to handle weapons and how to defend themselves. Computer proficiency is a must for FBI agents, together with the investigation and research skills.
To begin your criminal attorney practice, you have to finish your bachelor’s studies and then earn a law degree. It usually takes seven years to complete both degrees. Afterward, you must obtain a license by taking the bar exam in the state where you want to hold your practice. This license is mandatory.
To become a forensic accountant, you must at least obtain a four-year degree in accounting or finance. But those who want to be involved in criminal law careers as forensic accountants should study criminal justice as well. For this position, no certificates are obligatory but are desirable. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants provides programs that grant certificates in financial forensics.
Regarding homicide detectives and criminal investigators, the required criminal law degree drastically varies depending on the department. Some agencies may demand a high school diploma only, whereas others may insist on a college or bachelor’s degree. The most frequent ones are degrees in criminology or criminal justice.
Both DEA and FBI have high requirements when it comes to recruiting new agents. Potential FBI agents must have a college or university degree, plus three years of expertise before joining the Bureau. Prospective DEA agents must have a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in criminal justice, police science, or criminology.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
For criminal lawyer jobs, you may obtain a certificate given by the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification (NBLSC). This is a non-profit organization accredited by the American Bar Association to issue board certificates to attorneys.
As forensic psychologists work with patients, they must have a doctoral degree and a license. Moreover, a bachelor’s degree in psychology is the main prerequisite. A master’s degree enables you to carry out research. Besides fundamental educational requirements, each US state requires forensic psychologists to obtain a license. Qualifications differ depending on the state but typically involve the combination of expertise and education requirements, together with passing a standardized assessment test.
Both FBI and DEA agents undergo a rigorous background investigation, including psychological screening and physical ability tests. New agents are trained at the agencies’ respective headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, where they undergo 21 or 18-week intensive training programs.
The median national criminal justice jobs salary may depend on the position, experience, and location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, criminal attorneys earn $120,910 on average.
According to PayScale, forensic psychologists make $69,828 annually, whereas forensic accountants earn somewhat less — $68,115 per year. Homicide detectives and criminal investigators earn an average of $81,920 a year.
FBI agents’ salary varies based on their experience and grade level. GS 10-13 earn between $48,297–$98,317, while more superior GS 14-15 make $89,370–$136,659 per year.
During the training period, DEA agents can make $37,309–$41,612. An entry-level position may earn them $33,477–$53,234, depending on their previous experience and the first assignment. Senior and experienced agents may expect over $90,000 per year.
Criminal justice careers and salaries are undoubtedly lucrative and rewarding. The effort invested in education and omnipresent stress obviously pay out in the end.
Criminal law is an ever-growing practice niche. With the crime rates skyrocketing, more and more people are going to prison. As an increasing number of Americans face charges under both state and federal laws, the demand for attorneys is continually growing. As of 2016, legal jobs have increased by 8% compared to other industries and occupations.
Besides attorneys, nearly all criminal law jobs have excellent job opportunities. By 2026, the prospects for forensic psychologists are expected to increase by 14%. The most significant opportunities will be for industrial psychology specialists, particularly those trained for testing and assessing criminal justice job candidates.
The BLS predicts that the demand for detectives and criminal investigators will jump by around 7% in the 2016–2026 period. The state and local budgets determine which areas will see a particular increase. Unfortunately, not all locations will face a rise of 7%.
Regarding DEA and FBI agents, the BLS anticipates that all law enforcement and criminal law careers will see a rise of 7% by 2026.
The Bottom Line: Who Is a Criminal Law Career For?
Though fairly lucrative and rewarding, a criminal law job is not meant for everyone. Altruistic individuals who want to help others and make their community a better place typically opt for a criminal law vocation. But to thrive in it, they first have to devote years of studying to obtain an adequate degree.
Unfortunately, criminal law entry-level jobs may show some individuals that such a career isn’t for them. Many reports, paperwork, initial training, and a stressful work environment tend to put off those who aren’t mentally (and physically) prepared for such challenges.
Those who manage to endure all the adversities associated with these professions are bound to have a prosperous and gratifying career.