What is the Average Salary of a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Los Angeles DUI lawyers

If you are reading this, you may be considering a profession in criminal law. You are not alone. In fact, there are 1.3 million lawyers in the US. Knowing the condition of your industry will help you test your playing field in the legal arena.

It is important to know how valuable your services will be as a criminal defense lawyer. At first glance, the salary of a criminal defense lawyer can not seem impressive. But, certain areas have more prestige attached to them than others. Then you’ll realize this average isn’t that lackluster at all.

It’s no secret that the criminal law field can be lucrative and challenging. But which area has the best pay? And how much money do lawyers make in each specialty? Now let’s explore some of the numbers behind the job description.

Types of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Their Average Salary

Criminal defense attorneys represent clients accused of crimes. They can also represent people or businesses that are not yet charged. But these clients are being investigated for illegal activities.

  1. Traffic Lawyers 

Speeding is the most common traffic violation in Los Angeles. And the penalty for drivers who receive a speeding ticket is to pay a fine. This often depends on how fast you go and whether you are under the influence of any kinds of drugs or alcohol etc…

For example, A ticket for 1 to 15 mph over the speed limit has a base fine of $35.

Drivers who plead not guilty to such an infraction can hire Los Angeles DUI lawyers. If you want to be one, you should specialize in traffic litigation, which defends clients against traffic violations. A traffic lawyer also prosecutes or defends civil cases involving motor vehicles.

  1. Drug Crime Defense Attorney

Attorneys for drug charges help clients understand the law and their rights regarding drug possession. Aside from that, you will also defend clients charged with other drug crimes, such as:

  • Drug trafficking or manufacturing
  • Sale or distribution of drugs

You can also help them with preparing a defense and negotiating with prosecutors. If your client is guilty of marijuana distribution, your job is to mitigate the repercussions of the crime. 

Penalties for such an offense can be severe and have long-term consequences. The facts and circumstances of your case determine the type of charges you may face. This involves mandatory prison sentences and a criminal record. This can make finding work, qualifying for loans, and finding housing difficult.

But medical marijuana attorneys can refute or clear marijuana charges in states where the drug is legal. They also help marijuana advocacy groups draft proposed legislation. 

Average annual salary of Drug Crime Defense Attorneys: Can range from $121K to $305K

  1. Domestic Violence Attorneys

Domestic violence can result in criminal or civil charges. That is, the perpetrator may face criminal charges resulting in a criminal record. The police may arrest a violent or abusive spouse on a variety of criminal charges, including:

  • Sexual assault
  • Communicating dangers
  • Stalking

As a domestic violence attorney, you can assist people facing domestic violence accusations. You will talk to the victim about their situation and offer options for punishment. Penalties for domestic violence include a restraining order or jail time. 

Having your client file a lawsuit will also help them recover medical expenses. 

Average annual salary of Domestic Violence Attorneys: $55,382

  1. Child Molestation Defense Lawyer

Child molestation is one of the most serious criminal accusations. So it is your job to protect the child’s legal rights by standing as their lawyer in court. But several states need these lawyers to become certified. You should be a child welfare law specialist by getting the NACC certification. 

Average annual salary of Child Molestation Defense Lawyer: $82,382

  1.  Carjacking Defense Lawyer

California has 3 out of 10 populated areas with motor vehicle theft. If this raises your interest, you should know how to raise reasonable doubt to avoid a felony conviction. It includes the possibility that the defendant is a victim of mistaken identity. 

Average annual salary of Carjacking Defense Lawyer: $78,500 

Average annual salary of Traffic Lawyer: $72,608

Factors That Influence a Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Salary

As stated earlier, the salary of criminal defense lawyers varies. That’s because no two criminal cases are alike. Several factors can influence your overall salary as a criminal defense lawyer, including: 

  • Education – Law schools are not all built the same way. More prestigious schools also have the potential for higher salaries. 
  • Size of the law firm – Some criminal defense attorneys never join a firm and instead practice alone. While this allows for the most personal freedom, it usually leads to lower pay. Because of this, most defense attorneys choose to work for a large law firm.
  • Geographic region – Criminal defense lawyers in major cities earn more than those in small cities and rural areas. In fact, the annual average salary of a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer is $105,541. Even so, working in a large metropolitan area is also associated with a higher cost of living.
  • Skill and experience – In general, the more years you work as a criminal defense attorney, the more money you can expect to make. You can expect to earn $42,114 as an entry-level employee. You can earn up to $163,975 each year if you are in your late career.

Criminal Defense Attorney Fees: Flat Fees vs. Hourly Fees

Flat Fees

Flat fees are uncommon because no criminal case is alike. But California defense attorneys can choose to charge a flat fee for certain criminal matters. If your client faces a misdemeanor, you can charge a flat fee anywhere between $1,500 and $3,500. If going to trial is an option, you can charge between $3,000 and $5,000.

When the charge becomes a felony, the flat fee can range from $3,000 to $6,000. But, if a felony trial appears to be unavoidable, you can charge $10,000 to $20,000 as a flat fee. And if your client is facing serious charges like murder, you can charge at least $40,000.

Hourly Fees

By far, the most common type of fee arrangement used by criminal defense attorneys is hourly fees. Your hourly billing rates will depend on your ability and your client’s case. A criminal defense lawyer’s time costs between $100 and $300 per hour. With an hourly fee structure, legal bills can climb into the $10,000 to $15,000 range.

You should also charge a retainer fee if you work on an hourly basis. A retainer can pay for a part of your time. If the retainer is no longer available, you can charge by the hour. You can also accept the client’s request to refresh the retainer and bill your hourly rate against it.

Qualifications to Become a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Salary is not the only indication of how much you want to study something. But if you have made up your mind to become a criminal defense lawyer, here are the qualifications you need:

  1. Education

Most criminal defense lawyers must have a law degree. If you want to become one, you should have a bachelor’s degree in courses such as English, History, or Political science. Then you should graduate from an accredited law school with a Juris Doctor (J.D.).

  1. Training & Experience

Your employers will provide training on the job. This training will teach you about the company’s policies and procedures. It will also assist you in learning the specific laws and regulations that pertain to your profession.

  1. Certifications and Licenses

Criminal defense attorneys need to get admitted to the bar in their state or district. But before that, you need to pass a written and an oral exam that is given by the State Bar Association. 

Taking advanced courses is also a requirement in some states like California. So if you want to be a California criminal defense attorney, you have to complete continuing education requirements.

Know Your Value

Crime has always existed, as will the lawyers who defend the accused. The nature of the crime can be changing in some regards. But that doesn’t make defense attorneys any less important than they were before. If anything, it shows how critical your services can be.

Even so, keep in mind that your salary estimate is only that: an estimate. The actual amount of a criminal defense lawyer’s salary will depend on different factors, such as your expertise.

You should figure out some ways that you can stand out as a criminal defense lawyer. If your work is worth more than others at the firm, make sure you know what it is. By then, you can decide how to market yourself to potential higher-paying law firms if need be.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here