William and Mary Law School

Criminal Law Career Guide

By Paul Hellyer
Updated August 2013

crime scene

Books & Narratives

Careers in Criminal Law, by Ellen C. Brotman, Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association, 2010.
This book has different sections on criminal defense, prosecution, and judicial careers.  It offers insight into the type of person who does well in this field.
Publisher's Description
KF299 .C7 C37 2010 (OCS)

The Autobiography of an Execution, by David R. Dow, New York: Twelve, 2010.
Dow is a law professor who has represented more than 100 death-row inmates on appeal. His autobiography describes many of the cases he's handled.
Publisher's Description
KF373 .D635 A3 2010 (STACKS)

Indefensible: One Lawyer's Journey into the Inferno of American Justice, by David Feige, New York: Little, Brown, 2006.
Feige chronicles a day working as a public defender in New York, giving a detailed account of what it is like to defend a client and work in the criminal justice system.
KF373 .F37 A3 2006 (STACKS)

Convictions: A Prosecutor's Battles Against Mafia Killers, Drug Kingpins, and Enron Thieves, by John Kroger, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.
A former Assistant U.S. Attorney describes his experiences as a prosecutor and explores why some aspects of our criminal justice system frequently fail.
Publisher's Description
KF373 .K76 A3 2008 (STACKS)

Securing Reasonable Caseloads: Ethics and Law in Public Defense, by Norman Lefstein, Chicago: American Bar Association, 2011.
Describes the excessive caseloads faced by public defenders and explores strategies that public defenders can use to address the problem.
Publisher's Description
KF9646 .L44 2011 (STACKS)

Angel of Death Row: My Life as a Death Penalty Defense Lawyer, by Andrea D. Lyon, New York: Kaplan, 2010.
A prominent defense lawyer describes some of the death penalty cases she has worked on over the past 30 years.  The book includes some discussion of gender discrimination against women lawyers.
KF373 .L963 A3 2010 (STACKS)

Beyond the Big Firm: Profiles of Lawyers Who Want Something More, by Alan B. Morrison & Diane T. Chin, New York: Aspen, 2007.
This book presents alternatives to big-firm law careers. It includes a section on criminal law, with profiles of an assistant district attorney, a federal prosecutor, a private criminal defense lawyer, and a habeas corpus specialist.
KF299 .P8 M67 2007 (STACKS)

How Can You Defend Those People?, by Mickey Sherman, Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2008.
Legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Mickey Sherman chronicles his career as a public defender and prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney. Sherman offers insight on his unique and often groundbreaking criminal defense strategies.
KF373 .S514 A3 2008 (STACKS)

Diary of a DA: The True Story of the Prosectuor Who Took on the Mob, Fought Corruption, and Won, by Herbert J. Stern, New York: Skyhouse Publishing, 2012.
Memoirs of a prosecutor who obtained convictions against mobsters and corrupt politicians in New Jersey. 
Publisher's Description
KF373 .S7 S74 2012 (STACKS)

No Higher Calling, No Greater Responsibility:  A Prosecutor Makes His Case, by John W. Suthers, Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2008.
Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers describes his experiences as a local, state and federal prosecutor.  He discusses the work of prosecutors, the ethical issues they face, and efforts to reform the criminal justice system.
KF9640 .S88 2008 (STACKS)

Public Defenders: Pragmatic and Political Motivations to Represent the Indigent, by Michael Scott Weiss, New York, LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2005.
This is an in-depth study of public defenders' motivations, based on detailed interviews. Includes many interesting narratives from public defenders about the work they do.
Publisher's Description
KF9646 .W45 2005 (STACKS)

Public Defenders and the American Justice System, by Paul B. Wice, Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005.
Offers an in-depth description of the work performed by public defenders.
KF9646 .W53 2005 (STACKS)

The Changing Role of the American Prosecutor, edited by John L. Worrall & M. Elaine Nugent-Borakove, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2008.
"Leading prosecution researchers throughout the United States are brought together in this book to illuminate the new environment of prosecution in America, the prosecution of troubling and emerging crime problems, prosecutorial problem-solving and community prosecution, and the future of prosecution in the twenty-first century." -- From the back cover.
Publisher's Description
KF9640 .C454 2008 (STACKS)


Mark Brodin, What One Lawyer Can Do for Society: Lessons from the Remarkable Career of William P. Homans Jr., 46 New Eng. L. Rev. 37 (2011).
Describes the life and accomplishments of a famous defense lawyer.

Debra L. Bruce, Make Your Criminal Practice More Rewarding, 73 Tex. B.J. 598 (2010). 
Aimed at attorneys working in the private sector, this article offers tips on how to make your criminal practice more enjoyable and financially rewarding.

Terry Carter, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, ABA Journal, June 2010, at 34.
A detailed interview with the district attorney for Manhattan about his legal career.

Joseph I. Cassilly, A Prosecutor Is a Lawyer with Convictions, Prosecutor, April-June 2009, at 4.
A state prosecutor emphasizes the importance of ethics and leadership.

Erik Eckholm, Citing Workload, Public Lawyers Reject New Cases, New York Times, Nov. 9, 2008, at A1.
This news article reports on the heavy workload handled by public defenders and describes how some public defenders are refusing to take additional cases.

Brian T. Hermanson, Criminal Law, GP Solo, July/Aug. 2007, at 64.
A solo criminal defense lawyer provides a brief overview of what it's like to practice criminal law and offers tips on how to enter this field.

David J. Johnson and Robert Harris, Federal Act Provides Loan Repayment Funds for Public Defenders and Prosecutors, Virginia Lawyer, Oct. 2010, at 26.
This article describes a federal student loan repayment program for public defenders and prosecutors and explains how the program is implemented in Virginia.

Victor S. Johnson III, Advice for New Prosecutors, Prosecutor, Nov./Dec. 2007, at 14.
A district attorney from Tennessee offers some words of wisdom for new prosecutors.

Laurie L. Key, Building a Successful (and Profitable) Solo Criminal Defense Practice, 69 Tex. B.J. 684 (2006).
This article gives practical advice on how to start a criminal defense career as a solo practitioner.

Brent E. Newton, "How Can You Defend a Person You Know Is Guilty?": Reflections of a Public Defender, 33 Am. J. Trial Advoc. 167 (2009).
A public defender explains why he offers a vigorous defense of clients he knows are guilty.

Julia Reischel, Q&A with Janice Bassil, Mass. Defense Attorney, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Dec. 29, 2008.
This interview with a defense attorney touches upon trial strategy and gender issues.

Abbe Smith, Are Prosecutors Born or Made?, 25 Geo. J. Legal Studies 943 (2012).
A criminal defense lawyer with more than 30 years experience recounts some noteworthy conversations she's had with prosecutors, points out the flaws she sees in their way of thinking, and expounds her own career choice.

Paula Reed Ward, Struggling on a Static Salary: On An Assistant District Attorney's Paycheck, Bills and Law School Loans Can Stack Up Quickly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 29, 2012, at C7.
Discusses the starting salaries for public defenders and state prosecutors.


There are numerous legal periodicals that cover the topic of criminal law. Those listed below are a representative selection of titles that discuss issues related to being a practitioner in the field.

Champion: The Official News Report of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Library has v.13, 1989 to present.
[Houston]: The Association.
Westlaw: CHAMP

Criminal Justice
Library has v.1, 1986 - present.
Washington, DC: ABA Section of Criminal Justice.

The Prosecutor
Library has 1982 - 2006.
Chicago, IL: National District Attorneys Association.
Westlaw: PROSC

Organizations & Websites

The following organizations are active or maintain an interest in criminal law. They offer membership opportunities, information on the industry, and possible employment opportunities. Most of them sponsor seminars or conferences on relevant topics.

American Bar Association, Section of Criminal Justice
740 15th Street, N.W., 10th Floor
Washington, DC 20005-1019
tel: (202) 662-1500
fax: (202) 662-1501
e-mail: crimjustice@abanet.org
website: http://www.abanet.org/crimjust/home.html
The section addresses key issues in criminal justice. Provides members with practical solutions to problems encountered by criminal law practitioners. Publishes Criminal Justice, a quarterly magazine which provides advice to practitioners on techniques for handling criminal cases.

Commonwealth's Attorneys' Services Council
William & Mary Law School Room 220
PO Box 3549
613 South Henry Street
Williamsburg, VA 23185
tel: (757) 253-4146
fax: (757) 253-7159
website: http://www.cas.state.va.us/
Coordinates training and educational programs and provides research services for Commonwealth's Attorneys through continuing legal education programs, training seminars, research assistance and various publications.

Innocence Project Clinic
William & Mary Law School
P.O. Box 8795
613 South Henry Street
Williamsburg, VA 23185
tel: (757) 221-7446
email: innocence@wm.edu
website: http://law.wm.edu/academics/programs/jd/electives/clinics/innocence/index.php 
"Students in the Innocence Project Clinic participate in the legal investigation and research of inmate claims of actual innocence. Using primary sources including police and forensic reports, court pleadings, transcripts, appellate briefs and opinions, students research and prepare written summaries of the cases referred to the Clinic by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP), and their analysis of cases are used as a basis for MAIP to determine which cases to undertake." --From the website.

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)
1150 18th St., NW
Suite 950
Washington, DC 20036
tel: (202) 872-8600
fax: (202) 872-8690
e-mail: assist@nacdl.org
website: http://www.criminaljustice.org
Organization of attorneys involved in the defense of criminal cases. Works to maintain the independence and expertise of the criminal defense bar. Sponsors annual Law Student Trial Competition. Maintains a brief bank index.

National District Attorneys Association (NDAA)
99 Canal Center Plaza
Suite 510
Alexandria, VA 22314
tel: (703) 549-9222
fax: (703) 836-3195
website: http://www.ndaa.org/
Organization serving prosecuting attorneys. Provides educational, informational and technical assistance to members.

National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA)
1140 Connecticut Avenue N.W.
Suite 900
Washington, DC 20036
tel: (202) 452-0620
fax: (202) 872-1031
e-mail: info@nlada.org
website: http://www.nlada.org/
Acts as an information clearinghouse and provides technical and management assistance to organizations which offer civil and criminal legal assistance to indigent persons. Also provides assistance to state and local governmental agencies.  The site includes job listings for attorney positions nationwide.

Photo:  Associated Press