Criminal Law Career Guide

By Paul Hellyer
Updated May 2023

crime scene

Preet Bharara, Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law (2019).
Bharara shares his views on criminal justice, drawing from his long experience as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Publisher's Description
KF8700 .B43 2019 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Alexander Y. Benikov, Defense Lawyer Confidential (2018).
A criminal defense lawyer offers advice for new attorneys on a wide range of subjects, including different career paths for criminal defense attorneys, types of clients
you can expect, and how to interact with courts and prosecutors.
Publisher's Description
KF9656 .B45 2018 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Laura Coates, Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor's Fight for Fairness (2022).
A former federal prosecutor writes about her experiences as a Black woman working in a flawed justice system.
Publisher's Description
KF373 .C585 A3 2022 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Anne M. Corbin, Dilemma of Duties: The Conflicted Role of Juvenile Defenders (2018).
Using North Carolina as an example, this book examines the conflicted role of juvenile defenders, who must balance their clients' wishes with their own judgment on what is best for a child.
Publisher's Description
KF9813 .C67 2018 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Bennett L. Gershman, Prosecution Stories (2017).
"As a former prosecutor, the author uses actual case stories, some famous cases and many ordinary ones, to show how prosecutors use and sometimes abuse their
extraordinary power to convict wrongdoers while operating within an array of legal and ethical standards." --From the book cover
Publisher's Description 
KF9640 .G47 2017 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Jon B. Gould, Capital Defense: Inside the Lives of America's Death Penalty Lawyers (2019).
Gives a glimpse into the challenging lives of criminal defense lawyers who specialize in death penalty cases.
Publisher's Description
KF9227 .C2 G685 2019 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Kamala Harris, Truths We Hold: An American Journey (2019).
In this autobiography, Senator Harris discusses her career as a Bay Area prosecutor in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Publisher's Description
E901.1 H37 A3 2019 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Joan E. Jacoby & Edward C. Ratledge, The Power of the Prosecutor: Gatekeepers of the Criminal Justice System (2016).
This book explains the important discretionary powers that prosecutors exercise in deciding which cases to prosecute.
Publisher's Description
KF9640 .J29 2016 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Larry Krasner, For the People: A Story of Justice and Power (2021).
Philadelphia's new district attorney Larry Krasner describes his vision for criminal justice reform and discusses his previous career as a criminal defense attorney.
Publisher's Description
KF373 .K69 A3 2021 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Miriam Aroni Krinsky, Change from Within: Reimagining the 21st-Century Prosecutor (2022).
A former federal prosecutor interviews newly elected reformist prosecutors including Chesa Boudin, Kim Foxx, and Larry Krasner.
Publisher's DescriptionFull text on ProQuest Ebook Central
KF9640 .K74 2022 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Sara Mayeux, Free Justice: A History of the Public Defender in Twentieth-Century America (2020).
This history of public defenders in America provides context to the challenges facing public defenders today.
Publisher's Description
KF9646 .M39 2020 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Jonathan Rapping, Gideon's Promise: A Public Defender Movement to Transform Criminal Justice (2020).
Explains how public defenders can take a more active role in criminal justice reform.
Publisher's Description
KF9646 .R37 2020 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

M. Gerald Schwartzbach, Leaning on the Arc: A Personal History of Criminal Defense (2016).
Defense attorney Gerald Schwartzbach, who is best known for his defense of actor Robert Blake, recounts some of the most interesting cases of his long career.
Publisher's Description
KF373 .S348 A3 2016 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Abbe Smith, Guilty People (2020).
A criminal defense attorney shares her experiences representing guilty clients.
Publisher's Description
KF9223 .S547 2020 (Law Library 2nd Floor)

Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas (Nicole S. Weber ed., 2018)
This legal career guide is based on interviews with attorneys at leading law firms. It includes a chapter on white collar defense.
KF300 .P73 2018 (OCS)

C.J. Williams, How Not to Rob a Bank and Other Stories from 20 Years as a Federal Prosecutor (2022).
A U.S. District Judge looks back on his career as a federal prosecutor. The book focuses on the human aspects of the defendants and their trials, providing insight into the world of federal crime.
Publisher's Description
KF373 .W467 A3 2022 (Law Library 2nd Floor)


Valerio Bacak, Sarah E. Lageson & Kathleen Powell, "Fighting the Good Fight": Why Do Public Defenders Remain on the Job?, 31 Crim. Justice Policy Rev. 939 (2020).
This article examines public defenders' motivations to stay on the job in the face of unique challenges.

Lara Bazelon, A Great Criminal Defense Attorney Is a Zealot, Despite Its Negative Connotations, ABA Journal, Oct. 27, 2021.
A criminal defense attorney describes how demanding and absorbing her work can be.

Patrick C. Brayer, The Power of the Public Defender Experience: Learning by Fighting for the Incarcerated and Poor, 53 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol'y 105 (2017).
Explores the value of law student internships at public defender offices.

James Castle, Why We Are Defenders, Champion, July 2016, at 51.
A criminal defense attorney lists the beliefs that motivate defenders.

Kristin A. Chiriatti, Public Defenders: The Impossibility of Rule 1.14 and How Mental Health First Aid Training Can Contribute to Success, 21 Quinnipiac Health L.J. 103 (2018).
Addresses the problems public defenders face in dealing with mentally ill clients.

Jessica Corso, Some Assistant DAs Make as Little as $40K Per Year, Law360, Sept. 14, 2021.
Discusses the salary range for new prosectuors, which can vary widely from one location to another.

Jenny B. Davis, Meet a New Chief Public Defender in Texas Working to End Criminal Justice Disparities, ABA Journal, Dec. 2020.
An interview with a public defender who has worked in the Bronx, Virginia, and Texas.

Nora V. Demleitner, State Prosecutors at the Center of Mass Imprisonment and Criminal Justice Reform, 32 Fed. Sent. R. 187 (2020).
Explains the importance and extent of prosecutorial discretion, and considers how prosecutors can choose to advance or hinder criminal justice reform.

Sarah Goodrum et al, Representing the Underdog: The Righteous Development of Death Penalty Defense Attorneys, Criminal Law Bulletin, Spring 2015.
The authors present a qualitative study of the traits of death penalty defense attorneys.

Timothy C. Harker, Faithful Execution: The Persistent Myth of Widespread Prosecutorial Misconduct, 85 Tenn. L. Rev. 847 (2018).
Surveys the evidence for and reactions to prosecutorial misconduct. Argues that misconduct is not widespread.

Liane Jackson, Change Agents: A New Wave of Reform Prosecutors Upends the Status Quo, ABA Journal, June 2019.
This article reveals a generational change in prosecutors' offices as younger, more progressive prosecutors show greater interest in transparency and fairness.

Benjamin Levin, Imagining the Progressive Prosecutor, 105 Minn. L. Rev. 1415 (2021).
Explores the meaning of the term "progressive prosecutor" and offers a four-part typology.

Tiffani A. Smith, Tips for Young Lawyers on Succeeding in Public Defense, Criminal Justice, Fall 2016, at 56.

Sindhu Sundar, Why BigLaw Loves Mob Prosecutors, Law360, June 6, 2018.
Discusses the career prospects of prosecutors who specialize in organized crime.

Ronald F. Wright & Kay L. Levine, Career Motivations of State Prosecutors, 86 George Washington L. Rev. 1667 (2018).
Based on original interviews with 260 prosecutors, this article identifies career motivations for prosecutors and gives advice on voicing your motivations in the hiring context.



Champion: The Official News Report of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Library has v.13 (1989) to present.
Houston: National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Available on Westlaw

Criminal Justice
Washington, DC: ABA Section of Criminal Justice.
Available on Westlaw


American Bar Association, Section of Criminal Justice
1050 Connecticut Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
tel: (202) 662-1500
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 23187
tel: (757) 253-4146
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 23187
tel: (757) 221-7446
"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)
1660 L St. N.W., 12th Fl.
Washington, DC 20036
tel: (202) 872-8600
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)
1400 Crystal Dr., Ste. 330
Arlington, VA 22202
tel: (703) 549-9222
Organization serving prosecuting attorneys. Provides educational, informational and technical assistance to members.

National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA)
1901 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. Ste. 500
Washington, DC 20006
tel: (202) 452-0620 
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