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General criminal defense vs. niche criminal defense


As a law student, you may be approaching the point in your academic career where you are thinking seriously about which type of criminal law you will practice. And while it is certainly possible to be a general criminal law attorney defending any criminal matter that comes through the door, there are many lawyers who choose to focus on a specific niche of criminal law, such as DUI/DWI defense. Here are a few advantages and drawbacks of each:

Upholding justice

 Working as both a general criminal lawyer or a DWI (or other niche area) lawyer provides you with an opportunity to uphold justice and represent those who might otherwise get trampled by the criminal justice system. From the perspective of feeling good about the work you’re doing, both types of lawyers provide key legal aid to those who are in need. Guilty or not, we all deserve to be represented by a competent lawyer after being charged with a crime.

Interest and challenging nature of the work

Many people who go into law do so because they are looking for a career that not only allows them to help others, but because they want to be engaged and challenged by their work. If you are someone who enjoys new challenges, general criminal law may be a better choice for you as it will allow you to take on a wide variety of cases rather than similar case type time and time again. However, keep in mind that while this may be more engaging, it may also require more time and work, including a thorough understanding of all areas of the criminal code rather than a specific subsection.

Time and money

Finally, your time and money are two important resources and values – as you think about your future, you should start to think about your financial goals and your career goals. How many hours do you want to put in at the office each week? Do you want to have a more relaxed work schedule in order to have a family or pursue non-legal interests? What are your financial goals? These considerations may also affect the type of criminal law you want to focus on, as well as whether you want to work as a public defender or as a private criminal defense attorney.

In my city, there are a few attorneys who focus solely on DWI law, and the general consensus is that those who focus tend to have more clients than some of the general criminal defense attorneys.

What should I practice?

Which type of law you will practice seems like a big decision as graduation nears, but many lawyers find that they do not stick their first career choice after law school. Which is why I suggest that you schedule a few interviews with different criminal defense attorneys – both those who practice general criminal law and those who focus on a particular subsection of criminal law – in your city. Ask each lawyer what they like and dislike about their field, their income and hours, and whether or not they would do anything differently if they could do it again.

Finally, remember that at the end of the day, it is always possible to make a change if you begin practicing an area of law with which you are dissatisfied.

Daniel Lazarine Daniel Lazarine is a criminal defense attorney in Houston, Texas. He is a former prosecutor for the Galveston County Criminal District Attorney’s Office and a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center.