What is the role of a defense attorney? A Guide to Their Duties and Responsibilities

A defense attorney is a lawyer who represents a person who is accused of a crime or a civil wrong.

The defense attorney’s main goal is to protect the rights and interests of their client, and to seek the best possible outcome for their case.

A picture of a criminal defender
Criminal defenders [PHOTO COURTESY OF MS &JD]
A defense attorney may also be called a defense lawyer, a criminal defense attorney, or a public defender.

READ ALSO : How to Pay for a Criminal Defense Lawyer? Tips and Options

Defense Attorney Definition

According to the [Wex Legal Dictionary](^2^), a defense attorney is “an attorney representing a defendant in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution.

A defendant is the person who is charged with a crime or sued by another party.

A defense attorney can be hired by the defendant or appointed by the court if the defendant cannot afford one.

Defense Attorney Role

The role of a defense attorney varies depending on the type and complexity of the case, but some of the common duties and responsibilities include:

  1. Meeting with the client and discussing the facts and circumstances of the case
  2. Conducting legal research and analysis to identify the relevant laws and precedents
  3. Developing and presenting a legal strategy and defense for the client
  4. Negotiating with the prosecution or the plaintiff to reach a plea bargain or a settlement
  5. Representing the client in pretrial hearings, motions, and evidentiary challenges
  6. Preparing and examining witnesses and evidence for trial
  7. Delivering opening statements, closing arguments, and cross-examinations at trial
  8. Appealing the verdict or sentence if necessary

Defense Attorney vs. Prosecutor

A defense attorney is often contrasted with a prosecutor, who is the lawyer who represents the state or the government in a criminal case.

The prosecutor’s main goal is to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and to seek justice for the victim and society.

A prosecutor may also be called a district attorney, a state attorney, or an attorney general.

Some of the main differences between a defense attorney and a prosecutor are:

  1. A defense attorney works for the defendant, while a prosecutor works for the state or the government
  2. A defense attorney has a duty to zealously advocate for their client, while a prosecutor has a duty to uphold the law and seek the truth
  3.  defense attorney can choose which cases to take on, while a prosecutor must handle all cases assigned by their office
  4. A defense attorney can raise any legal defenses or arguments that are in their client’s favor, while a prosecutor must disclose any exculpatory evidence or information that may benefit the defendant
  5. A defense attorney can challenge the admissibility and credibility of the prosecution’s evidence, while a prosecutor must present sufficient and reliable evidence to prove their case

What is a defense attorney salary?

The salary of a defense attorney can vary depending on many factors, such as education, experience, location, and employer.

According to some sources, the average annual salary for a defense attorney in the United States is around $90,000 to $100,000123.

However, some defense attorneys can earn much more or less than this range.

For example, a defense attorney who works in a private law firm may have a higher salary than one who works for the government or a non-profit organization.

Additionally, a defense attorney who specializes in a certain area of law, such as criminal defense, may have a different salary than one who handles a variety of cases.

Therefore, the salary of a defense attorney can depend on many factors and may not be the same for everyone.


A defense attorney plays an important role in the legal system by ensuring that every person accused of a crime or a civil wrong has a fair and impartial trial.

A defense attorney also helps to balance the power of the state or the government and to safeguard the constitutional rights of their client.

A defense attorney may face many challenges and ethical dilemmas in their work, but they also have many opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives.


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