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The Difference Between a Defense Lawyer and a Trial Lawyer

— January 28, 2022

Considering defense attorneys and trial lawyers defend their clients in different ways, they also have different skill sets.

When it comes to criminal lawyers and trial lawyers, many people think they are one and the same. This is mainly because licensed lawyers are allowed to plead in court. However, the two are different, especially when it comes to their participation in court. 

An individual being charged with a crime leads to a complex process. There will be the initial charges stage, and then there is some time until the possibility of a trial arises. Therefore, there is a need for a lawyer. But which one is the right choice in court?

If you’re struggling to choose between a criminal defense lawyer and a trial lawyer because you don’t know the difference between them, this article will help you out.

What is a Defense Lawyer?

A defense lawyer is someone who is specialized in representing clients who were charged with crimes. It all starts with the arraignment from where one could read the official charges. Then, the lawyer will support the client at every single step and advise them. 

Ideally, the lawyer should convince the client to enter a plea deal. This will prevent going to trial. Apart from that, they will advise the client during pre-trial proceedings and help them obtain a positive result. 

In order to reach a plea deal that is convenient for both parties, the criminal defense attorney will negotiate with the judge and prosecutors in the pre-trial process. If this is only a first offense, then the plea deal may be a mix of community service, drug testing, fines, therapy, or anything of the sort, and a reduced sentence. 

The lawyer wants you to stay away from the court in order to have a say in the matter, too. But if your case reaches trial, then the judge and jury will decide on an outcome. 

What is a Trial Lawyer?

Trial lawyers are people who represent a client who went to trial. They can help out when the pre-trial negotiations did not reach a favorable conclusion and a trial was necessary. Going to court will add some extra responsibilities that defense lawyers may never have to deal with, such as jury selection, communicating strong arguments, cross-examining witnesses, and many other similar things. 

Since the trial is different from any of the previous parts of the process, a good, experienced trial lawyer is necessary. 

What are the Differences Between Defense Lawyers and Trial Lawyers?

There are several differences between trial lawyers and defense lawyers, and you must know them if you are involved in a criminal case. Here are some of the biggest differences:

  1. Law Type

Criminal defense lawyers and trial lawyers are different when it comes to the type of law they operate with. Defense attorneys are the ones dealing with the processes happening before the trial. This involves negotiating plea deals, for instance, or doing anything else that would prevent a trial. 

Then, if the case eventually goes to court, the lawyer will become a trial attorney. This applies even if this is the same person defending you. They will defend you in a court of law in front of a jury. A criminal defense lawyer will only work as your representative in the criminal case.

Meanwhile, a trial lawyer will be able to defend their client in either a civil case or a criminal case. 

  1. The People They Defend

The status of your case in the criminal process will determine what type of lawyer you need. For the most part, criminal cases are settled in the pre-trial phase. This happens through a certain resolution, such as a plea deal or another. A criminal defense attorney will be the one helping out a client during the pre-trial phase of a criminal process.

A female prisoner shackled in jail. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:OfficerBimblebury. (CCA-BY-4.0)

If the case eventually goes to trial, a trial lawyer will be the one taking over. Sometimes, the criminal defense attorney will decide to stay with you and become the trial lawyer. In other cases, the defense attorney does not have enough experience to go to trial, in which case they are replaced by a trial lawyer. 

  1. The Skills They Have

Considering defense attorneys and trial lawyers defend their clients in different ways, they also have different skill sets. A criminal defense attorney is the one who knows your chances of winning the case if you go to trial and will also know how to minimize your sentence by negotiating plea deals. 

Conversely, trial lawyers will be the experts making sure to defend you when you go to court. They will be able to make examinations, cross-examinations, opening statements, jury selection, and closing statements. 

A lawyer can have both skill sets, though. This is especially true when it comes to experienced lawyers. So, if you hire such a lawyer, they will be able to support you and defend you during the whole duration of the case. 

  1. Their Tasks

The two types of lawyers are also different when it comes to their tasks. They will perform certain tasks during different case stages. 

For instance, criminal defense attorneys will do their best to either negotiate a plea deal or a different resolution. By doing so, you could avoid going to trial and the case will be settled much sooner, saving time, money and preventing a potential unpleasant outcome.

Then, when it comes to trial lawyers, they will have more tasks to deal with. They will have to prepare for trial, contact the witnesses, build a record, argue motions during the case, and many other things. 

The Bottom Line

It’s important to know the difference between a criminal defense lawyer and a trial lawyer if you are ever a part of a criminal case. For example, in Milwaukee, the crime rate shows that there were 18,116 crimes in the city from January 1 to June 25 in 2021. With so many crimes, many criminal cases were started, forcing people to find the right Milwaukee trial lawyers. 

If you are ever in this situation, make sure you choose wisely between a criminal defense lawyer and a trial lawyer so that you have the best chances of winning the case.

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