No particular high school classes are required as a prerequisite to become a defense attorney. In fact, law school admission is based primarily on the undergraduate grade point average and the Law School Admission Test score. However, there are courses and activities that a high school student can participate in that might help her to succeed in law school and in the practice of law.
It is essential that lawyers know how to write well. Defense lawyers write internal memos to each other and compose motions and briefs to the court. Therefore, it is essential that lawyers know how to write well, and students should learn early as much as possible about the fundamentals of writing. Students should take writing courses that not only teach them how to write, but challenge them to think critically and write persuasively. Students should use every opportunity to develop and hone their writing abilities.
Participating in a debate class or club affords the student a chance to develop and defend arguments on opposing sides of an issue. Spotting and arguing the issues on both sides of a subject is ideal preparation for a future defense attorney. Defense attorneys must be able to anticipate and overcome the claims of the prosecution. Additionally, debate teams or classes prepare the student to think quickly under pressure and make effective oral arguments, which again is crucial in defense work.
Like debating, improvisational drama classes force a student to think fluidly and quickly in high pressure situations. Similarly, defense attorneys who argue in front of judges or juries need to be able to adapt and respond effortlessly to the unforeseen. For instance, in oral arguments, judges often ask lawyers questions. When that happens, the lawyer does not have a scripted response, but must still respond with grace and authority. Likewise, a defense attorney must take surprising testimony from trial and create questions to the witness and a closing argument that incorporates the unexpected as if it was expected. This is a skill that takes practice and such practice could begin in a high school drama class or club.
High school students who want to be defense lawyers should also consider volunteering in civic organizations while in high school. Doing so is a resume booster that could ultimately have a positive impact on the college and subsequent law school the student attends. The more meaningful effect, however, is that the student gains a greater appreciation for the kinds of people that need defense attorneys. The student will see that, not only do corporations and big businesses require defense attorneys, but so do the orphaned, the weak, the powerless and the poor.