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What does a Juvenile Attorney do?

By Ken Black
Updated: May 16, 2024

A juvenile attorney has several different duties, depending on the situation. This type of lawyer may represent juveniles in criminal matters, and should have special knowledge of law as it applies to minors. Another duty the juvenile attorney may have is to represent the best interests of a child in a civil or criminal proceeding. In both cases, a knowledge of both family law and juvenile criminal law is often needed to perform adequately in this capacity.

In cases regarding juvenile crime, the attorney needs to have an understanding of the legal system as it applies to minors. Often, attorneys in this regard have worked in the juvenile legal system extensively, developing contacts and relationships with the judges, court administrators and law enforcement personnel. As such, it may be in the minor's best interest to have the services of a specialist when trying to dispose of a juvenile crime.

In addition to knowledge of the legal system, a juvenile attorney may need some knowledge of social work and psychology. Many times, these cases will be full of highly-charged emotions, and often involve teenage defendants. If that is the case, the attorney should have experience working with adolescents, and be able to quickly settle down tense situations.

The payment for a juvenile law attorney may come from a couple of different areas. A family may pay for the services of the juvenile attorney, or the services may be paid for through government means. If the government pays for the attorney, this court-appointed attorney is selected by the government making the appointment.

The other major job of a juvenile attorney is to represent the interest of a child in a civil matter. In a particularly contentious divorce, for example, a judge may appoint a juvenile attorney, or guardian ad litem, to make sure the child's interests are well represented. This type of appointment typically only happens if there is reason to believe the child may be in danger in some way.

More commonly, a juvenile attorney may represent the child's interest in a family law matter involving the government and a family. For example, if a government agency is trying to remove a child from a home and place him or her in foster care, a juvenile attorney may be called in to make sure the child will receive the best possible result. This may include eventually returning the child to the home, or could possibly lead to the termination of parental rights.

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Discussion Comments
By Soulfox — On Apr 19, 2014

@Melonlity -- and, quite often, those appointments are for both criminal and civil matters. Getting involved in representing juveniles isn't a bad way to get some steady work when you're building a practice, but be careful if you take that approach. In some jurisdictions, you will serve as the attorney of record for a juvenile until he or she becomes an adult. That can be a problem.

Look at it this way. Courts typically don't pay the standard, hourly rate for attorneys when they appoint cases to them. That may be fine in the beginning, but let's say you wind up representing a 13-year-old kid who has a knack for getting into trouble. Getting a reduced fee to represent that kid may be fine at first, but how about four years later when representing the juvenile takes time away from more lucrative cases? Imagine having about 10 juveniles like that and you're looking at a bunch of clients who could effectively interfere with your ability to even take on cases that pay much better.

By Melonlity — On Apr 18, 2014

A good number of younger attorneys have started out representing juveniles out of necessity. In a number of jurisdictions, it is common for lawyers to get on the list of attorneys that courts will appoint to represent juveniles.

In those jurisdictions, lawyers who take those cases can often count on steady work and a client that will pay reliably.

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