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Articles / Majors & Careers / Career Profile: Criminal Defense Attorney

Career Profile: Criminal Defense Attorney

Delaney Roe
Written by Delaney Roe | Feb. 16, 2023
Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Jeff VanNorman serves as a criminal defense attorney as a part of the VanNorman Law firm in Phoenix, Arizona. With a wife and three kids, he has built a very enjoyable life for himself and for his family. Law was always the end goal for him, there was no backup. His father being a lawyer was a big inspiration for him as well. After getting the chance to talk to Mr.VanNorman, I have learned a great deal about having a career in law and what it takes to succeed.

The Path to Success

While many young individuals don’t have a clear vision for their future, Mr. VanNorman did. He credits his parents for really pushing the importance of education, with his mom who was an elementary school teacher and with his older siblings attending and graduating from college, he knew he would follow the same path.

Mr. VanNorman’s Career Path as a Lawyer:

  1. Undergrad: Business Major
  2. Part-time Jobs and Financial Aid
  3. Grad School: Law
  4. Internship as Public Defender
  5. Early Career: Public Defender
  6. Established Career: Runs His Own Law Firm

Studying Law

Mr. VanNorman attended Arizona State University where he studied business. His plan was always to attend law school right after undergraduate school. And after he earned his undergraduate degree, he studied at Whittier Law School in California. His parents helped as much as they could financially, but with nine siblings, he relied mostly on his own income and student loans to get himself through all of school.

While he studied, he was able to work part-time jobs during undergrad and continued to work and hold internship positions during the summers of law school. At that point in his life, Mr. VanNorman knew he wanted to be an attorney, but what type was still up in the air.

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Finding an Internship and Career Path

Mr. VanNorman found his passion for criminal defense while interning for the Maricopa County’s Public Defender's office. Arizona law Rule 38 allows law students to appear in court and actively participate in the hearings. So, as a Rule 38 student, Mr. VanNorman was able to practice law with his internship. There, he worked as a criminal defense attorney for a guy who had received a DUI. The case ended up going to a jury trial and Mr. VanNorman went on to win the case. Winning his first case while still being in law school was a monumental success for his career.

Through his internship he found that criminal defense was the right area for him as he came to really enjoy helping out the “underdogs.” Mr. VanNorman’s brother, like their father, also works in law. Having a brother working in criminal defense also contributed to his familiarity and interest in the profession.

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Early Work in Law

Mr. VanNorman's success during his internship led to a job offer with them that he took right out of law school. After three years at that office, he went on to be a prosecuting attorney for a year at the City of Scottsdale.

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Day-in-the-Life at a Law Firm

With a few years of job experience under his belt, he and his brother decided to open up their very own law firm, where they have both remained for the past 25 years.

When describing what a typical day in-the-life looks like, Mr. VanNorman says there are usually a few court appearances and lots of phone calls. The goal for him with his clients is to get an optimal resolution, and when that doesn’t happen, they go to trial. His average client base ranges from 20-40 cases being active at once, and over his many years in the field, he has built up a loyal client base with his strong reputation.

  1. Court Appearances
  2. Phone Calls
  3. Achieving Resolutions
  4. Going to Trial
  5. 20-40 Active Cases at a Time

Continuing the Path to Success

A key part to Mr. VanNorman’s success involves hard work and prioritizing a good reputation. His business is mostly dependent on referrals, so the more positive resolutions he gets, the more likely his clients will refer him to their friends and family. On top of that, being well respected across other lawyers leads to more business when those lawyers don’t handle criminal cases themselves.

Mr. VanNorman admits that finding new business can be an ongoing challenge, but he has been fortunate in that business has remained pretty steady for him throughout the years. His biggest career successes have been attributed to staying in the business and providing good service for his clients.

His favorite thing about his job is helping younger people who have made a few mistakes and getting them through that difficult period of their lives. Having the influence to help individuals make better decisions going forward and learning from their mistakes has been extremely valuable and rewarding to him.

Advice for Future Lawyers

When asked what advice he would give to others out there, Mr. VanNorman offered some for those pursuing any career and also for those specifically pursuing law.

First, he emphasizes the importance of getting as much education as you can. His dad always told him that the one thing someone could never take away from you is your education.

Second, he advises that finding something you love to do will make whatever that is feel less like work and will translate into a happier, healthier lifestyle.

For future lawyers, he stresses having a passion for law and being committed to your reputation because at the end of the day, nothing is worth jeopardizing your bar license. In his words, “the world always needs good lawyers.”

  1. Get as much education as possible
  2. Do what you love
  3. Good lawyers are passionate and committed

Envisioning the Future

As someone who has entered college with a pretty vague vision of where I see myself down the road, Mr. VanNorman’s insight has made a real impact on me. He had a very clear vision growing up on what he wanted to do, which isn’t the case for many. There can be a lot of pressure to figure out exactly what you want to study and what you want to do after graduation, and I think that because of that it is easy to pick something that you don’t really have a passion for. From hearing from Mr. VanNorman, I have realized that my priority should be to explore my interests so that I can be confident in enjoying and being happy in whatever path I end up pursuing. His words “the more you enjoy what you do, the less it will feel like work” struck a chord with me that I will remember as I journey down the path of determining what career to choose. Further, as he highlighted the value of education, I have come to find that now is the time to take advantage of all the opportunities available to me while I’m in school. With that, I am excited to learn as much as I can and take everything in.


Related: Featured Career: Human Rights Lawyer

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Written by

Delaney Roe

Delaney Roe

Delaney is a first-year student at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts where she is majoring in Business Administration with her concentration still to be determined. She is originally from Phoenix, Arizona but spent some time as a child living overseas in both Shanghai, China and Taipei, Taiwan. Delaney is super excited to explore all the opportunities available to her at Northeastern and is eager to help other students navigate college admissions in general.

  • CC Name: @delaney.roe
  • Instagram: @delaney.roe13

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