Thank you for your interest in criminal defense law. To become a lawyer, you will need to get a 4 year college degree and then attend a 3 year law school program, and, pass the bar exam. Things you can do right now would be to get involved in debate team, speech, and challenge yourself to do well in writing. Learning the parts of speech and rules of grammar are also important, as I have seen many cases argued about "what does the law actually say?" I would also encourage you to join the police explorers or some other police program, if available. Learning what happens from a police perspective will help you to start analyzing situations from all perspectives. You need to be able to understand how other people think and act, even if you do not agree with it.
Many criminal defense lawyers start out working a few years in the prosecutors office. I know you probably don't want to prosecute people accused of crimes, however, exposure to this office will help you to meet people you will later be dealing with when trying to negotiate settlements for your clients, and it will help you to learn how your "enemies"(prosecutors) think. This is an essential component to being a good defense lawyer.
I want to say a word about criminal defense law. That is, the overwhelming majority of cases do NOT go to trial. Not. Most of what will happen will be talking back and forth between the attorneys, and sometimes settling a case in the hall minutes before the judge calls your case. This doesn't negate the need to be totally prepared to go all the way. Unless you are specializing in high profile cases, the likelihood of going to trial is not very high. There are many options available to first time offenders, including things such as deferred adjudication, so you will learn about those programs and try to get the best deal for your client. There is no guarantee that an innocent person will be acquitted, so, sadly, they will often take the guilty plea if there is a good deal offered.
I am not trying to discourage you, but, I do want you to have a realistic understanding of how the process works.
Best of luck!
Christopher M.’s Answer
It is wonderful that you're considering a legal career and that you want to stand up for what is right. I too was interested in criminal law at a young age and tailored my undergraduate studies to align with this interest.
Any experience you can gain relating to criminal law will be valuable at your age and throughout your undergraduate studies, whether it be interviewing prosecutors, defense attorneys, and police officers or interning in a legal office that handles criminal matters. It will also provide some insight into the day to day job functions of all of these roles.
Tailoring your undergraduate studies toward political science or criminal law may provide you with a slight edge, but isn't a must. Your undergraduate degree won't impact your ability to land a job as a prosecutor or defense attorney once you've completed law school and passed the bar.
I would recommend experience, volunteer or otherwise, that allows you to gain perspective from both the state (prosecutor/police) and community (ie. interning in the state's attorney's office and volunteering at any social impact organization). Exposure to these diverging and too often opposing perspectives will be invaluable.
It sounds like you're very comfortable speaking in front of people and I would agree with Kim that you should continue to practice this public speaking skill, because it is a skill that can be improved! You could practice this by joining a public speaking/debate group or even by joining a theatre group (ask any criminal attorney and they will tell you that it is equal parts law and theatre).
All the best and no matter where your paths leads I hope you continue to fight for what is right,