- Types of criminal lawyer
- What do criminal lawyers do?
- Criminal lawyer career path
- Criminal lawyer salaries
- Qualifications and training
- Criminal lawyer skills
- Pros and cons of being a criminal lawyer
- Criminal lawyer work life balance
- Typical employers
- Related jobs
Do you have a passion for the law? Are you analytically minded? If you want a career built around the laws of the country and bringing about justice, a career as a criminal lawyer could be perfect for you.
Are you interested in a career as a criminal lawyer? Explore the criminal and human rights sector jobs available to you right now.
Types of criminal lawyer
The term ‘criminal lawyer’ refers to a legal professional working within the criminal area of law. In criminal law, you can work for the defence or the prosecution side. The defence tries to argue that a client, or the defendant, is innocent whilst the prosecution argues that the defendant is guilty. Within criminal law, there are many jobs that you could go into, including legal secretary, paralegal and judge. However, there are two main types of jobs associated with the term ‘criminal lawyer’: barrister and solicitor.
Barristers are known for standing up in court and arguing on behalf of a client. In the role, you receive a researched file including the relevant information about the case and the arguments you should put forward. Part of your job is doing your own research and adding information to the case when necessary. To do this job, you need to understand the nuances of working in a court including the proper attire and how to address everyone present.
Solicitors have a more background role than barristers. They meet with clients outside of the courtroom and build a case for the client. In this role you may stand up in court, but far less often than barristers because your job is primarily based around giving advice and building legal cases.
What do criminal lawyers do?
Here are the tasks and responsibilities that you have as a barrister working in criminal law:
- Discuss the case with members of your team and the client.
- Research the history of the case and other relevant historic and recent cases.
- Stand up in court and make your argument, whether this is defending a client or arguing for a conviction.
- Translating legal terms and providing advice to clients about what the court has decided or what’s happening at the time.
Here are the tasks and responsibilities that you have as a solicitor working in criminal law:
- Meet with clients and legal teams to discuss cases.
- Provide advice to clients about the case, suggesting the best way to deal with the criminal law process.
- Research historic and recent cases that may have set legal precedents which you can use in your argument.
- Work with paralegals and other members of the team to build up the case so you have the best chance of winning.
- Occasionally attend court.
Criminal lawyer career path
Most lawyers in criminal law work for the Crown Prosecution Service or a criminal law firm, known as chambers. As such, you’re exposed to many career paths. If you enjoy working with the law but don’t want to work in criminal law, you could explore other solicitor and barrister roles in different areas of the law. If you like the work but want to take a step back from giving advice and speaking to clients, you could become a paralegal. Here are the career paths for solicitors and barristers working in criminal law:
For both solicitors and barristers, you start your working life in a trainee position. For a barrister, this is called a pupillage. These are educational roles where you learn to apply the knowledge you gained from your education to the work setting. As a trainee, you shadow other members of the team, learning from the work they do. You do some background work like research, drafting legal documents and building up cases. As a trainee solicitor, you might provide advice to clients under supervision.
Once you’ve completed the trainee stage of your career, you become a practising solicitor or barrister. In these roles, you’re given your own cases to work on. For a solicitor, this means giving legal advice, building cases and writing documents. For a barrister, this means attending court and representing your client, adding research to your legal cases and informing your client on what is happening with legal proceedings whilst in court.
After you’ve gained lots of experience and a great track record, you can become head of chambers. This is a senior barrister or solicitor position meaning you’re given responsibility for the largest cases your chambers sees. Since it’s such a coveted position, the application process is long and the job requires at least 10 years of work before you can be considered. It even requires a recommendation from the Lord Chancellor.
Criminal lawyer salaries
Working in the criminal law sector is a relatively highly paid area but not compared to other areas of practice like commercial law. Here are the salaries that you could earn as a criminal barrister or solicitor:
- In an entry-level trainee criminal solicitor or barrister position, you earn between £12,000 and £20,000 per year.
- As a criminal solicitor, you earn between £25,000 and £40,000 per year depending on who you work for and your experience and expertise.
- As a criminal barrister, you earn between £20,000 and £40,000 per year.
- As head of chambers, could earn upwards of £100,000 per year.
Qualifications and training
To get yourself into a trainee position, you need the right qualifications and training. This can be quite specific for legal careers. Here are the qualifications and training that you need to be a criminal barrister or solicitor:
To be either a barrister or a solicitor, you typically need an undergraduate degree. Most people in the profession have an undergraduate degree in law. This qualification teaches you the necessary background information about the legal system and skills, for example critical thinking and negotiation, that you need for your career. It is possible to become a barrister or solicitor with an undergraduate degree in another subject. This requires you to do a one or two year law conversion course.
When becoming a barrister, you complete a training stage, or pupillage, where you learn the necessary vocational skills for the job. You then must complete the criminal bar exam to qualify as a barrister. You can learn more about this process through the Criminal Bar Association’s website.
When becoming a solicitor, you need to complete your degree and then do a training contract. Like a pupillage, a training contract teaches you the necessary skills to become a solicitor and gives you the relevant experience that you need for your career. To qualify as a solicitor, you either need to complete the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) or the Legal Practice Course (LPC).
Since the law sector is a highly competitive field to get into, having some work experience helps you get your application noticed. This is particularly important before you apply to training contracts and pupillages because it tells a hiring manager that you already have some skills that would be useful for the job and have experience of working in the environment. One way of getting some work experience is through an internship. Internships offer you a window into the career path and show you the type of work you do as a solicitor or barrister. It’s also possible to make contacts and possibly get a training contract or pupillage from the experience. Complete this module on converting an internship into a permanent job so you can get the most out of your opportunity. You can explore the criminal and human rights law sector internships available now.
Criminal lawyer skills
Combining your education with your experience and skills is a great way to get your application noticed by a hiring manager. Here are the skills that you need to work as a criminal barrister or solicitor:
- Knowledge of criminal law. Criminal law is a vast part of the legal system. You need to have an overview of the entire area of criminal law which you can use for any cases you’re working on.
- Analytical and critical thinking skills. Both barristers and solicitors need great critical thinking and analytical skills so they can use information to win a legal case. For a barrister, this might be turning a piece of evidence that the opposing legal team used against them. For a solicitor, this might be using precedent set by recent or historic legal cases to argue a point.
- Communication. For any lawyer, whether a barrister or a solicitor, you need great communication skills. Both roles require speaking to clients and providing legal advice to them. As a solicitor, this extends to negotiation as you may need to talk through cases with opposing legal teams. As a barrister, this extends to arguing and being able to put forward your case in the correct and accepted manner in court.
If you want to improve on your communication skills, complete this module on adapting your communication style.
Pros and cons of being a criminal lawyer
As with any career, there are good and bad parts of working as a lawyer in the criminal law sector. Here is what you should consider before joining the career path:
- Winning a case can be very satisfying.
- You get the satisfaction of either preventing someone from being wrongfully convicted or punishing someone for their crimes.
- It’s a good career path that offers job security and good salaries in more senior positions.
- You can use the many skills you learn throughout your career for other jobs that you may decide to do, for example moving into politics.
- It is a highly pressured working environment where you have to compile a lot of information in a short space of time. This can lead to stress.
- Having a good track record is very important in this line of work which puts a lot of pressure on winning cases.
- There can be moral issues associated with the career including getting someone off for a crime that you suspect they did or trying to convict a potentially innocent person.
- It is quite difficult to get into a role because you need good qualifications and it’s a highly competitive field. It’s also expensive to become a barrister or solicitor because the first few years provide very little pay, making it less accessible to people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Criminal lawyer work-life balance
Working as a barrister can be a highly pressured job. This is due to large workloads, long working days and the courtroom being a high pressure environment. This is similar for solicitors who have high workloads leading to long working weeks. Therefore, working in either career path could mean maintaining a good work-life balance can be difficult.
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