Criminal law deals with, well, criminals
Criminal law covers everything from small misdemeanours, to big heinous crimes, frauds and white-collar crime. It can also involve international relations and multiple jurisdictional rules when it comes to issues such as extradition, money-laundering, cross-border crimes and terrorism. Typically work is of a contentious nature and involves lots of advocacy (i.e. arguing in support of something).
Is criminal law as exciting as you see on Law & Order?
Criminal law involves the most series issues in society, such as murder, rape or robbery, and involves a whole series of people from solicitors, barristers and legal executives, to judges, interpreters and reporters.
For lawyers involved in this sector, opportunities are available in both private and public practice. In private practice, you can work as a defence lawyer in order for those accused of criminal offences. In public practice you will be working for either the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or for the Public Defender Service (PDS).
Lawyers will usually work on the case from the beginning to the end. This will involve the filing of a case, investigation, visiting police stations and prisons, taking witness statements, going through medical reports, liaising with court personnel, the police department and probation officers, filing pleas and motions before the presiding court, and conducting the eventual trial, if that part is not being performed by a barrister. Post sentencing, you may work on appeals at higher judicial levels. This will involve a lot of paperwork and a hell of a lot of research.
Much of the activity in handling such cases can involve liaising with peers and judicial authorities from other jurisdictions, taking care of extradition claims or dealing with the fallout of delinquency or criminal negligence.
Ancillary tasks will include following the money trail, battling with corruption and bureaucracy, monopolies and restrictive trade practices, and running through copious amounts of documentation.
Apart from the degree, what do I need to be a good criminal lawyer?
To be a criminal lawyer, you should be street-smart, quick on your feet and have a thorough understanding of criminal law, procedures and the functioning of the judicial system. You should also be able to handle large volumes of work and perform under pressure.
Your communication and negotiation skills need to be top-notch and you need to have a flair for dealing with different kinds of people. You will need to get accustomed to working long and unconventional hours. You will also need careful attention to detail and, above all, patience.
Many of the clients that a criminal lawyer deals with may be dangerous, mentally unstable, drug addicts, killers and chronic offenders, so it becomes crucial that you are able to set aside personal prejudices and judgment, and take an objective and clinical approach in handling such people.
Crime, by its very nature, carries a lot of notoriety and ill-will, so it’s important for a lawyer to maintain absolute discretion when it comes to dealing with their clients. Honesty and trustworthiness are of paramount importance and often the same goes for anyone else who works within this area of law, whether you are a reporter, a court clerk or a legal secretary.
If you’re unsure of whether this is the right law career for you, why not try out some work experience first?
You can read more about criminal law and all other areas of law on our sister site AllAboutLaw.