Perhaps one of the most well-known areas of law, criminal law keeps the justice system ticking. If you’re looking to work in a contentious area of law, helping people through difficult and complex times in their lives, criminal law could be for you. It’s also a core area of law, so if you’re studying for a qualifying law degree, it’s good to get to grips with what it involves now.
And they say crime doesn’t pay…
Criminal law covers everything; from small misdemeanours, to big heinous crimes, fraud and white-collar crime.
It can also involve international relations and multiple jurisdictional rules, particularly concerning issues such as extradition, money-laundering, cross-border crimes and terrorism.
Typically, work is of a contentious nature.
What does criminal law involve?
Criminal law covers some of the most series issues in society, such as murder, rape or robbery. Opportunities are available for criminal lawyers in both private and public practice.
In private practice, you can work as a defence lawyer 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).
Criminal lawyers will usually work on the case from the beginning to the end.
This involves filing the case; investigation; visiting police stations and prisons; taking witness statements; checking medical reports; liaising with court personnel, police and probation officers; filing pleas and motions.
It also entails conducting the eventual trial, if that part is not being performed by a barrister.
Post sentencing, you might work on appeals at higher judicial levels. This will involve piles of paperwork and a huge amount of research.
Much of the activity in dealing with 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 might well include: following the money trail; battling with corruption and bureaucracy; monopolies and restrictive trade practices; and running through copious amounts of documentation.
What makes 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 well under pressure, whilst retaining a meticulous attention to detail.
Your communication and negotiation skills need to be top-notch and you should be good at dealing with different kinds of people. You will need to get accustomed to working long and unconventional hours.
Many clients a criminal lawyer might deal with could be dangerous, mentally unstable, drug addicts, or chronic offenders; it’s crucial to set aside personal prejudices and judgment, taking an objective and clinical approach in handling 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 the same goes for anyone else who works within this area of law, from reporters and court clerks to legal secretaries and administrators.