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Areas of Law: How to Become a Criminal Lawyer

Have iconic fictional criminal barristers persuaded you to follow a career in criminal law? If you’re studying or considering specialising in this field, you can take the knowledge gained from TV series and films and compare it to how crime is dealt with in real life.

Find out more about this legal practice area, how to become a criminal lawyer, what the average criminal lawyer salary is and more on this page.

What is Criminal Law?

Criminal law aims to deter and punish conduct which is perceived as threatening, harmful or endangering to the public, its property or moral welfare.

When government leaders take steps to ban certain actions relating to the above, they create crime legislation. Such legislation forbids behaviour including murder, sexual assault, property damage, theft and motor offences. Criminal law also includes international relations and extradition, money laundering and terrorism.

The Criminal Justice system acts with dual focus. On one hand, criminal laws are used to control society’s actions. But in addition, they are in place to help citizens understand the effects of their actions. This is because criminal law also includes the punishment and rehabilitation of people who violate criminal laws.

Criminal law is a core area of legal practice. As a compulsory part of the qualifying law degree, every law student will have to get to grips with aspects of it during their studies.


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How to Become a Criminal Lawyer

What Type of Personality is Compatible with a Career in Criminal Law?

To be a criminal lawyer, it’s important for you to be able to thrive under pressure while working on fast-paced cases. Because of the nature of criminal law, you must enjoy a challenge and be able to think on your feet.

Criminal Law also involves a large amount of evidence gathering. herefore being able to deal with information quickly and competently will also serve you well. Attention to detail is very also important as case outcomes often come about through focusing on small details of the evidence.

Finally, it helps to have a neutral and determined approach to your work. Working with such a diverse range of individuals in a range of contexts means that you will have to ignore prejudice and go into every case with an open mind to ensure your clients’ right to a fair trial.

What Kind of Work Experience will Help me to Become a Criminal Lawyer?

If you want to become a criminal law solicitor, you can spend a few days at a solicitor’s office or attend the open day/vacation scheme of a law firm with a criminal law department.

If you want to become a criminal law barrister, you can shadow a barrister in the field or carry out a mini pupillage.

Universities provide fantastic experience for their students in pro bono initiatives giving free legal advice to those who cannot afford legal aid. This type of experience can be invaluable for improving the types of skills which are necessary for a career in criminal law.

What are the Routes into a Career in Criminal Law?

If you are interested in pursuing a career in criminal law the routes you have to take are similar to other areas of law. You must obtain a qualifying degree in law or alternatively a degree in any other discipline followed by the completion of the Graduate Diploma in Law. Following this, if you want to follow the solicitor pathway you will have to undertake the Legal Practice Course and a recognised period of training (via training contract or post 2021, the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam).

If you want to pursue a career at the bar, you will have undertake the Bar Professional Training Course followed by a pupillage in order to complete your qualification.

An alternative to this exists within the Crown Prosecution Service Legal Trainee Scheme. This offers both a route into criminal law through pupillage or period of recognised training but through the Crown Prosecution Service rather than through a law firm or chambers. However, there are limited spaces available on this programme and you have to have passed the BPTC or LPC before applying.

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What is the Average Criminal Law Salary?

The highest average salary for a criminal law solicitor is for those working in London, at around £52,500. Outside of London, the average salary for a criminal lawyer ranges from £32,000-42,000 depending on area. In Scotland and Wales, the average salary of a criminal lawyer is just under £43,000 whilst in Northern Ireland the average is around £33,000.

Salaries not only differ by region but will differ depending on firm and of course will go up as you move through the ranks of Trainee, Newly Qualified Solicitor and Partner.

While criminal barristers tend to earn more than solicitors, the downside to this is that a barrister’s income is less stable, since they are generally self employed.

It’s important to note that criminal lawyers can find themselves paid less than lawyers in other specialisms due to the cuts to legal aid. After the government made a number of cuts to the legal aid provision, many people found themselves unable to afford legal help. As a consequence, fewer people are using criminal solicitors and choosing to solve disputes via alternate methods.

Criminal Law Firms

Many law firms nation-wide have specialist criminal law departments. These firms include:

Criminal Law Books

Below, you’ll find a table of some useful criminal law books that can help you with your criminal law studies.

NameAuthorPrice (approximate)
Smith, Hogan and Ormerod’s Essentials of Criminal LawJohn Child and David Ormerod£28
The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How it BrokenThe Secret Barrister£5
Janet LovelessComplete Criminal Law: Text, Cases, and Materials£32
Criminal Law DirectionsNicola Monaghan£35
Unlocking Criminal LawTony Storey£35

Words: Alicia Gibson

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