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Areas of Law: How to Become a Criminal Lawyer

Have the famous criminal barristers of fiction persuaded you to follow a career into criminal law? Find out more about the real lives of criminal lawyers.

Is criminal law the area most suited to you? Take our 2-minute quiz to find out!

Which area of law is right for you? Take the quiz!

How to Become a Criminal Lawyer: What is Criminal Law?

Criminal law is the law that governs the conduct of offenders; it consists of prohibitions with the threat of punishment. Potential offences under the criminal law include murder, theft, rape, criminal damage and even using a TV without a license! There are a whole range of offences that have developed in order to cover all areas of criminal liability.

A common misconception is that all criminal offences are linked because they involve harm, but this is clearly incorrect. A possible definition is that they are linked because they all involve a moral wrong. The Criminal Justice System is for one, a tool of social control and also a guide for citizens on the limits of their actions.

Criminal law therefore, serves to punish offenders but also to deter citizens from acting in such a way in the first place. It inevitably plays a huge role in our society.

How to Become a Criminal Lawyer: What Does a Career in Criminal Law Look Like?

A career in criminal law is said to be one of the most exciting areas of the law; the cases that can arise are sometimes unbelievable and also very contentious. From murder cases to white-collar crimes such as fraud, the wide variety of cases makes this particular area of law so diverse and interesting.


Criminal lawyers are generally entirely involved in their cases; working on a case from the very start, right up until the case is settled. To expand on this, a criminal lawyer would file the case and investigate. They would carry out visits to the prisons themselves and police stations and get to review all the relevant documents (such as witness statements, medical reports etc.) Furthermore, they may even conduct the trial if a barrister does not.


Becoming a solicitor is not the only career path: you may also become a criminal barrister, a judge, a legal executive and more. Becoming a criminal barrister is quite a popular career since it is such an interesting role due to how varied it can be. Criminal barristers typically visit numerous courts around the country and a barrister would work for as long as they are needed. There is no set working hours, it all depends on how long they are kept in court. In court, a barrister would be at the forefront of trials, presenting their findings, arguments and research. In the Crown Court, a barrister would be the one to attempt to convince a jury.


The length of cases may be extremely long depending on its severity; the most serious and contentious cases that go through the Crown Court tend to last longer especially when, for example, the criminal cannot be found. Whereas, less significant cases going through the Magistrates Court can be over in up to 3 months.

How to Become a Criminal Lawyer: What Sort of Person Would Suit a Career in Criminal Law?

How to Become a Criminal Lawyer: What are the Downsides to a Career in Criminal Law?

The majority of criminal lawyers will say they love their jobs because of the exciting cases they get to work on. Despite this, the pay for criminal lawyers nowadays is low. If you look at the highest earning firms, such as the Magic Circle firms (i.e. the best law firms in England) they are all corporate firms. None of the top five firms focus on criminal law.

The reason why criminal lawyers are paid less is because of the cuts to legal aid. Legal aid is the money provided by the government that helps to meet the cost of legal advice, representation in court etc. However, cuts have been made since its creation as the government believed the scope of legal aid was too wide.

Furthermore, they believed people were bringing cases to court that could be sorted using alternate methods, and subsequently wasting the courts’ time. Thus, the cuts to legal aid mean that people were not going to lawyers as much as they used with their cases, and so solicitors in this area of law are not needed as much.

Which area of law is right for you? Take the quiz!

How to Become a Criminal Lawyer: What Work Experience Looks Good for a Career in Criminal Law?

Although it is not as well paid in comparison to the other areas of law, it is still highly paid, especially if you work your way up to a high level. Therefore no one should be put off by a career in law purely for the purpose of money. For those who are interested in this area of law as a potential career, work experience would prove helpful.

For example, it may be worth starting off carrying out some work experience in a criminal law solicitor’s office to get a feel for the type of work that takes place in a ‘high-street’ firm. The next step would be shadowing a barrister if becoming a criminal barrister is what you aspire to be.

One of the most underrated yet important things to be getting involved in is pro bono work. This is for example, providing free legal advice for those who cannot acquire legal aid. This gives students essential basic practical skills and a wider knowledge of the criminal law. This can also be taken from getting involved in innocence projects whereby groups of (normally) students work on real-life cases together to find grounds for appeal.

How to Become a Criminal Lawyer: Typical Routes into Criminal Law

One of the best ways to make your way into a career as a criminal solicitor is by getting a training contract. Nowadays, training contracts are granted on the basis that you have done a vacation scheme; although this is not always necessary, it is the case for the majority of times. They may lead you to working at a different firm or at the firm you are actually doing your training contract at. Moreover, training contracts can help fund your LPC (Legal Practice Course) so that you can fully practice law.

One typical route to criminal law is outdoor clerking: part-time work at a solicitor’s office which entails, for example, writing notes in court and formalising them for the solicitors and even interacting with the clients. However, these are very competitive, as with most work experience in the legal world, and little places are available.

Which area of law is right for you? Take the quiz!

Written by Priya Luharia

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