Criminal law is a difficult yet exciting, thought-provoking, and diverse legal career. A career in criminal law will not only guarantee you good earnings, but it will also help society by deterring and punishing criminal conduct.
Working as a criminal lawyer is exciting, however, it still requires a lot of work. If you aspire to be a criminal lawyer, you must be ready to be a public servant and an officer of the court. Your work might involve defending individuals or organizations and, from time to time, you might even handle cases that make you uncomfortable.
Aspiring criminal lawyers also need skills such as active listening, oral and written communication, argumentation, persuasion, and logical thinking among others. You must also be able to manage stress and speak well in public. Read on to find out what other skills you need to become a criminal lawyer.
What Is a Criminal Lawyer?
A criminal lawyer is a professional who prosecutes or defends individuals as well as organizations that are involved in criminal cases. Criminal law governs any harmful or endangering conduct against the public.
In some cases, where a crime is perpetrated against a person, it may still be considered and prosecuted as an offense against the state. In case of criminal misconduct, the government imposes penalties such as jail time to moderate society’s actions.
What Does a Criminal Lawyer Do?
A criminal lawyer has several responsibilities including:
- Witness preparation and examination
- Interviewing the witnesses
- Examining evidence and the crime scene
- Developing your defense strategy
- Drafting and filing court documents and countering appeals
- Researching and analyzing current policies that may affect the justice system
- Interpreting the law and regulations
- Researching criminal law in specific cases
- Managing the law firm
- Preparing briefs, appeals, and opinions
As a criminal lawyer, you may also take on cases for the public good on a pro bono basis where you do not take any payment. Criminal lawyers enjoy a variety of job options and can work as public defenders, private attorneys, or defense lawyers.
You can also choose to work at the federal, state, or local level. As your career advances, you may also become a judge or a politician.
How Do You Become a Criminal Lawyer?
If you hope to become a criminal lawyer, there are certain courses and electives that you must complete.
The first step towards your career in criminal law is completing your higher secondary education. As you approach the end of your higher secondary education, you must also start preparing for law entrance examinations.
You will be required to take an undergraduate course in law from an accredited university. This can either be an LLB degree or a BA LLD degree, which incorporates the arts. Once you have completed your undergraduate degree, you may be eligible to work for a legal firm.
The next step is passing your bar exam so you can be able to represent your clients before the high and supreme courts. After this, you can advance your education by pursuing a postgraduate degree in law or an LLM. A Master’s course allows you to specialize in a particular area of criminal law.
Some lawyers also choose to pursue a Ph.D. or a Doctorate degree which requires you to publish a dissertation.
Once you have completed your studies, you will also need to gain work experience at an established legal firm. For a successful law career, it is critical that you gain specialization and field experience.
Special Skills You Need to Become a Criminal Lawyer
As a criminal lawyer, you will often work in a fast-paced environment. It is critical that you have the skills needed to work under pressure. You must be able to think fast and enjoy a challenge as criminal cases often involve many different facets, and the law can be complex.
You will also need to have the skills to gather evidence and research. This makes attention to detail an invaluable skill for most criminal lawyers. In most criminal cases, the outcome may be determined by small details that are easy to overlook.
Finally, determination and a neutral approach toward your cases will make you a good criminal lawyer. As you practice criminal law, you will meet a diverse range of individuals in various contexts.
You must not be prejudiced against your clients or opponents. Your clients have the right to a fair trial and keeping an open mind guarantees that their rights are upheld.
How Long Will It Take to Become a Criminal Lawyer?
Typically, it will take you three years to complete your Bachelor’s degree or up to 5 years for a BA LLB which integrates the arts. If you choose to pursue a postgraduate course, you may spend another 2-6 years studying depending on whether you are pursuing a Master’s or Doctorate degree.
How Much Can You Earn as a Criminal Lawyer?
Your salary as a criminal lawyer is often determined by your experience. The more seniority you gain, the more you are likely to earn. The specific amount you make will typically be determined by your law firm and the competitiveness in your area of specialization.
In recent times, criminal lawyers’ earning capacity has been crippled by legal aid programs that are underfunded, fewer clients who want to keep their lawyers on retainer, as well as hyper-competitive metropolitan law firms.
The age of quick answers on the internet also hampers the need to consult professionals. However, despite all this, you can still make a good living if you are a reputable criminal lawyer. Develop proper habits and avoid shortcuts.
Mentorship For Criminal Lawyers
As a criminal lawyer, you will often face financial, psychological, social, intellectual, and even moral challenges. Having a mentor can be a lifeline that helps you learn from experienced and more competent lawyers.
A mentor who can help you solve ethical dilemmas, develop trial strategies and best financial practices, as well as give you emotional support can make all the difference in your career as a criminal lawyer.
Where Can Criminal Lawyers Get Employment?
There are many sectors where you can get employment once you have achieved certification as a criminal lawyer. These include:
- Law firms
- Starting an independent legal practice
- Law universities or colleges
- International organizations
- Legal counsel for private entities
- Legal websites
- The high court
- The supreme court
Your Journey Towards Becoming a Criminal Lawyer
As a criminal lawyer, you must have the skills and knowledge to engage your clients. Anyone facing criminal charges is likely to be stressed and desperate for reassurance and professional help to give them peace of mind.
You must never promise or guarantee acquittal. However, you can reassure them that you will do everything legally possible to get the best results for their case. In some cases, this might mean reduced jail time. You will also need the skills to keep confidentiality as failure may compromise your career as well as your client’s case.
Ultimately, as a criminal lawyer, you will need great mental fortitude. It is not an easy career path; however, most students discover untapped interests on their journey through law school.
Criminal lawyers are important to the overall justice system and many people’s lives depend on the ability of their criminal lawyer to successfully represent them in court. If you are thinking about becoming a criminal lawyer, consider applying to a law school that meets your needs.