Criminal law: area of practice

You'll need strong advocacy skills and the ability to think on your feet to be successful as a criminal law solicitor, says Robin from the Crown Prosecution Service.
In many ways working in criminal law can be summed up in one phrase: ‘Expect the unexpected and be prepared to deal with it.’

Practitioners of criminal law either prosecute or defend people in all levels of criminal courts in England and Wales. Both aspects of practice involve applying criminal law to the facts and evidence of each individual case.

Graduate careers in criminal law

In many ways working in criminal law can be summed up in one phrase: ‘Expect the unexpected and be prepared to deal with it.’ Criminal lawyers work with all areas of criminal law and all levels of crimes, from speeding to murder. The job involves advising the police both before and at the time of charge, managing the case as it passes through the criminal courts and presenting it before the court. This calls for not only advocacy skills before magistrates and judges in court but also the ability to communicate clearly with police officers, victims and witnesses, and other people involved in the criminal justice system such as probation officers, social workers, mental health specialists and court staff.

A prosecution lawyer must prove his case beyond reasonable doubt in order for a defendant to be convicted. The role of the defence lawyer is to achieve justice for their client. Defence lawyers can be involved in the case from a very early stage, at the point when the client is interviewed in custody or sometimes even earlier. They may well have to deal with police, witnesses and the client’s family in addition to their client.

Becoming a successful criminal solicitor

Both prosecution and defence lawyers need a variety of skills to carry out their job effectively. The most important skill is clearly that of advocacy, which is not only employed in court, but also when dealing with the police, witnesses, victims and family members. Preparation is the key to the effective presentation of any case, so a criminal practitioner needs to spend time on this. In addition, a criminal practitioner needs excellent communication skills, an ability to think clearly and concisely on their feet, sound judgement and a real desire to make a difference.

It is essential to keep up to date with continually changing legislation and practice and at times this can be difficult. However, if you are interested in a challenging and varied job involving regular close contact with other people – either defendants or witnesses – then this may well be the area of law for you.

Is criminal law recession-proof?

The flow of work for criminal lawyers has been generally unaffected by the recession. As a result of the current economic situation, it has become even more important that prosecutors ensure an effective use of limited public finance.

What skills do criminal lawyers need?

  • The ability to think on your feet.
  • The ability to work with people from different backgrounds.
  • Advocacy.
  • Outstanding communication skills.

What does a graduate job as a trainee criminal lawyer involve?

Trainees are supervised and receive training in all aspects of the job, including attending courts and the police station and dealing with clients, defendant and witnesses. Training will also involve legal research on relevant legal points, file review and preparation, and the development of an ability to analyse and make decisions upon cases.

Types of law practised

  • Criminal litigation.

About the author

ROBIN JONES is a legal development manager with the CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE and was previously a senior Crown prosecutor in the Warrington branch of Cheshire CPS. He graduated in law from University College London in 1980.