Whether you hope to become a criminal lawyer or enter another practice area, your career path will begin to take shape once you enter law school. You’ll complete a combination of required courses and electives, many of which will expose you to the practice and particulars of criminal law. It all starts with a first-year course covering the foundations of criminal law (required by virtually all accredited law schools).
In the criminal law course he teaches first-year students, Professor Hansen focuses primarily on two key crimes: murder/homicide (where students look at relevant statutes, different degrees of murder, and the elements of proof needed to prove the guilt) and sexual assault (where students learn how that crime and the law itself have evolved). The class also covers potential defenses to those crimes as well as mitigating factors.
Though such horrific crimes might spring to mind when you think of “criminal law,” there’s more to the specialty than the cases ripped right out of a Law & Order screenplay. In fact, there’s a surprising universality to criminal law. “It really touches on a lot of the different areas that any lawyer would be interested in,” Professor Hansen says. “Plus there’s the added component of working with people, whether it’s victims, defendants, family members, or organizations within governmental institutions.”
Then, as an upper-level law student, you might take such classes as Juvenile Law, Mental Health Law, Prosecutorial Ethics, Trial Practice, and White Collar Crime. You’ll also have opportunities to get hands-on experience in criminal law through law school clinics, internships, moot court/mock trial, and more.
A bachelor’s degree is required in order for you to get into law school. There are no recommended majors or required courses for law school admission. However, it’s helpful to take courses that develop skills in reading, writing, research, logic, and public speaking. In fact, some law schools may actually prefer students who have taken intellectually challenging courses.
Becoming a Criminal Lawyer
LSAT scores are a requirement with your law school application. Administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), this test is used to assess your reading, critical thinking, comprehension, and reasoning skills. It is given in five sections and is administered in multiple-choice format. If you take the test and feel that your scores are not a true reflection of your ability, you may choose to retake the exam.
Students often wonder how long it would take for them to become a lawyer. It all depends on how long it takes for you to earn the necessary degrees but law school typically lasts for three years, resulting in a Juris Doctor degree upon successful completion. Law school starts with courses in legal writing, constitutional law, contracts, property law and torts. From there you take elective courses based on your interests, such as tax law or corporate law. Your time in law school may include participation in mock trials, legal clinics, and writing for a law journal.
While in law school, you may be given the opportunity to complete a part-time or summer clerkship. This allows you to gain valuable experience by working in a law firm, government agency, or corporate office. A clerkship can even lead to an employment offer after graduation from law school.
Before you can practice law anywhere in the United States, you must pass your state bar examination and earn a license. Depending on your state, you are likely required to pass a written exam, plus a separate written ethics exam. If you want to practice law in multiple states, you must pass a bar exam in each state.
On some days it’s hard to imagine a more difficult job that being a criminal defence lawyer.
We are the person at the party who quickly changes the mood of pleasant conversation when asked what we do for a living; worsened further when asked “how can you defend those people?”
Our days are spent cross-examining vulnerable witnesses who claim unspeakable acts happened to them, other days we are facing the stress of having a client who has placed all their trust into you go to jail for the rest of the life. We are often pushed to the limit of what any human can reasonably sustain on an intellectual level, while we write complicated briefs on obscure legal principles.
We are routinely looked upon with disdain from society, judged on our morals, and written with slanted revulsion in media reports of controversial cases. Chasing down payments from ungrateful clients or underfunded government aid, answering phone calls late in the evening awaking your family (sometimes on matters of critical importance, and more often on trivial matters that could have waited). And of course, the arguing. Arguing, arguing, and more arguing (with prosecutors, clients, police, jails, courts, clerks, parking attendants, etc.). Sometimes, all these things happen in just one day.
If you can manage all this, you should learn to love it.
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. Therefore 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.
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 relevant department 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 Defence Lawyers Melbourne.