Pursuing a Career in Criminal Law
For graduates looking to pursue a career in criminal law, preparations may begin as early as graduate school. A bachelor’s degree is essential for entry into all law schools, and it is a bonus if a few courses in public speaking, English, government, economics, history and mathematics are taken. There is a standard path from graduation to one’s own law practice that all candidates must follow.
LSAT and Law School: After graduation, the individual must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) which has become the standard aptitude test required by many law schools in the US, Canada and elsewhere. Law schools require 3 years of training, largely academic, but with some practical experience. During law school, students can choose courses which will help with the practice of criminal law in future.
Articling: It is also advisable at this point during law school, to work as a clerk for a public defender’s office or a defense attorney or at a law firm. This articling clerkship adds to experience, forges relationships with individuals involved in criminal law practice, and also increases chances of employment after graduation at the firm.
Licensing: Following law school, where a candidate receives a juris doctor (J.D.) degree, the candidate must apply for a license through the ‘bar exam’. Each state in the US and each province in Canada usually has its own rules and requirements for the bar exam. For practicing in another state or province, the bar exam for that particular state or province will also need to be taken.
Continuing Education: Hired attorneys may start as associates in a private law firm or as a public prosecutor and defender. Once a license has been obtained however, training does not stop. Lawyers must keep up to date with recent developments and continue legal education at law schools and bar associations or even online. Since 2011, 45 US states require lawyers to take continuing education courses one every year or once in 3 years.
Setting up a private practice: After working for a few years as an associate in a public office under experienced attorneys and judges or a private law firm as an associate, some lawyers may be admitted into partnership. Others may open up their own private practices.
Many attorneys choose to go directly into private practice with very few years of experience in the field and may specialize as a DUI lawyer.
However, a few years of working with a public defender’s office can offer excellent opportunities to learn from dedicated and experienced attorneys. Therefore such an opportunity should not be passed up.
Entering a Law School and Choosing Courses
Many schools, especially those approved by the American Bar Association (ABA), require the LSAT scores of applicants for consideration during application. Until 2011, there were 200 ABA approved schools candidates could apply at. However, competition is high for admission, since number of applicants far exceeds the number of seats available. The LSATs are meant to weed out those candidates among these who have an aptitude for law.
At law school, a candidate who hopes to pursue and focus on criminal law must take up the optional courses that will be helpful. These may include courses on criminal law, evidence, criminal procedure, trial advocacy and any other special seminars that deal with criminal law. It is useful to discuss with a professor the best courses available at your school to help with a career in criminal law.
During law school, candidates will find opportunities to apply for paid and unpaid clerkship positions at government agencies and private law firms. At this time it is usually a good idea to shadow both an attorney from the public defender’s office as well as a private defense lawyer for experience. This experience is useful and important because many law students get employed right after graduation at the office where they worked as clerks.
Criminal Law Job Prospects
According to the US Bureau of Labor statistics, criminal law jobs positions have high competition due to more candidates passing out each year than there are positions available. On the other hand, in Canada, criminal law has fewer students than other areas of law for several reasons, leading to a greater need for interested candidates.
Nevertheless, in general, criminal law job prospects are affected by cyclical swings in the economy. Some law firms and corporations cut staff until business improves during recession. In the US, willingness to relocate to another state for work has become a significant factor in hiring because of competition.
What Are The Potential Earnings in Criminal Law
Salaries depend on the type and scale of practice. But in general, lawyers with their own firm earn less than those that are partners in a firm. For criminal lawyers in particular, figures vary by scale and type of practice. Harvard Law School stats show that public defenders and prosecutors make between $35,000 and $92,000 as starting salaries.
Criminal assistant U.S. attorneys make between $42,000 and $59,000 as starting salaries. Law firm associates may make much more. According to the Association for Legal Career Professionals, median salary ranges start at $72,000 for the smallest law firms and go up to $160,000 in the largest ones. In addition, associates may also earn yearly bonuses.
Law graduates who have made a choice to pursue and focus on criminal law as a career may know that they are about to embark on a difficult journey for which they have to be prepared. Not only is the screening process with the bar exam extremely difficult, but criminal law is also a difficult field of law to make a foray into.
However, while a profession in criminal law comes with long work hours and plenty of stress, it has its rewards. Law schools may be expensive with candidates leaving school with large debts that must be paid. Criminal law may be emotionally taxing and thankless, especially when clients are guilty and must be defended or are suspicious and difficult to deal with. Friends and associates may also not approve of a profession defending possibly guilty people.
However, practicing criminal lawyers with strong convictions in what they do agree that their work is highly satisfying. Criminal lawyers are the upholders of individual rights and justice and it is a rewarding profession for those who believe in what they do.