Breaking into the Field of Criminal Law
While I really should be studying for the bar exam right now, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to share a great article appearing in the current issue of Canadian Lawyer 4Students Magazine.
The article, entitled “So You Wanna Be a Criminal Lawyer, Eh?” is about the challenges facing current law students who plan to practice in criminal law. There is a particular focus on the lack of articling opportunities in the field, and the ever-decreasing emphasis on criminal law education at law schools. I can tell you first hand that these issues are very real and very troubling.
The author quotes my former Career Services Director, Robyn Martilla, on the difficulties in finding employment opportunities in criminal law:
It is also possible students are not so much turned off the practice area’s dark side, but instead diverted from it by large firms’ powerful recruitment strategies. Robyn Martilla, director of Western Faculty of Law’s career and professional development office, says it’s difficult for students to find information on criminal law articling positions. “The schools tend to get a lot of information from private firms, like the large Bay Street group,” says Martilla. “So that information is easily available to students. But it’s much more difficult to find information about positions in either family or criminal law.”
There is a choice quotation from Montreal criminal lawyer Isabel Schurman on what we stand to lose as our criminal defence bar shrinks and ages:
She suggests this much-maligned area of practice has been given a bad rap over the years, and more students should open their eyes to a career in criminal defence. “It’s a shame that the field is so misunderstood,” says Schurman. “I think it’s a shame that people never realize the important role that defence counsel play until they, or someone in their family, needs representation, and then realize that it’s not simply this television or movie image of defence counsel. We are in fact the watchdogs for the fairness in our system of criminal justice, and without a strong defence bar, the whole system suffers, and so does the citizen’s right to be left alone by the state.”
The article concludes with some practical tips on breaking into the field, many of which I can endorse from personal experience. If you’re considering criminal law, I recommend checking the article out here.
The criminal lawyers I know tell me that although the challenges are many, they are more than offset by the rewards of practicing in this exciting field. This was summarized in one of my favorite admonitions from a criminal defence lawyer: “trust me, you don’t want to practice criminal law. That being said, I absolutely love my job, and can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”