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.”
Following a significant decline in corporate expenditures on legal services in 2008 and the first half of 2009, businesses will once again begin increasing their law budgets in the second half of this year according to the results of a study announced today by legal industry research leader BTI Consulting.
The study, titled ‘BTI Mid-Year Spending Update and Outlook,’ covers 16 practices and 18 industries and is based on 370 interviews with corporate counsel at Fortune 1000 companies that average $19.4 million in outside counsel spending. Key findings of the study include:
- Clear signs of renewed legal spending after a sharp decline of 7% since year-end 2008.
- Corporate legal spending at large companies will grow nearly 5% over the next 6 months, bringing overall market growth to only negative 1.4 percent for the year.
- Leading the growth in spending will be the practice areas of regulatory compliance, employment, securities and bankruptcy/corporate restructuring law.
- Year-to-date, the hardest hit core practice areas have been corporate, securities and finance, and intellectual property.
“We have all read the headlines detailing drops in business spending across every category, including legal services. This study presents a big ray of sunshine in what has been a very stormy environment. The reversal of this negative spending trend will help buoy flailing legal markets and offers some hopeful news about business spending in general,” explains Michael B. Rynowecer, President of The BTI Consulting Group.
Rynowecer suggests the increase in spending will not, however, alleviate law firm lay-offs which have been rampant in recent months. “Rather than a wholesale recovery, we are seeing a shift of resources to specific firms and practices that are well-positioned,” Rynowecer warns. “Large companies are sharing this renewed spending with a smaller group of law firms than just 6 months ago. Those firms caught unaware or unprepared for this shift will continue to face significant challenges and not reap the benefits of this increased spending.”