Category: Criminal Defence
Before coming into the legal profession and undertaking various work placements I was often asked which area of law I would like to practice in. When replying with ‘criminal law’ the advice normally given by practitioners within criminal law was ‘oh don’t do that’ or ‘there’s no money in that’. That turned out to have more than an element of truth to it!
After working within a Glasgow based firm for nearly four years it is evident that Criminal Legal Aid work is poorly funded and there is discontent among practitioners about they are financially remunerated for their hard work and dedication to the profession.
The reality is, very few firms take on trainees for solely criminal work, normally due to economic reasons.
Despite this, I was lucky enough to secure a traineeship within the Criminal Department of Livingstone Brown and I have realised that the job is more rewarding in other ways that perhaps other traineeships wouldn’t be.
To begin with, no two days are the same. For someone who gets bored of routine, this is ideal. There can be days where you can start off in Glasgow Sheriff Court, head to a police station mid-morning and then finish in Airdrie Sheriff Court before heading back to the office for appointments. There is certainly no time to be bored in this job.
Once starting to appear in court, the responsibility goes up a notch. On a day-to-day basis, you are dealing with people from all walks of life, including many vulnerable people, who are in some of the most difficult situations they have been in their life. They look to you for legal advice firstly, but also sometimes more practical advice that you only really learn on the job, and not in university. For example, sometimes when dealing with clients appearing from custody they look to you for advice on how to secure a bail address if they cannot return home, or advice on how to tell their family members how they have gotten into the situation they find themselves, or what happens if they are sent to prison. It is a privilege to be able to assist clients in their time of need and ease their concerns.
At times though it can be overwhelming. The volume of work that has to fit into one working day seems often extremely challenging. It is sometimes difficult to prioritise work when you know that everyone’s case is important to them. However, getting a positive result for a client or getting a heartfelt thank you for assisting someone in their time of need can help boost morale and remind you why you chose to come into this field.
However, one worrying aspect of being one of the few solely-criminal trainees in Scotland is what will happen with the profession in years to come. Having older, more experienced solicitors in the profession is great whilst being a trainee. A good thing to do is to park yourself in the back of a busy courtroom if your case is not calling first and observe experienced solicitors carry out their day-to-day work and give their submissions to court. You can learn a lot from them. Also, in my experience, they are all keen to assist if you are having a brief panic in court and need some advice.
On the other side of the coin though, the lack of new trainees going into the criminal field is concerning and it begs the question of what will happen when there are so few left within the profession.
Not only are there so few young solicitors entering the criminal legal profession, there are also so few females, especially within criminal defence. Historically this was seen as more of a male profession. Perhaps this was due to the unsociable hours that you often need to work, or perhaps the thought of going into prisons and cell visits on a weekly basis is off-putting to some. I believe there are many misconceptions about working within criminal defence. The classic question a defence solicitor is asked is often ‘how could you represent criminals?’ ‘How could you be in the same room as someone who has done that?’.
However, there is so much more to the job than that and I would encourage anyone with a passion for criminal law to pursue that. It is a thoroughly rewarding job and the skills you learn are invaluable for what I hope will be a long career in the law.