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Criminal Law Area of Practice: Careers in the UK

by Charles Nwabueze
Reading Time: 6 minutes


Reading Time: 6 min

What is Criminal Law?

According to, criminal law is the body of law that defines criminal offences, regulates the apprehension, charging, and trial of suspected persons, and fixes penalties and modes of treatment applicable to convicted offenders. 

The criminal law of England is derived from the traditional English common law of crimes and has its origins in the judicial decisions (precedents) embodied in reports of decided cases. The UK has consistently rejected all efforts toward the legislative codification of its criminal law; as we write this article, England has no statutory definition of what murder is in English law. For criminal law to kick in, a crime must be committed

The Elements of Crime 

The main elements of a crime in the UK are

  • Actus reus which means the voluntary act or omission and
  • Mens rea which is the state of mind. 

The Leading Firms in this Area

The following solicitor firms and chambers are known for their expertise in the area of criminal law

  • BCL Solicitors 
  • Hickman & Rose
  • Hodge Jones & Allen
  • Tuckers Solicitors 
  • Blackfords 
  • 25 Bedford Row
  • Kingsley Napley
  • Birds Solicitors 
  • ABV Solicitors 
  • Bark&co
  • 2 Bedford Row
  • Farrar’s Building
  • Blackstone Chambers
  • Russell-Cooke

In the UK, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutes criminal cases that have been investigated by the police and other investigative organisations. As such they are a good employer of criminal lawyers.

What does the Work Involve?

For lawyers that are criminal solicitors, their work will involve:

  • Advising and appearing in court on behalf of the accused and the prosecution
  • Dealing with all aspects of the criminal justice system, from the initial police interview to trial before the court, and ensuring legal rights are protected and hearings are fair
  • Handling of the full spectrum of offences, from motoring offences to theft & robbery, to assault to murder. 

Criminal barristers are regularly involved in:

  • Represent clients of all backgrounds 
  • Meticulously preparing the cases of the clients to ensure that a total grasp of the details involved has been achieved.
  • Defend and provide advice to clients 
  • Carrying out research and investigations to fully understand the impact of a criminal investigation and trial on the clients – this will include giving the clients great support from the outset, including pre-charge advice.

Responsibilities of a Criminal Lawyer

Before looking at this, you should be aware that the duties of a criminal lawyer will depend on whether he or she is a barrister or a solicitor. The duties listed below are from both sides:

  • Attend court to make your argument either to put the defendant away or set the defendant free
  • Meet with your client and members of your team to discuss the case.
  • Research the history of the case and other relevant precedents that are relevant to the client’s case
  • Keep the client updated about the court’s ruling or the general progress of the case.
  • Provide advice to clients about the case, suggesting the best way to deal with the criminal law process.
  • Employ your firm’s resources to build up all you need to deliver a strong showing for the case.
  • Take instructions from a solicitor
  • Give instructions to a barrister

Average Earnings 

According to, the average criminal lawyer salary in the UK is £43,303.49. Depending on the level of expertise and experience garnered, and the employer, a solicitor can earn between £25,000 and £40,000 per year. On the other hand, barristers can earn between £20,000 and £40,000 per year. For lawyers with over ten years of experience, earnings can range from £40,000 to £120,000.

The most pay goes to lawyers in the City, as the average criminal solicitor salary in London could be anything from £40,000 to £80,000 based on five years of experience. 

Trainee solicitors and pupil barristers who specialise in crime often start out earning around the profession’s minimum training salary (£19,122 for trainee solicitors and £17,212 for pupil barristers). 

Skills Necessary to Be Successful in a career in criminal law

To succeed as a lawyer in this sector, you must:

  • Have excellent communication skills: These is the first foundational stone for any good criminal lawyer, you should be able to know how to bring information to your different audience
  • Have a non-judgmental attitude: This is particularly important if you are acting as a defence lawyer
  • Be empathetic to your client’s case and perspectives (and stress).
  • Have the ability to think quickly on your feet 
  • You must have the willingness to stand up for the rights of your client – quite a few times you might be the only one that believes in the innocence of your client

Work-Life Balance in Criminal Law 

The hours required of you as a criminal lawyer are unpredictable – and we don’t mean this as a good thing. If you are at a firm which provides a duty solicitor service, this could be worse as you could be ‘on call’ 24 hours. Duty Solicitors are those who provide services 24 hours per day, to those who are accused of committing a crime.

Thus a career as a criminal lawyer, whether it’s as a barrister or a solicitor can be like a pressure cooker. This is because of the large workloads, limited legal aid funding, long working days and the courtroom being a place where people’s futures are on the line. It’s simply best you know that working in criminal law in a lot of cases will mean that maintaining a good work-life balance will be difficult. 

The life of a Criminal Trainee or Pupil 

A criminal trainee if lucky on his or her programme will be entrusted to go to court with the senior lawyers or even do some documentation. A trainee’s day might involve shadowing a solicitor at a police station with their time being spent dealing with people from all walks of life, including many vulnerable people, who are in some of the most stressful situations they have ever witnessed.

The life of a pupil is no different as most chambers will do their best to ensure that their pupils; are given responsibility so that they can assimilate quickly into the practice. As a result, there might be occasions when extra work will be required in the evenings and at weekends. 

How Do I Become One?

The route of becoming a criminal lawyer depends on whether you want to practise as a solicitor or barrister. 

If you want to be a solicitor, the traditional route is to get a law degree or a related degree, take the LPC – by 2032, the LPC will be completely phased out – and the SQE if you have a non-law degree. After the SQE you’ll need to get a TC at an employing criminal law firm.

If you want to be a barrister, the route is the same as above, except that, instead of taking the LPC you take the BPTC, instead of the SQE you take the GDL for those without a law degree. The work experience you need is a pupillage instead of a TC at a chambers good in this practice area. 

Who Might be a Good Fit?

Those who want to enter this field, they should bear in mind that legal aid funding is limited, as such this area is not for those who are motivated by money. If money is a driving factor – nothing to be ashamed of – then being a criminal lawyer should not be what you are looking at. Many criminal lawyers cannot make ends meet through the sole practice of criminal law. If you, however, still want to go into this field, you should possess the willingness to diversify into other practice areas such as litigation and regulatory work. 

Things to Keep an Eye out For

The Strike
Criminal barristers in England and Wales have voted to go on an indefinite strike from the 5th of September. The ballot of barristers closed at midnight on 21st August 2022 and the result was announced the following Monday morning. The data collated showed that 79.5% of barristers who voted (1,808) supported the move to a full-time strike over legal aid rates, which they said had in effect been cut by 28% over the past decade. It appears that this was the only other step that the barristers could take to bring the government’s attention to the grossly underfunded sector. There is a backlog of about 60,000 cases in the system which cannot be heard because of poor funding.


Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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