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Criminal Lawyer Job Description

Published on: 20 Oct 2023

criminal lawyer

  • Criminal Lawyers are responsible for either prosecuting or defending someone accused of a criminal offence. They are required to act in a neutral, impartial manner to ensure that the legal rights of those prosecuted are upheld and that they receive fair treatment against the conduct of the law.

    Criminal Lawyers are the most frequently depicted legal practitioners in any film or television drama, but the ins and outs of their testing career are not always depicted.

    In this career guide, we outline the duties and responsibilities of a Criminal Lawyer, as well as the steps required to qualify and salary expectations. Keep reading to find out whether a career in criminal law could be the right choice for you.

  • What is Criminal Law?

    Criminal law defines criminal offences and the rules and procedures that apply when these offences are committed. Criminal legislation forbids behaviour which is immoral and poses a threat to the welfare of the public and its property. This includes everything from murder, theft and arson to motor crime, money laundering and terrorism.

    The Criminal Justice system has a dual focus. The law itself is used to control citizens’ actions but it also helps people understand the repercussions of their actions. This is due to the fact that criminal law also includes the punishment and rehabilitation of those who violate these laws.

  • What does a Criminal Lawyer do?

    There is no singular blueprint outlining the job description for a Criminal Lawyer due to the broad nature of the profession and the immensity of criminal law itself. There are several different types of solicitor who work in the field of criminal law, which we explore below:

    Criminal Defence

    A Criminal Defence Solicitor helps someone who is suspected or charged with a crime, ensuring that their legal rights are upheld and that they are given a fair trial by presenting their case in court.

    Although a Criminal Defence Lawyer role is varied, typical duties include:

    • Representing defendants in all stages of a criminal prosecution, from police investigation to presenting their case in court as an advocate
    • Providing advice to clients via telephone and in person
    • Reviewing documentation related to an offence and the case (including witness statements, police reports, forensic reports, medical records etc)
    • Researching, planning and investigating matters
    • Visiting prisons and police stations to liaise with defendants
    • Drafting legal documents
    • Establishing a complete, accurate and compelling defence for the accused

    Criminal Duty

    Another type of Criminal Defence Lawyer is a Criminal Duty Solicitor. Duty Solicitors represent individuals suspected or accused of a crime in situations where the defendant does not have access to a solicitor, whether in police custody or otherwise. Their services are pro-bono (free of charge) because they are paid by the Legal Services Commission, the government body that administers Legal Aid.

    Criminal Duty Solicitors are neither employed by courts or the police force. They work for a panel of Solicitors to ensure that the legal rights of the accused are upheld. A Duty Solicitor may assist individuals under arrest / detained at a police station or appear alongside them for their first hearing in court. They cannot help if the accused has a solicitor already, is facing trial or is charged with a criminal offence that does not result in imprisonment.

    Key Responsibilities of a Duty Solicitor:

    • Observing the legal rights of an offender
    • Explaining what could happen with the case
    • Providing guidance and advice to the accused
    • Discussing whether evidence is strong enough to charge the accused
    • Supporting the accused by challenging evidence against them and interviewing witnesses to support their case
    • Ensuring a fair hearing is provided if a case goes to court

    Criminal Prosecution

    A Prosecution Lawyer or Crown Prosecutor has the responsibility of presenting the case against those accused of a crime. They are employed by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which is a government department.

    The role of a Prosecution Lawyer differs from a Defendant Lawyer, not just in who they represent, but because they are responsible for deciding whether to prosecute the accused and take a case to court. The duties of a Prosecution Lawyer involve:

    • Examining police evidence and deciding whether to progress criminal proceedings
    • Working closely with teams of caseworkers and administrative staff
    • Communicating with the police, probation services and other law enforcement and criminal justice agencies
    • Liaising with court staff and Criminal Defence Solicitors
    • Communicating with victims of the crime
    • Ensuring that the treatment of criminal offenders is fair
    • Presenting the case against the defendant in court
    • Advising and instructing court counsel

    Whether you are a Criminal Defence or Prosecution Lawyer, you need to be able to make decisions without any prejudice, to argue the case effectively and to ensure that all relevant facts are presented to the court. Find out about the other skills required to be a Criminal Lawyer in the next section.

  • How to become a Criminal Lawyer


    The method of qualifying as a Criminal Lawyer is similar to qualifying as a Solicitor in most other practice areas. The traditional route involves obtaining a training contract from a firm after completing a law degree followed by the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or a or non-law degree, the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) then the LPC.

    Note that the method of qualifying is soon changing with the introduction of the Solicitors’ Qualifying Exam (SQE), so keep an eye on changes in the legal sector on the ‘News’ section of our blog.

    Another means of qualifying as a Criminal Lawyer exists through completing a Legal Trainee Scheme with the Crown Prosecution Service. This is a route into a career in Criminal Law which involves a pupillage or period of recognised training through the CPS government body, as opposed to a private practice. This scheme is very competitive as there are limited spaces on the course and prospective candidates need to have completed LPC offers before applying.

    Aside from these options, there are other routes to qualifying as a Solicitor in the UK, which you can find out more about in our graduate career guide.


    During your law degree or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), you are required to cover Criminal Law as it forms a core area of English legal practice. However, this understanding will not be enough to boost your application when competing with other aspiring Criminal Solicitors.

    Obtaining the right work experience is very important when thinking about a career in criminal law. This isn’t a practice area for the faint hearted, so gaining criminal law experience to get a feel for the sector is essential.

    Open days or vacation schemes within a criminal law firm or department are highly beneficial, as is shadowing a Criminal Solicitor or barrister. Sitting in on a Crown Court case is vital to really help you to immerse yourself in the world of criminal law.

    Other valuable experience includes volunteering, pro-bono work or joining a debating team, all of which are likely to be offered by your university. Pro-bono initiatives are a great way to practice giving legal advice to the local community which can help you to develop the essential people skills required for a career in law.

    In any case, gaining relevant work experience is crucial in boosting your application as well as your skill set.

    Criminal Lawyer Skills

    To be a Criminal Solicitor, you will require the following skill set:

    • Determination and motivation
    • The ability to think on your feet and process information quickly
    • A high degree of social intelligence
    • Neutrality and impartiality
    • Excellent verbal communication and presentation skills
    • The ability to empathise and understand feelings, emotions and motivation
    • The ability to work well in a high-pressure environment
    • An open mind with the ability to make fair, morally just decisions
    • Excellent research and analytical skills

  • How much does a Criminal Lawyer earn?

    According to the our latest Audience Insight Report, the average salary for a Criminal Lawyer stands at £28,461 - a £10,000 decline on 2022 figures. With that being said, the nature of the profession, whilst challenging, can also be the most rewarding. No day is the same, you get the variety and unpredictability of court, whilst reaping the satisfaction of helping those in crisis and protecting people’s right to liberty.