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Criminal law presents significant challenges, yet offers an exhilarating and intellectually stimulating legal career path.

What is criminal law, anyway?

Criminal law encompasses the prosecution and defense of individuals accused of breaking the law, as well as related legal proceedings. Lawyers specializing in criminal law play a crucial role in upholding societal norms and administering justice.

According to Victor Hansen, a Professor at New England Law | Boston, criminal law revolves around societal condemnation of actions deemed unacceptable by the community. Crimes, although they may harm individuals, are considered offenses against society and are prosecuted accordingly. This aspect distinguishes criminal law from other legal domains. Criminal law focuses on determining which behaviors warrant punishment and ensuring that appropriate penalties are imposed for such transgressions.

“Underpinning a criminal lawyer’s work is the heady responsibility of cases with potentially life-changing ramifications, as they fight for justice on behalf of their client.”

Criminal law appealed to Teniola Adeyemi, a 2015 New England Law graduate and current Assistant District Attorney in Boston, because it allowed her to adopt a detective-like approach. She found the gray areas within criminal law particularly intriguing, where establishing standards required careful consideration of their implications on individual cases. Adeyemi describes this aspect as thought-provoking.

Professor Hansen emphasizes that certain interests and personality traits align well with a career in law, especially criminal law. Essential skills include solid critical thinking, effective interpersonal and communication abilities, and the capacity to analyze complex information. Additionally, criminal lawyers must navigate potentially distressing situations, such as dealing with evidence related to violent crimes. Despite the challenges, the profound responsibility of handling cases with life-altering consequences underscores the rewarding nature of the profession.

Upon entering the workforce, criminal lawyers have diverse career opportunities. Some choose to specialize in defense, working as private attorneys or public defenders. Others opt for roles as prosecutors at various levels of government. As their careers progress, these professionals may transition into judiciary roles or pursue avenues in politics, influencing change at significant levels.

    How do you become a criminal lawyer?

    Becoming a criminal lawyer begins with your journey through law school. Once you enroll, you’ll undertake a mix of mandatory and elective courses that delve into various aspects of law, including criminal law. The foundational course in criminal law is typically a requirement in law school curriculum, where students familiarize themselves with the fundamentals.

    In these introductory courses, like the one taught by Professor Hansen, students delve into pivotal crimes such as murder and sexual assault. They analyze relevant statutes, degrees of offenses, and the burden of proof necessary for conviction. Additionally, students explore the evolution of laws surrounding these crimes and examine potential defenses and mitigating factors.

    However, criminal law extends beyond sensationalized cases portrayed in media. It encompasses a broad spectrum of legal matters, offering insights into different areas of law that any aspiring lawyer might find intriguing. This aspect is emphasized by Professor Hansen, who notes the universal appeal of criminal law and its involvement with various stakeholders, including victims, defendants, and governmental entities.

    As students progress through law school, they can opt for specialized courses like Juvenile Law, Mental Health Law, Prosecutorial Ethics, Trial Practice, and White Collar Crime. Moreover, they can gain practical experience through internships, moot court/mock trial competitions, and involvement in law school clinics.

    Upon completing law school and obtaining a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, aspiring criminal lawyers must pass the bar exam to practice law. While some may pursue advanced degrees like Master of Laws (LLM) or Doctor of Science of Law (JSD or SJD) for scholarly or teaching purposes, a JD is typically the primary requirement for practicing criminal law.

    Where can you learn more about studying criminal law?

    To delve deeper into the realm of studying criminal law, Professor Hansen advises seeking sources beyond popular media representations, which often simplify and glamorize the field. Instead, he suggests exploring practical avenues such as internships, summer programs, and hands-on coursework during law school. Engaging with professional organizations like the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association can provide valuable networking opportunities and access to resources like educational materials and industry insights.

    Additional resources for aspiring criminal lawyers include the National Center for Law Placement, which offers valuable data on salaries, employment trends, and career guidance tailored to law students and graduates. Similarly, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers offers support to various legal professionals involved in criminal law.

    Students are urged to actively network and seek mentorship opportunities, whether through campus events, alumni connections, or personal acquaintances. Conducting informational interviews with practicing criminal lawyers can offer invaluable insights into career paths.

    While criminal law may initially captivate students, Professor Hansen advises keeping an open mind and exploring various legal areas during the early stages of law school. Many students discover new interests through coursework and experiential learning opportunities, leading to potential shifts in career aspirations. Regardless of specialization, accumulating diverse legal experiences is essential for making informed career decisions.

    Becoming a criminal lawyer demands dedication and perseverance, from the rigorous preparation for standardized tests like the LSAT to the eventual passage of the bar exam. Despite the challenges, criminal lawyers wield significant influence on their clients and society as a whole, making the journey worthwhile.

    What Do Attorneys Practicing Criminal Law Do?

    Attorneys practicing criminal law are responsible for either prosecuting or defending individuals or entities accused of violating the law. They may negotiate plea bargains with their clients or proceed to trial if necessary. Their duties encompass various aspects of a case, from gathering evidence to selecting jurors and preparing arguments for court presentation.

    These attorneys can serve in different roles such as state or federal prosecutors, public defenders, private defense attorneys, or even judges. Aspiring legal professionals aiming for careers in criminal law should focus on understanding substantive criminal law and procedure, honing their written and oral communication skills, and developing strong litigation abilities.

    The practice of criminal law is pivotal within our legal system, where the rights of individuals intersect with those of the community. Criminal law practitioners handle a diverse range of issues, including matters of social justice, mercy, and community engagement, within a profession that demands both intellectual rigor and emotional resilience. As Professor Victor M. Hansen, Certificate Program Director, aptly states, criminal law practice involves navigating complex ethical and legal terrain while striving to achieve justice for all parties involved.

    Criminal Practice and Procedure Courses

    The Criminal Practice and Procedure certificate is offered alongside our JD program. Alongside their core legal studies, students pursuing this certificate have the flexibility to select from a variety of elective courses to fulfill their credit requirements. These options encompass:

    • Criminal Advocacy
    • Ethics in Criminal Defense
    • Crimmigration
    • Juvenile Law
    • Mental Health Law
    • Privacy Issues in Law Enforcement
    • Ethics in Prosecution
    • Trial Techniques
    • White Collar Crime
    • Addressing Wrongful Convictions

    It’s important to note that Criminal Procedure II is a mandatory foundational course for all students pursuing this certificate.

    a, Hands-On Learning Opportunities:

    • Our Criminal Practice and Procedure certificate program emphasizes experiential learning, providing students with practical exposure through various avenues:
    • Participation in a Legal Internship Program at a Public Criminal Law Enforcement Agency Office
    • Engagement in a Legal Internship Program at a Public Indigent Criminal Defense Agency Office or a Private Criminal Defense Firm
    • Involvement in the Criminal Procedure II Clinic
    • Participation in the Government Lawyer Clinic
    • Opportunity to compete in National Mock Trial Competitions

    b, Learning Outcomes:

    • Upon completion of the Criminal Practice and Procedure certificate program at New England Law, you will:
    • Possess the necessary skills to thrive in a criminal law/trial environment.
    • Gain hands-on experience relevant to your career aspirations.
    • Develop a comprehensive understanding of the roles lawyers play in various criminal law scenarios.
    • Acquire a deep sense of professional and ethical obligations towards clients, recognizing the impact of legal actions on individuals’ lives and well-being.
    • Cultivate foundational lawyering skills, including proficient legal research and analysis, effective problem-solving, and clear communication abilities.