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Many young people who are considering entering the legal profession are drawn to criminal law. The thrill of being able to add something positive to the justice system whilst performing outstanding cross-examinations and closing speeches in front of a captive audience is a huge temptation to many. There is also the lure of real human interaction and the exposure that criminal lawyers get to such a broad cross-section of society.

Students Drawn To Criminal Law

All of this means that there is no shortage of students who are enrolling on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) each year. Even though the course costs around £18,000, legal students are drawn to the idea of practising criminal law.

Yet once qualified, many lawyers have their heads turned by corporate regulatory work and choose to leave criminal law behind. So why are lawyers turning away from crime? It’s largely to do with money.

Rock Bottom Wages And Cuts To Legal Aid

Since the 2008 financial crisis, there have been various savage cuts to legal aid which are constantly being opposed by the Criminal Bar Association (CBA). This is largely responsible for the earnings of barristers being in a massive nosedive. Typically a barrister earns a fixed rate between £70-100 for a magistrate’s court hearing. This doesn’t take into account expenses such as travel or lunch which are not included. Those barristers who are self-employed have to factor in paying for Chambers rent and often miss out on benefits such as pensions, medical insurance, paid holiday and sick leave. They also work extremely long hours, often amassing up to 70 hours per week. Therefore, a criminal lawyer will typically find it hard to earn more than the minimum wage. Although some criminal lawyers can earn up to £25,000 per year, the situation is often far worse at the junior end of the criminal law scale and there are many bankruptcies reported in the Junior Bar. The stress of lack of income coupled with working unreasonably antisocial hours can cause problems with morale and make family life and personal relationships almost impossible.

Corporate Firms Turn Heads

Unfortunately those idealistic young lawyers who once dreamed of carving out a criminal law career have to face reality and pay their bills. Some are choosing to take on high-paying corporate work to supplement their criminal work which almost resembles a hobby in comparison. Others choose to fully commit to corporate work by taking a job at a high-profile City firm which promises them a much better standard of living. The hours may still be long, but the pay is much better.

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