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Posted March 20, 2017

How To Become a Criminal Lawyer In The UK

Criminal law is a popular choice among lawyers as it's a dynamic and exciting world. Appearing in court, working all hours with clients, and being the sole of discretion are all part of being a criminal lawyer.

Most people who want to become a criminal lawyer in the UK have a bachelors degree in law. But, this is not the only route and there are different ways to qualify as a solicitor or barrister.

Here we take a look at how you can become a criminal lawyer in the United Kingdom.

Criminal law

Take a degree in law

The first step is to take a degree in law. If you want to become a criminal lawyer, then you will want the degree course you choose to have a strong emphasis on criminal law. Alternatively, if your first degree was not law, you can take a conversion course, or you can transfer to study law from a paralegal apprenticeship. In England and Wales the conversion course is known as the Graduate Diploma in Law and in Scotland, it is known as the Graduate Entry or Accelerated LLB. An LLM in Criminal Law is an advantage when trying to gain a training contract with a firm of solicitors and many people choose to study an LLM at this point.

Qualify as a solicitor or barrister

The second step is to qualify as a solicitor or barrister (or advocate in Scotland). To become a solicitor you need to complete the Legal Practice Course and then undertake a training contract at a firm of solicitors. Ideally, this firm of solicitors should have a large amount of criminal law work if you wish to become a criminal lawyer. To become a barrister you need to complete the Bar Professional Training Course and then a pupilage.

Work experience is vital

Work experience throughout your studies is vital to gaining a training position or pupilage as these are very competitive. Networking throughout your studies and training will help you at every step. It is a great idea to get involved with your university's law society and participate in pro bono work through them as this will give you vital contacts. All parts of the law are very competitive, but criminal law is the most competitive, so be prepared to work hard.

Criminal LawyerFind a firm that specialises in criminal law

The final step to becoming a criminal lawyer is to gain a position at a firm of solicitors that specialises in criminal law. For barristers, after the pupilage, you can apply for a tenancy as a self-employed barrister in a chamber or as an employed barrister with an organisation such as the Crown Prosecution Service. A great number of barristers and solicitors work for public organisations such as the Crown Prosecution Service and the Public Defender Service as criminal lawyers. After qualifying as a solicitor or barrister many people consider an LLM in Criminal Law to sharpen their skills and develop their understanding.

Related Links

Spotlight On: LLM in Criminal Law

Master of Laws in Criminal Law

LLM Courses in Criminal Law

Global LLM Study Bursaries


alfie lewis March 22, 2017, 7:01 a.m.

Criminal Lawyer is a very nice job!

wiktor johnson May 11, 2018, 7:26 a.m.

Great Article !! I found it very interesting and helpful.

Mia Dec. 18, 2018, 6:16 p.m.

I'm young at the moment and I am about to do my gcse's, is there any good advice I can get to have a good head start for being a criminal lawyer? What work experience ,specifically, should I do? I live in England to.
Thankyou very much ,could you drop me an email?

Charlotte King Dec. 20, 2018, 4:51 a.m.

Hi Mia,
It's great that you know what you want to do at just 16.
It's a good idea to study a degree in law and then specialise in criminal law as part of your degree. This article has some great advice on becoming a lawyer in the UK which should be able to provide you with further guidance >
Good luck - Charlotte

Ohlsone Feb. 12, 2019, 8:34 a.m.

It is a great Article and really helpful to us. It helps me to understand it clearly. Thanks a lot.

Lucas Goodwin May 2, 2019, 8:40 a.m.

It is a great article and really helpful to us and all criminal lawyers.

Stacey Hamilton Nov. 4, 2019, 1:44 a.m.

Hey, I'm a long time fan and reader of your blog, first time commenter. Just wanted to say this post really hit home with the stuff I've been looking into. Thanks man

Charlotte King Nov. 10, 2019, 6:28 p.m.

Glad to hear you like it!

Steven Spicer March 10, 2020, 9:44 a.m.

Hi Guys,

what do you honestly think is the oldest realistic age that someone could decide, I want to be a criminal defense lawyer? Does anyone know how firms would respond to an older than average pupil or trainee after training/education of course?

Many thanks.

Charlotte King March 23, 2020, 5:26 a.m.

Hi Steven – returning to law school as a mature student is becoming an increasingly popular career pathway. This blog article has more information about it and why it is potentially a really good idea >
Good luck!

Deborah June 20, 2021, 11:53 p.m.

Do you have to go law school to be a criminal lawyer after getting the degree?

Charlotte King July 1, 2021, 5:06 p.m.

Hi Deborah – from September you will need to study an SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination) to be a lawyer – there is more information about this here >

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