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April 15, 2006

Advice for careers in criminal law

Professor Kerr recently asked for opinions on good advice for law students who might be considering careers in criminal law.

I always encourage my students to pursue their interests in criminal law, as I think careers in criminal law on the whole are vastly more rewarding than lives wasted in discovery disputes on behalf of large corporations careers in civil litigation practice (the latter being the primary competition). Less lucrative, granted, but vastly more rewarding.

Coming from a law professor that is priceless! The post generated a veritable goldmine of priceless advice. First, these helpful thoughts on pursuing criminal appeals work, and more generally:

My advice to students interested in criminal defense (the same advice I give to my kids): volunteer to work where you want to get hired. Get to work early, stay late and leave no room for doubt that you are the person that the firm will want to hire when you graduate. If a summer clerk, or student volunteer impresses me by his/her ingenuity, dedication, intellect during a few months while clerking for the firm, I wouldn’t consider looking at another person’s resume regardless of how impressive it is on paper. In short, get your foot in the door and don’t waste the opportunity.

Excellent advice, I'm sure, but not so helpful if you made the mistake of taking internships in geographical areas where you can't/don't want to work. For people in that position (like me), a public defender offered this encouraging advice:

How you can get a job with a PD’s office: Although, many PD’s and DA’s that I know volunteered at their agencies before being hired, it is definitely not a criteria. I know that if it’s what you really want to do and it shows, it doesn’t matter that you have a civil background with no criminal experience. It’s important that you want to have clients and are truly willing to do what’s best for your clients. Interviews with PD offices are not fun, but if you definitely want to be a PD, it will show. Be prepared to be in court every day, learn to think on your feet, and encounter unexpected problems every day. But that’s the fun of it!

I've probably heard all of that before but it's great to see it all put together like that. In my recent interview one of the questions was: “Why did you spend a whole year working for this civil law thing? And don't they sue attorneys?” I couldn't figure out whether that seemed of interest to them b/c they thought it showed I'm not committed to criminal defense, or if they were concerned about it b/c they thought maybe I don't like lawyers and have some agenda to get them in trouble for malpractice. Now I realize it was probably both and if it comes up again I'll try to be more clear about addressing those potential concerns. (The real reason I did the civil law job was that it was interesting, it paid, and I wanted to learn at least about about the civil side of things while I had the chance.)

Many of the comments on this thread are from people doing criminal defense in private practice (like this one) and it's encouraging to hear that so many find that so rewarding since I might end up having to go that route if the public defender options don't come through.

The thread also offers a brief outline of how to start your own criminal defense practice, and this from a public defender that encapsulates why I prefer to find a job in a smaller jurisdiction:

PD’s offices in less urban areas are lovely to work in, you don’t have to worry about working your way up to felony cases and such, and there’s always a demand.

Amen! I could quote just about every one of the comments here b/c they are all so helpful (this one even gives ), but better still, just read the rest of the thread on If you're pursuing a career in criminal law, you'll find this 10 very well-spent minutes.

Posted April 15, 2006 03:04 PM | 3L advice crimlaw

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