December 18, 2010

Career in Criminal Law; options and choices

Are you looking to build a career in criminal law practice or research? Here are the top Seven Wonders that you should visit to fulfill your interest in criminal law scholarship. The short note, speaks for itself. Read on.

1. Criminal Law Practitioner / Litigation - If you want your neighbours to envy your dignity, if you want people to think twice before casting foul remarks on you, and if you want to earn some good money, read on. The idea is to start a small office at your own residence, make contacts at local police stations, know your clients, get involved in local politics and the field is yours. Take every case that comes before you, be it a bail or a maintenance case, and see how quickly you shine in your district. Make sure you have good research skills and kick ass precedents with you, and when you argue before a Judge, be humorous. Criminal litigation, they say, is highly rewarded and your earn from the first day itself. Slog your ass for two years, sweat, and then see the results. After all, when the Tatas and Birlas mess with the IPC, CrPC or Evidence, AZB or Amarchand will not come for rescue. Well, neither will you. But make sure five years down the line you at least stand against those who take up their cases.

Don't go and work under a Senior Lawyer. Don't waste your time. Work teaches work. Start practicing independently. They say that joining a Senior helps you understand the court procedure properly. Heck ! What were you doing in the last four or five years at a law school? Internships. Yes. Intern properly under a top notch lawyer to learn the way petitions are drafted, his way of arguing, how he impresses a Judge. Intern also under a Munsi/office clerk to know the court procedure. So that right after your law school with some internship experience, you are able to work independently. Work for yourself. This increases efficiency. 

2. Judicial Clerkship under Appellate Courts (Criminal Division) - If you have the slightest belief in the judiciary, read on. Judicial Clerkships will help you in every field you wish to pursue. If you want to pursue your masters in criminal laws from a top UK or US University, that too on a full Scholarship, go for a Judicial Clerkship (JC). Try to do it under a Judge of High Court or Supreme Court. Easiest way to find out reputed and knowledgeable Judges in criminal laws is to browse on some landmark judgment on criminal laws and look who had written the majority judgment. It is advised to address a letter to the Registrar but direct talking to the Judge is not discouraged. For an official position after you graduate, there is a call for application for the post of Research Assistant and the Registrar of the SC notifies the same to recognised law schools as also on the SCI website. Know about JC more here.

You can also be a clerk/research assistant to a retired Judge where you don't have to bother about court room etiquettes. In West Bengal, Justice D K Basu (famous for his Guidelines on Police Torture) is heading the Legal Aid Services. It is a civil society organisation and don't confuse it with State Legal Services Authority. Students from West Bengal Law Schools can apply for internships which is also very rewarding (in terms of stipends). Wait, never forget to ask a Judge you worked for, to write a personal recommendation letter for you. 

3. Lecturer in Criminal Laws - If you are crazy about teaching, and want to be closer to home, read on. Lecturers in big law schools are highly paid. There are other merits like - feeling a sense of responsibility and innovation, meeting classroom challenges, getting research grants from outside sources, respect in fraternity, among others. But the most important part in law teaching is (unless you have some real high aims in life) that you can join a university that is the best in your home town.

You would need a Masters in Law from a recognised University. You can also be a Tutor in a law varsity in the UK if you have a reputed LLM Degree from the UK. Not to say, your promotion chances are awesome if show a standard level of dedication. You are advised to complete a Refreshers Course that is available for improving chances of promotion. If you are a student enrolled in a law university, catch with the criminal law professors and convince them to offer you classroom teaching for a month or two in any subject of your interest. Plus, there are tutorials in almost all law schools and if you successfully complete the programme, it guarantees a teaching job in any good University.

4. Joining Law Firms specializing in Criminal Laws - If you are looking for a job in your field which gives you an air conditioned room and a cosy chair, read on. You can still be smart with a corporate attire and look similar to your friends in AZB, AMSS or Trilegal. At the same time, you get to work and specialize in your area of interest. You earn the same money as yours friends do in big law firms but the difference is you don't have to be in a law firm only for the sake of a lucrative job (not in all cases). This position will usually demand you to sit and aid in research and draft petitions. Law firms normally have lawyers on an  independent basis who represent the firm in courts. Not all firms in India practice in criminal litigation. But there are firms like O P Khaitan and Co., Rajesh Sangani Law Firms, Jotwani Associates, Trustman and Co., Leges Juris Associates, B. S. Jain and Co. which are worth the consideration. But if you think you can impress a Judge with your eloquence, refer Point No. 1.

5. Research Fellowships or Research Assistantships - If you are interested in doing studies that will impact the criminal justice system, on a fellowship/grant, read on. Various law schools in India, UK and US among others have a Centre for Criminal Justice Studies. To be specific, in USA, Centre for Crime and Justice at NYU, International Center for Criminal Justice at HLS, Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard Kennedy School, Stanford Criminal Justice Center, SLS, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, and in the UK the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at LSE, Criminal Justice Centre at Warwick, Centre for Criminal Laws at UCL, Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, Leeds. In India, go for Centre for Penology, Criminal Justice and Police Studies at Gindal Global Law School.

The Director/Faculty Advisor of the Centre can be easily contacted through emails. The contact details are provided in the respective websites. Some of the Centres also provide student internships, although they are normally unpaid positions. Well, it depends how diligently you use this information to get a position in any of these Centres. They will not entertain your Statement of Purpose unless it shows demonstrated interest in criminal law with substantive evidence in the form of publications, conference papers and moots. If selected for a fellowship, you get the opportunity to research under the Center and also take classes. Chances are they will absorb you. To have a general overview of potential applications for research internship, see this post.

6. Joining organisations dedicated to Criminal Justice - If you want to involve yourself in high quality research in criminal justice and human rights under the supervision of bright minds, read on. Although not lucrative in first instant, these research positions can change your life style for sure. You not only get to work with the most influential people in India but also get an opportunity to become a change-maker. Be it constant writing on criminal justice issues in newspaper columns, member of Working Paper Series, part of Policy Comments, your interest in criminal law scholarship will best be served. Some of the noted positions for this area are Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), Criminal Justice Initiative at Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), Victims Rights at Lawyers Collective, International Relations and Security under Ved Marwah (Centre for Policy Research), Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

7. Starting your own criminal law firm (Courtesy - Adil Sir) - If you have earned a good amount of money through any of the above six means, read on. Before that, please browse through some good posts on how to start your own law firm. It is suggested to earn some money before starting your own law firm. Try to connect with law graduates who are interested in opening partnership businesses. The way a start up firm operates is city by city . The idea is to build enough of clientele for one, along with goodwill and revenue that comes from it and use it in another .

But how ? So normally to begin with a team, start with one city in mind. Considering you are a fresh start-up firm, the idea is to get a good flow of clients. You also have to identify why a person or a client would not just come to you but stick with you. You must understand that the way the market will judge you is in terms of how much field experience or goodwill you carry. To the clients, you must look first a professional lawyer in terms of experience and expertise for them to trust their cases in you. Performance comes later. If you can get a good flow of clients, which normally happens through alliances / connections/ or outsourcing, the performance and the goodwill carries as a word of mouth.

Launching yourself - The reason one would work with you is Cheaper and Faster. But your team has to be right, lot of marketing is required first year, and yes you need to network with the right group. It is never easy to launch yourself. But once you do, the returns are good. If you are qualified it will boil down to personality , merit and drive. It boils down to how efficient is your team. If you think its more of smoke than fire, the market will know it sooner than later. Remember, being neutral is better than bad goodwill.

Scary Start ? Do what your heart tells you, if you feel its right that is all that matters. But do your ground work well. Use your mind than be emotional about the whole thing. Do a good blueprint of what you want. Stare at it and re read it again. Get a very clear idea of what you want, and make sure the steps are correctly walked or charted. I am sure if your groundwork is done right , things should fall in place. After all, it does not take scientists to build a career in criminal law.