Criminal law is no easy path. Often needing thick skin, to be street smart and work long, tiring hours, criminal law is no longer as appealing to young lawyers, according to Mark Dooley, Partner and Section Head of the Criminal Department at Oxley and Coward Solicitors LLP. He gives inside information on what it is like being a criminal lawyer, and why there is a decline in criminal lawyers.
As an expert in criminal defence, can you share any aspects of the law which can cause frustrations, either with legal experts or with your clients?
This has to be the constant undervaluing of our entire criminal justice system.
The last few years have seen even further cuts to legal aid fees and the closure of many local courts. Local justice is becoming a thing of the past. There is a real shortage of criminal defence lawyers at the moment. I qualified five years ago and I do not know of anyone else qualifying after I did in my local area. In another 10 to 15 years, this will become a real problem. It is down to constant slashing of legal aid fees and the fact that remuneration in this field is not what it once was as a result. Graduates no longer see this area as a good career prospect and that is a real shame and a big concern for our criminal justice system, which is held out to be one of the best in the world.
From your experience, what do you think is the most challenging part of being a police station representative? How do you prepare yourself for such a role?
The police station stage of a case is crucial. This can often be where a case is won or lost. For me, the biggest challenge we representatives face is being expected to advise suspects at any time of day or night, on often complex and serious matters and often in anti social hours having already completed a full working day or week. It can be daunting when you start out, especially at 3am when the rest of the world is asleep, and your client is upset and distressed after already being held for a number of hours. Despite this, you need to obtain instruction and advise clearly and rationally in a way they will understand and appreciate.
The biggest lesson I have learnt to date is that in this job, you never stop learning.
There is nothing that can prepare you for being a representative at the station other than experience itself. You have to have the mindset that being a defence solicitor, this is all part and parcel of the job. It requires patience, dedication and above all else you must trust in your own ability and training.
From finishing law school up until now, what has been the biggest lesson you have learnt, in relation to working in criminal law?
The biggest lesson I have learnt to date is that in this job, you never stop learning. You do not simply qualify and become a great lawyer. Advocacy is a skill that you develop over time. The law changes often. Each case is different to the last in some unique way. Your people skills and negotiation skills increase with time and experience.
With most areas of law, the day you qualify is often of little difference to your last day as a trainee. That cannot be said of criminal defence lawyers. The day you qualify is the first time you will appear in court yourself, which is a huge learning curve.
There are some incredible advocates in my local Courts and over the years I have tried to observe them on their feet whenever possible. The day when you think you know everything in this job is probably the day you should pack in and go home.
Oxley and Coward Solicitors LLP
“I am a Partner and Section Head of the Criminal Department at Oxley and Coward Solicitors LLP. I joined the firm in 2009 and trained with the firm before qualifying as a solicitor in 2013. I am a duty solicitor and Higher Court Advocate. I undertake both legal aid and privately paid work. I am also a prison law specialist.”
Oxley and Coward Solicitors LLP is a multi disciplinary High Street firm based in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. The firm has just celebrated its 225th anniversary. It has a young and vibrant partnership with six of its eight partners being homegrown.