Editor’s weekly: Does crime pay?

Lawyer 2B is often criticised for focusing too heavily on commercial law so I thought, for a change, this week I’d take a closer look at life in the criminal sector.

I wanted to find out why given the fact that the work handled by criminal lawyers is something all of us can relate to, so many law students turn their back on it in less time than it takes for a traffic warden to hand out a parking ticket? Is it because crime really doesn’t pay?

Well let’s just say that most fresh-faced criminal barristers earn less than a junior journalist. A pupil in a criminal set will most probably pocket just £15,000 compared to their opposite numbers at leading commercial chambers One Essex Court, for instance, where pupillage awards are being bumped up to a whopping £60,000 from 2010.

But pay isn’t everything. Job satisfaction is arguably just as important. I should know as I gave up a very well paid job as a City lawyer to pursue a career in journalism. And though the days of strutting my stuff in designer suits have long been confined to history I don’t regret my decision for a minute.

Neither does Jehad Mustafa who trained as a barrister at specialist criminal set One Paper Buildings. Jehad who this month entered his second year of tenancy loves his job because according to him it can make a real difference to people’s lives.

“The last area of the legal profession I thought I’d go into was the criminal bar as I was pretty set on public law. But like most law students I had to go and spend a day observing a criminal trial as part of my BVC. I therefore sat in on a single day trial at Croydon Crown Court. By the end of the opening speech I was hooked and by the end of the day I knew this was for me,” said Jehad.

“You have people’s lives in your hands. At the very least someone’s reputation is being questioned. And more often than not their liberty is under threat as well,” he added.

Indeed, talking to Jehad reminded me of why I originally wanted to train as a lawyer – I too wanted to help people. So why like so many students did I ignore my initial motives and jump onto the commercial bandwagon?

The honest answer is the lack of financial reward. But with hindsight I realise that even though crime doesn’t necessarily pay in the financial sense the job satisfaction that comes with it is arguably priceless.