What does a criminal lawyer do?
Behind the scenes of all criminal cases is a criminal lawyer fighting to achieve the best for their client. Samantha is exactly that person, but she works in legal aid giving help to those that need it more than most.
"I deal with people with criminal charges who can’t afford to pay for a private lawyer," Samantha says.
A typical case for Samantha can involves helping clients decide what to do by analysing police evidence with them and assisting them in court.
What made you decide to become a lawyer?
Samantha wanted to become a lawyer so that she could help the disadvantaged and at times marginalised people in our society.
"I especially wanted to be a lawyer in legal aid to assist people in navigating their way through the often confusing and intimidating criminal justice system," she says.
How did you become a lawyer?
Like many people, Samantha went down a few career paths before deciding to become a criminal lawyer.
"I originally went to university and did a Bachelor of Criminal Justice because I wanted to be a police officer. Halfway through that degree I changed my mind and thought I’d do the other side of it and do criminal defence," Samantha says.
She then went on to complete a Master of Law at Monash University and a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, all while working as a secretary in a private firm and at Victoria Legal Aid to gain experience in the industry.
"It was just about getting some experience first, getting exposed and getting used to what a lawyer does. Rather than coming out of university blind," Samantha says.
What do you like best about your job?
"The feeling that I’m making a difference in peoples lives," Samantha says, "A lot of my clients suffer with mental illness, are poor, or have a drug and alcohol addiction and don’t understand the criminal charges."
By doing what she does, Samantha is helping her clients to understand their situation, achieve the best outcome, and make a difference in their lives.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
While many people may think the hardest part about being a lawyer is the paperwork, it’s actually dealing with the unexpected, which you’re faced with on a daily basis.
"No two days are ever the same. That keeps it interesting, but you have to be prepared for the unexpected. Things always happen and it always changes," Samantha says.
What sort of skills do you need to be a criminal lawyer?
Becoming a lawyer isn’t just about completing several years at university. (new sentence) It’s also about mastering a set of skills.
Samantha started off with great communication skills, but continued to develop other ones, like negotiation skills, advocacy skills, patience, time management, understanding, multitasking and verbal communication.
Have you gained skills from your position?
Aside from learning patience, Samantha has also learned to better manage her expectations.
"I’ve learnt to manage expectations in a better way. There are expectations of the place, the client and of myself. It's all about managing them and getting the job done in a timely manner rather than getting pulled in different directions," she says.
What does a typical day for a lawyer look like?
Whilst there is admin work to be done as a lawyer, the thrill is working in the courts, which Samantha does when on duty.
"If I’m on duty, a typical day would be that I get to work and head down to the court at about nine o’ clock," she says.
As a duty lawyer, Samantha meets with people during the day and helps with their cases. That can mean reading police evidence on the day, taking instructions from clients, providing advice, negotiating charges with prosecution, conducting a plea or adjourning a case.
"Sometimes the cases are really serious and you have to adjourn because you need further material and to talk to the client in an appointment," Samantha says.
When she isn’t on duty, Samantha assists her own clients, either in court or at the office, and then completes paperwork and appointments.
What advice would you give to aspiring criminal lawyers?
Samantha's one piece of advice is "be prepared to work hard". University and the workplace will both be a challenge. However, she insists that the reward at the end is more than worth it.
"The reward you get from helping these people and knowing you’re making a difference in these peoples lives is priceless," she says.
Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).