Whenever I watch legal TV series like The Good Wife or Suits I can’t help but wonder what life would be like had I pursued law instead of journalism. Would I be as bold and confronting as Harvey Specter or would I be a cool and collected Alicia Florrick?
I’ve always been fascinated by criminal law as well as the individuals who work within this branch of the law. How do they stay emotionally detached despite being passionate about the job at hand? What type of cases do they find interesting? I was keen to learn as much as I could and so I was excited to speak to Edward Jones, a third generation criminal defence solicitor and partner at Hodge Jones & Allen. In addition to working within criminal defence, he also specialises in extradition law – a niche area related to criminal defence.
Armed with my questions, I couldn’t wait to learn more about him as a person and the industry itself.
Law has always been a part of your family, so did you always know this was the career route you would be taking?
Yes, pretty much from university onwards it was always something I saw myself doing. Criminal defence really interested me and so I thought that if I was to pursue anything within law it would be that line of work.
What interested you about this particular branch of law?
The themes are quite meaty. You have the individuals versus the state and protecting people’s rights and at times the rights of vulnerable people as well. These aspects factored quite heavily when it came to my decision to practise criminal law.
What’s the educational process like into this line of work? Is it as difficult as it seems?
There are quite a few routes into the profession now compared to when I started out. If you’re taking the most direct route, that would be an undergraduate degree followed by a post graduate course called a ‘Legal Practice Course.’ Once you’re accepted onto the LPC, you’ll be expected to find a trainee solicitor role within a firm where you’ll work for two years or so. When you complete that process, you’re qualified.
It can take six years in total if you’re doing a three year undergraduate degree, but then you can do a one year postgraduate course, called the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) which is quite intense.
In your years of working as a solicitor what’s been your most challenging case?
There have been a few. There are different types of challenges. You have complicated cases but there are cases that are legally less complicated.
There was a complicated extradition case I worked on where I was representing a scuba diver who had been on a scuba diving holiday in Malta last year with a few friends. During the course of a scuba dive, two of his friends died. He left Malta thinking that everything had been concluded and a year later he was arrested on a European arrest warrant because he was accused of manslaughter via the Maltese court. They had said his leadership to the dive was so bad that it caused the death of these two divers.
That was a complicated case because there was a lot of medical evidence to do with the scuba diving accident and the kinds of medical complications that arise from that kind of activity. It was also a very important case for the client because he genuinely hadn’t done anything wrong, but had he been extradited to Malta he would probably be in pre-trial detention in Malta for quite a while waiting for his case to be sorted out. The extradition process itself would have been an actual prison sentence for him even though he hadn’t done anything wrong.
Luckily we did get a positive outcome for him because he wasn’t ultimately extradited and the request was withdrawn.
What’s surprised you about working within law?
During the beginning the difficulty people faced in getting access to justice did surprise me. Legal aid funding has been cut right back so many people who need legal redress can’t afford to pay for a lawyer unless they qualify for legal aid. This isn’t just limited to criminal defence – I’m talking about people right across the board.
The people you either have to turn away because they couldn’t afford to pay or because they didn’t qualify for legal aid surprised me.
How would you recover if you lost a case that mattered to you?
You ultimately have to accept the limitations within which you’re working. You’re an officer of the court and you have to put your trust in the legal system to achieve the right results. If it’s not a result that you happen to agree with, then you just have to accept that that’s the result that the system has handed to you.
Have you been gripped by any high profile cases?
I always follow high profile cases in the media, particularly because it’s interesting to see what goes into them. The case that has gripped my attention most recently was the Ben Butler case at the Old Bailey. He was convicted of murdering his daughter. The thing that made the case stand out apart from the fact it was a horrible and awful crime, is the fact that Ben Butler had previously been convicted of assaulting his daughter and had that conviction overturned and quashed on appeal. The child had been returned to him from the care of her grandparents. There were a lot of issues going on around the interplay between the criminal justice system and the family justice system, which is not often seen.
What characteristics make a good criminal solicitor?
I’d say you need patience, you need a good analytical mind and you also need a large amount of common sense in order to be a good defence criminal solicitor. You’re dealing with a very practical set of legal rules that apply to everyone in everyday life. That’s what criminal law is. It regulates people’s relationships with each other and the state. On a practical level, people have to have a certain degree of common sense to come up with solutions to people’s problems in this area.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about pursuing a career in criminal law?
I’d say get as much work experience as you can in this particular area and make sure it’s something that you really want to do. Also, don’t get into this work if you are looking to make a lot of money. A criminal defence solicitor does mainly publicly funded work.
This article first appeared on HotCourses; August 2016