A legal career can be rewarding both financially and in other ways. The variety of specialties within the legal profession is enormous. When thinking about the work of a lawyer, most people immediately think either of criminal lawyers standing up fearlessly to defend their innocent clients, or of corporate lawyers working long hours in tall glass buildings thrashing out the details of intensely detailed commercial contracts.
Between those two extremes there are countless niches in the civil law, both private and Legal Aid, where a lawyer can provide help to individuals at difficult points in life, with advice and representation in such matters as family break-down, property, or employment disputes. There are lawyers specializing in non-criminal court work, such as representing people facing eviction from their homes, or appealing against immigration decisions. There are others who never step inside a court, but work on ‘non-contentious’ matters like drawing up wills and negotiating house sales and purchases.
Many who enter the legal profession do so because of a specific interest in one aspect of the law, and for them the decision about which area to specialize in will not be too difficult. Some are inspired by the image of the battling, idealistic criminal lawyer. There are in real life legal heroes who manage to turn what seems like a hopeless case into a successful defense or appeal, preventing or righting miscarriages of justice in the UK courts.
Often, in a notorious terrorist or criminal case, such as that of the Birmingham Six, the pressure on the police and the prosecuting authorities to secure a conviction has been such that short cuts have been taken to gain that result. When that results in a wrongful conviction, it takes a determined and industrious legal team to do the work needed to put matters right, a process which often takes years. Following the Birmingham Six case, the Criminal Cases Review Commission was set up to provide a ‘long stop’ avenue for those who have been convicted and have exhausted the appeals process, but who still protest their innocence. Marshaling the evidence to persuade the Commission to review a case is the first step in seeking to overturn a long-standing conviction. If the result of the review is favorable, then the case will be referred back to the Appellate courts, for the actual appeal.
One can see that involvement in such a process, resulting in the release of an innocent prisoner perhaps after many years, would be an exhilarating and rewarding role, and somebody inspired by such examples is unlikely to settle for a professional life of routine property transfers.
Nonetheless, more humdrum jobs in the law can be deeply rewarding: as a solicitor in a High Street firm, you have a great responsibility to help people to the best of your ability often at a very stressful point in their lives. If you work in a firm which specializes in Legal Aid work, your financial rewards will not be huge by any means. But many lawyers are actually motivated by a desire for justice, which can only be achieved by a system allowing access to justice for all, regardless of whether they are rich or poor.