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How the SQE is opening up new routes to qualification in publicly funded practice areas

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By The Careers Team on

There are few practice areas more interesting than crime, says David Green, Academic Manager and criminal law lecturer at ULaw Birmingham

“Crime attracts a certain type of person. You need a particular type of personality to survive a career in criminal law because although it seems sexy, the reality in practice isn’t quite so glamorous,” says David Green, Academic Manager and criminal law lecturer at The University of Law (ULaw)’s Birmingham campus. “The hours are long, and it’s a really adversarial area of law, so you need to be able to cope mentally with the fact that you’re always up against somebody else: whether it’s the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the police, or the courts service. You’re always in that ‘rough-and-tumble’ and that’s not for everyone,” he says.

Having had a “fairly traditional” route into legal practice, Green undertook the LPC with The College of Law (ULaw’s predecessor) before beginning his career in criminal defence. “I worked my way up through a specialist criminal law firm, becoming a partner and later a Higher Courts Advocate before making the step over to legal education at ULaw,” he tells Legal Cheek Careers. “I always tell my students: given that we’re all likely to be working until we’re 75 now, everyone has time for two careers! For me, moving over to ULaw just felt like the right time for me to try something different.”

David Green, Academic Manager and criminal law lecturer at ULaw

Digging into his attraction to life in criminal law, we’re keen to ask Green his reasoning behind forging a legal career in this direction. “I had done quite a lot of work experience during my degree, especially in mixed practice firms, and I think this is one of the best ways as a student to get a good sense of whether you will actually like certain areas of law,” he says. After having completed some work experience in criminal legal practice, Green says he just fell in love with it. “In order to adapt to such an intense daily working environment, it helps if you can learn to make light out of often dark situations,” Green explains. “I think the closest profession to being a criminal defence solicitor is being a doctor. You need to be able to find the humour in the horrible things that happen, and still be able to switch off at the end of your shift, go home, and be present in your personal life.

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

 “What really drew me to crime was the fact that it’s fun. There’s no other area of law where you find such odd things that have happened to people! I have a fascination in how seemingly ordinary people can often find themselves caught up in the criminal justice system,” he says. “There’s a huge range of clients you’re dealing with, which is brilliant. I love the cut and thrust of it; the adversarial nature of the practice—and no two days are ever the same!”

Speaking on his experiences of becoming a partner in a criminal defence practice, Green explains that naturally, his responsibilities ratchetted up a notch. “Attaining partnership meant not only taking on more complex and high-level cases, but also taking a new responsibility over the business itself. In a legal aid practice, this means trying to be as efficient as possible,” he says. In contrast to many commercial practices, Green explains that criminal firms have to stay flexible and agile. “No matter what the government threw at us in terms of legal aid reforms, we had to think about how we could continue to make money in a new and changing system.”

Given current political events, we ask Green how he imagines the general election is likely to impact criminal practices in the UK that are reliant on legal aid cases. “The sad reality is that there are no votes in legal aid. The only people voting that have an interest in legal aid reforms, are for obvious reasons, legal aid lawyers. Many people never consider that they will have the need for legal aid, and therefore this issue remains rather invisible,” he says. “Nobody asks to be dragged into the criminal justice system; whether you’re a victim of a crime or accused of a crime, you’re pushed into that system by the state. So, I think it’s fundamentally wrong that the state doesn’t have a system in place to properly provide for legal representation in every situation,” he explains.

SQE Prep: Prepare to take the plunge with these revision tips and assessment advice

“Unfortunately for many who need legal aid to access justice, it’s not really on the agenda of either of the big political parties, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see an improvement in legal aid policy in the near future,” he says.

Nevertheless, the introduction of the SQE is opening the doors to publicly funded practice for law students. Rather than having to bag ‘golden ticket’ training contracts in criminal law, students can now build their two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE) in criminal practice and qualify as a solicitor through this new route. We ask Green how ULaw is preparing its students to succeed on the SQE and to hit the ground running in such a demanding legal practice. “For SQE1, single best answer questions (SBAQs) assess far more detailed or niche areas of law and procedure than were being assessed previously. So, our teaching has become much more specific by delving into all of the detailed areas of criminal practice much more than we did previously, to ensure that our students are prepared,” he says. “Students are now being assessed as a day one solicitors rather than as trainees. So, the level of knowledge taught on our SQE programmes has also shifted up a couple of degrees; we’re teaching to a much higher level.”

For students who are keen to embrace the “rough-and-tumble” of criminal legal practice, they are not only taught by qualified criminal lawyers, but they can also gain first-hand experience at ULaw, says Green. “Students can go to our pro bono clinic at ULaw and gain legal work experience actually dealing with real clients. This is a great way very early in a legal career, to feel the pressure of having a real person in front of you with a real legal problem that you’re trying to solve,” he says. With employability skills at the core of ULaw’s student offering, Green is keen to emphasise the part that advocacy plays in building the skills that future criminal lawyers need in practice. “There is no other area of law where advocacy is so fundamental to practice as in criminal law. I also teach advocacy skills as part of ULaw’s Bar Practice Course (BPC) for future barristers. Advocacy, though a skill which students are often afraid of, is taught at ULaw the same as any other skill like riding a bike. It’s a case of practising, reflecting on your practise, and practising again!”

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

Discover more tips on succeeding in your legal career this afternoon at ‘Secrets to Success Birmingham — with Pinsent Masons, Reed Smith, DWF, Browne Jacobson and ULaw’ an in-person student event running tomorrow, Thursday (27th June). Apply for one of the final few places.

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