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SelTel

Best law school to study criminal law

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I've heard Osgoode may be one of the best when it comes to criminal law, but I want to keep my options open. Could criminal law students tell me what they think about their school? Which school do you guys think is the best to study criminal law?

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2 hours ago, SelTel said:

I've heard Osgoode may be one of the best when it comes to criminal law, but I want to keep my options open. Could criminal law students tell me what they think about their school? Which school do you guys think is the best to study criminal law?

Also very curious. I know that Queen's used to be the go to place for crim, but a lot of people on this forum have said that they're shifting toward a more corporate focus. 

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If you want to work in Criminal law, almost any school gives you a good foundation. What you need to look at is this:

1. How likely are you to get clinical experience? How many first / second / third years work in the clinic? Is there a lottery for placement? Is it merit based? How many supervisors are there? Do they supervise? Are these people practitioners or academics? Do you go to court and run trials? Sentencings? Take a close look. 

2. Will you be able to network with practitioners in your desired location? Criminal practitioners who hire students are usually sole practitioners or very very small offices with three to five lawyers. They need believers. Believers are people who put in face time early in and frequently. So go to school where you want to work. 

3. Is this school going to plunge you into serious debt? Criminal practitioners do not make very much money. Articles can start as low as $20k a year. In your first year you are looking at $50-65k a year typically (in larger centres). You won’t break six figures before five years in, most of the time. If you want to survive in criminal law you cannot afford a massive debt on top of this. 

I know OP wanted a list or a top three. This advice is better. Think critically within your own context. The answer varies person to person. 

(Context: I am now considered a senior lawyer and all I do is criminal law.)

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1 hour ago, Hegdis said:

If you want to work in Criminal law, almost any school gives you a good foundation. What you need to look at is this:

1. How likely are you to get clinical experience? How many first / second / third years work in the clinic? Is there a lottery for placement? Is it merit based? How many supervisors are there? Do they supervise? Are these people practitioners or academics? Do you go to court and run trials? Sentencings? Take a close look. 

2. Will you be able to network with practitioners in your desired location? Criminal practitioners who hire students are usually sole practitioners or very very small offices with three to five lawyers. They need believers. Believers are people who put in face time early in and frequently. So go to school where you want to work. 

3. Is this school going to plunge you into serious debt? Criminal practitioners do not make very much money. Articles can start as low as $20k a year. In your first year you are looking at $50-65k a year typically (in larger centres). You won’t break six figures before five years in, most of the time. If you want to survive in criminal law you cannot afford a massive debt on top of this. 

I know OP wanted a list or a top three. This advice is better. Think critically within your own context. The answer varies person to person. 

(Context: I am now considered a senior lawyer and all I do is criminal law.)

Wow thankss! Do you regret choosing criminal law or not really? Money wise, do you think it's different for the US? Do you think criminal practitioners make more money in the US since there are more criminal situations happen there?

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11 hours ago, SelTel said:

Wow thankss! Do you regret choosing criminal law or not really? Money wise, do you think it's different for the US? Do you think criminal practitioners make more money in the US since there are more criminal situations happen there?

I love criminal law and wouldn’t do anything else. 

You couldn’t pay me enough to work in the US right now. That’s a personal opinion, obviously. And it’s never seriously occurred to me. My home is here, my family and friends are here. May as well ask why I never considered working in Ireland. Why would I?

At this stage in my career money is not the pressure valve it used to be - I am stable and making a very comfortable living. But I have had times of feast and famine, and I have struggled. Being smart with your money and your debt is good advice across the board but in criminal law it can have a more immediate effect since defence lawyers in particular seldom have a secure income.

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6 hours ago, Hegdis said:

I love criminal law and wouldn’t do anything else. 

You couldn’t pay me enough to work in the US right now. That’s a personal opinion, obviously. And it’s never seriously occurred to me. My home is here, my family and friends are here. May as well ask why I never considered working in Ireland. Why would I?

At this stage in my career money is not the pressure valve it used to be - I am stable and making a very comfortable living. But I have had times of feast and famine, and I have struggled. Being smart with your money and your debt is good advice across the board but in criminal law it can have a more immediate effect since defence lawyers in particular seldom have a secure income.

I mean I would love to work in crim law, but I'm a little concerned about money since you mentioned it now. Do you know anything about family law? I'm debating between the 2, but I also love criminal law..

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18 hours ago, SelTel said:

Wow thankss! Do you regret choosing criminal law or not really? Money wise, do you think it's different for the US? Do you think criminal practitioners make more money in the US since there are more criminal situations happen there?

I am from the US originally and at one point considered going to law school / practicing there and still have my moments where I think about it. From the limited conversations I have had with US criminal lawyers, the money is even more variable than in Canada. There are some criminal defence lawyers almost starving and some making insane amounts of money flying private planes, etc. Some of this will depend on where you went to school, where you work etc. A lot of criminal defence lawyers in the US seem to start as public defenders who get a modest government salary, and some start as prosecutors. It is a different market there as lawyers advertise more and solicit more aggressively. 

The main issue I would have to grapple with if practicing criminal law in the US is the death penalty, and sentencing in general. Depending what state you are in, the death penalty may be more or less of an issue. Emotionally, I don't know what it would be like to literally hold someone's life in your hands. But then part of me feels that I want to be out there fighting it. It's shocking how many incompetent, uncaring or overworked lawyers take those cases. This is an issue that I go back and forth on with myself all the time. 

I am not Hegdis, but I do not regret choosing criminal law and choosing to practice in Canada. For sure, there are easier ways to make more money more quickly, both in and out of the law, but I find this job immensely fulfilling, well suited to my skills and I think I make a real difference. It never gets boring and I love the collegiality of the defence bar. I think any law school in Canada gives you an appropriate foundation and as Hegdis said, it comes down to where you want to live and your financial situation/the cost of your education. 

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59 minutes ago, SelTel said:

I mean I would love to work in crim law, but I'm a little concerned about money since you mentioned it now. Do you know anything about family law? I'm debating between the 2, but I also love criminal law..

Working in US criminal law, as Providence said, is highly variable. As a Canadian, though, the only kind of criminal law you are going to get hired for is White Collar Defense at a US biglaw firm. No small criminal practice in America is going to want to go through a visa process for a foreign student, nor, for that, would a public defender's office. So criminal defense for indigent, or even middle class clients is off the table. Prosecution is a government matter in the US, much as in Canada, and the US government requires you to be a citizen to work in it. So criminal prosecution is completely off the table for you in the US. Really, again, the only type of criminal law you could do is white collar defense, which would pay the standard $195k US salary (180k base salary + 15k bonus). 

 

Honestly, if you want the widest range of criminal law options though, or if you have any feeling you might not like white collar law, and indeed, are opposed to doing any kind of civil litigation alongside white collar criminal work, I would advise staying in Canada. If you want to go the US white collar route, T13 is mandatory, HYS is preferable. 

 

PM if you'd like more in depth info.

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17 minutes ago, Livinginamerica said:

Working in US criminal law, as Providence said, is highly variable. As a Canadian, though, the only kind of criminal law you are going to get hired for is White Collar Defense at a US biglaw firm. No small criminal practice in America is going to want to go through a visa process for a foreign student, nor, for that, would a public defender's office. So criminal defense for indigent, or even middle class clients is off the table. Prosecution is a government matter in the US, much as in Canada, and the US government requires you to be a citizen to work in it. So criminal prosecution is completely off the table for you in the US. Really, again, the only type of criminal law you could do is white collar defense, which would pay the standard $195k US salary (180k base salary + 15k bonus). 

 

Honestly, if you want the widest range of criminal law options though, or if you have any feeling you might not like white collar law, and indeed, are opposed to doing any kind of civil litigation alongside white collar criminal work, I would advise staying in Canada. If you want to go the US white collar route, T13 is mandatory, HYS is preferable. 

 

PM if you'd like more in depth info.

I hadn't thought of the immigration/citizenship angle as that isn't an issue for me. You would definitely need to be a good student from a top US school to land that type of a gig and I'm not sure it would expose you to a wide enough range of criminal law. 

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4 minutes ago, providence said:

I hadn't thought of the immigration/citizenship angle as that isn't an issue for me. You would definitely need to be a good student from a top US school to land that type of a gig and I'm not sure it would expose you to a wide enough range of criminal law. 

White collar work probably isn't very transferable in many criminal law contexts in Canada outside of the Bay Street firms, which I imagine also focus on white collar work in their criminal practices. 

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Just now, Livinginamerica said:

White collar work probably isn't very transferable in many criminal law contexts in Canada outside of the Bay Street firms, which I imagine also focus on white collar work in their criminal practices. 

I would like to add white collar work at some point, but not do it full-time. It does tend to be a niche area of practice, though.

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1 hour ago, providence said:

I would like to add white collar work at some point, but not do it full-time. It does tend to be a niche area of practice, though.

It's a lot less fun than it sounds. I worked on two fraud cases and almost developed an allergy to Excel from the experience. The disclosure was unmanageable and interminably boring

Edited by secondchance

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8 minutes ago, secondchance said:

It's a lot less fun than it sounds. I worked on two fraud cases and almost developed an allergy to Excel from the experience. The disclosure was unmanageable and interminably boring

I’ve done fraud trials. I don’t mind them, but I like math and puzzles and playing with numbers. 

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2 minutes ago, providence said:

I’ve done fraud trials. I don’t mind them, but I like math and puzzles and playing with numbers. 

I like maths and puzzles too but I really didn't enjoy how document-intensive fraud cases are

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1 hour ago, secondchance said:

I like maths and puzzles too but I really didn't enjoy how document-intensive fraud cases are

Yeah, my understanding is its really not quite the same as other forms of criminal practice, especially in a big firm context. OP should really do his research on what the work entails.

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Osgoode is one of the best law schools in Canada for criminal law. I know people here who have taken almost every single criminal law course offered in 2L and 3L and nothing else. 

https://www.osgoode.yorku.ca/courses-and-seminars/

You can browse the criminal law offerings here.

https://www.osgoode.yorku.ca/programs/jd-program/clinics-intensives/

As Hegdis mentioned, experience in crim is a valuable asset to have. Through CLASP, you can be a Criminal Division Leader. There is the Criminal Law Intensive program. And, there is the Innocence Project run by Professor Alan Young. Trial experience is also very important for criminal law, so there are many clinics and course offerings that offer this as well. It is located in Toronto so plenty of criminal law work, and opportunities to network with criminal lawyers in the city. If you are certain about pursuing criminal law, then I would take Osgoode in a heartbeat. 

PM me for more information if you are interested. 

Edited by Deadpool

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53 minutes ago, CoffeeandLaw said:

Don Stuart (crim genius at Queens) told me I should have gone to Osgoode if I wanted to do Crim

Do you go to Queens?

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