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Is it harder for female lawyers to succeed in criminal law

I remember that fateful day in a certain government office in the beginning years of my independent practice. I was supposed to secure a crucial approval for a client.. 

I had waited to meet the relevant officer for an hour and I was really stressed because this was important for the client. I was told I can’t be in for more than 2 minutes. My mother had called me before and I had told her it will take time for me to be back. 

While I was speaking to the officer (I took more than 2 minutes, but he was listening), I had switched off my phone.

Fortunately I got the approval, but when I opened my phone, I saw that my mother had called nearly ten times. 

When I called her back, she just said “I was worried. People had told me that that government office is no place for girls to go to.”

This is probably the first hitch females face while choosing criminal law as a career. If parents are so concerned about visiting government offices, just think what they would feel about their daughters visiting police stations or jails.

Thanks to Bollywood, people, in general, have a very extreme idea of what criminal lawyers can do or may be facing. In their minds, criminal lawyers are either superheroes getting villains to jail or victims of threat calls and attacks on life every other day.

It couldn’t be more far fetched from the truth.

In reality, criminal lawyers are just like other lawyers, doing their work for a client. That their clients can be hardened criminals can at best, add an element of caution to the working but nothing more. It is not any more difficult for women than it is for men.

If required, you can get the family members to speak to a practicing criminal lawyer while interning, so that their apprehensions can be dispelled.

What are the unique challenges faced by women when they try to build a criminal law practice?

In addition to the sheer pressure from the family to choose a different career, there can also be trust issues from clients. Since we are conditioned to a patriarchal way of thinking as a society, somewhere there can be clients who will doubt the ability of female lawyers to get the work done. 

It is also possible that you can be looked down upon by not only the opposing counsel, but also the judges in a trial. However, here is one thing that can come to your rescue – you need to be aware about the facts of your case thoroughly and you also need to be very clear about the applicability of the law to your case. 

However, contrary to what is propagated by bollywood, there are not going to be threats, stalking etc. There might be some instances of such things, but this can equally happen to a male lawyer as to a female lawyer. If you have been operating with discreteness in your working with the clients, police, jail authorities and other lawyers, there are not many chances of this happening.

Where do female lawyers have an advantage?

In cases of crimes against women, the victims (plaintiffs) will generally prefer a female lawyer, since it is possible to discuss details of the crime and the feelings more easily. 

However, even the accused may prefer to hire a criminal lawyer when the charge is a crime against women, because even for the accused, it might be helpful because a female lawyer may understand the facts better.  

Given that the laws for crimes against women are very strict, such that even remarks beyond a certain level can land you responsible under sexual harassment laws, and female lawyers are expected to be aware of these laws, they may in fact, be treated with a lot of respect.

How to anticipate and prepare to deal with the challenges you are going to face as a female criminal lawyer

As we noted, the first thing is to be able to know your case and the applicability of the law to the case very well. This will give you an edge in all dealings because people will begin to see that you do know your subject very well and can therefore not be taken advantage of.

If you have demonstrated strong knowledge of the subject in a trial, people listening to the trial will forget whether you are a male or a female and will reach out to you. Not only in trials, you need to create this visibility of your skills in multiple different forums – maybe through social media, webinars or by teaching. Knowledge is indeed power. 

Not only this, you need to keep on learning on a constant basis through multiple modes of daily reading or taking relevant courses, watching ongoing trials in a court and discussing matters (without impacting client confidentiality, of course) with other lawyers or professionals. 

If you are a female, being discreet in your professional communication is always recommended irrespective of whether you are working in criminal law or civil law or any other area. You can neither be rude, nor be too friendly. 

It is also a good idea to not share personal information with either clients or opposing counsel except on a need to know basis.

Observe keenly how senior lawyers are presenting themselves and learn from their language and demeanour. Often you can get to see what you should not do, in addition to what you should.  

Last but not the least, develop some solid skills in research, drafting, reasoning and basic investigative techniques and this can make you unstoppable.

How can LawSikho help? 

This post will tell you the experiences of students who derived skills in criminal litigation by benefitting from the experience of our faculties. 

You can of course do the research yourselves and work on what skills you will need to get, but that is like moving a mountain. Also, from personal experience I can state that when you are looking to research and build skills in an area without structured guidance, you are likely to go all over the place and not know where to begin from and where to end.

The other alternative is: Take a look at this course, list out the skills placed in the Specific Learning Objectives for the course and work specifically on those. 

That can help, however, it cannot beat the combined effect of the following that the course will offer:

  1. Dynamic content which keeps getting updated based on legal and contemporary updates;
  2. Hands-on practical drafting and strategy based exercises;
  3. Line-by-line evaluation of assignments;
  4. Detailed feedback sessions on what you can improve upon;
  5. Placement related mentoring and guidance

A glimpse of what we can offer can be had from this workshop that we conducted, for which we got splendid reviews.

We are also conducting a workshop on How to draft a bail application on 30th January 2021. You can register for it here:

The workshop is free to attend.

See you there.

If you want to be notified about other workshops and webinars conducted by LawSikho on Criminal Law, please join the Telegram or WhatsApp group below:

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