John Brannigan studied at the University of Glasgow and completed his traineeship at Gallen & Co Solicitors. He now works at Russels Gibson McCaffrey Solicitors in Glasgow, specialising in all criminal and civil litigation matters.

I’m lucky enough to say that I thoroughly enjoy my career as a solicitor.  However, it's not all plain sailing! It can be a very stressful career with a great degree of responsibility, long hours and, sometimes, difficult clients. Balanced against this is the dynamic, fast paced and exciting nature of our jobs which brings with it enjoyable, stimulating challenges that lead to satisfying rewards.

What does working in criminal defence entail?

As per my previous blogs, I practice mainly in the field of criminal law.

Normally when I speak to people about what I do they often ask, 'what is it like to represent people accused of serious crimes?' More recently I was asked, 'what is my primary role as a criminal solicitor?'

Good question and not one I was expecting! It made me stop and think about the different strands to being a criminal solicitor.

I answered straight away with, 'advocating my client’s position'. However, when I asked a friend of mine he replied, 'keeping my clients out of prison'. Another answered, 'getting to the bottom of the case'. Interesting. I don’t know how much I personally subscribe to either of these as being the principal role of our jobs. Not that these answers are wrong!

But before we can consider the outcome of a case, we need to know our client’s position. Only then do we advocate that position and, in so doing, do we then try to persuade the court not to imprison the client, if that is the particular disposal facing the client? As far as getting to the bottom of the case is concerned, I would suggest that this is more of a judicial function than anything; only after advocating our client’s position does the sheriff (or justice of the peace) make a determination as to guilt or innocence.

Linked to this is another crucial role of the solicitor (this applies to solicitors in any field!) which is managing our clients’ expectations. Sometimes this is more difficult than the analysis of the law! Clients vary in all manner of things including background, age and understanding of the law to name only a few. No two clients will ever be the same. Therefore, a careful management of each client is absolutely crucial.

A case in point

For example, I had a case in which I represented the mother of a new born baby. The child was taken from her at birth due to various reasons and it was clear from the outset that the client faced significant hurdles in obtaining even the most basic level of contact with the child.

In the beginning, the client’s expectations were so unrealistic that she expected to have the children returned to her care at the first panel. It took a considerable amount of time and a number of consultations before she could see that the matter was not as straightforward or as speedy as she would have liked! I recall that case because it was challenging both legally and in terms of managing the client, but one in which we were ultimately successful!

Going back to my point above, the outcome of the case (here it was obtaining contact, in criminal cases it may be avoiding prison) was secondary only to the client’s position being advocated clearly. Linked to this were the expectations of the client which required careful management. So, I would probably answer questions like the one I was asked in terms of my experiences. Again, there are stresses but these are also balanced by the rewards which can be gained in each case.