28 March 2011
The silk appointment process is challenging for clerks as well as barristers, as Alex Taylor reveals
There are many challenges facing those who manage barristers when a senior junior succeeds in their application to become a QC.
To successful applicants it can seem like starting out in practice all over again, but this time around you have higher expectations and often other outside responsibilities, such as family and financial commitments.
The main challenge is to transform a successful and busy junior practice into the same in silk.
Fountain of proof
At Fountain Court we have promoted a system that enables members and clerks to work together closely so that practices develop in accordance with the members’ aims and all members are provided with the right level of support.
The latest application process requires applicants to demonstrate competencies in specific areas. Our clerking team will have already been working closely with members who have aspirations to silk to ensure they are provided with the right blend of work to support their ultimate goals. This support and guidance will need to continue into silk.
The real challenges usually emerge in the second year of silk, as senior junior work is completed and what would be identified as leading work is then needed to replace it. This is the period of transition for new silks. Busy senior juniors are used to having the security of being in huge demand. Suddenly life as a silk can feel precarious and gaps from one case to the next may appear.
Clerks need to work through these periods with their new silks. It may mean a clerk providing encouragement to a new silk to participate in marketing activities with the aim of increasing their profile or the member following up clients to maintain their profile.
As one door closes…
While some new work opportunities will close because of a silk’s new status, others will be created where a client specifically wants the input of a QC.
Additionally, the chance to work on overseas matters increases.
A clerk should also have an eye out for opportunities to introduce a silk into a matter that a junior may have been handling. This can be some early strategic advice in a matter or a silk being instructed to present a case in court, for example if it is a new point of law, because there is a feeling that the court would pay more attention to a leader promoting a point rather than a junior.
Good working relationships with clients are vital, both at member and clerking level, along with a reputation for excellence in quality of work and service. With a growing number of new silks being appointed the market has become increasingly competitive, so a new silk has to have something that makes them ’stand out’.
The clerk needs to encourage a new silk on the one hand to develop niche areas of work, which potentially makes them one of the ’go to’ silks to instruct, while at the same time maintaining breadth in the range of work they do to avoid becoming pigeonholed.
Pricing is an area that requires sensitive handling and a flexible approach. The work of a senior junior and junior silk can be similar. It is therefore imperative that clients and potential clients are not put off by the presumption that once someone takes silk they automatically become more expensive. It is all about the new silk establishing themselves as a leader, which takes time.
Act the part
One of the challenges I often see for new silks involved in commercial litigation is the change in role. Senior juniors often play a pivotal role in the team by working closely with the leader, while at the same time acting as a communication conduit to the solicitors and clients. As a leader there is a higher degree of delegation and strategic and tactical input, with a focus on the key issues of the case and less research and complete familiarity of all aspects of the matter. As a leader you become the face of the client in front of the court.
Tough as it is, the challenge of establishing a successful practice in silk is an exciting one. Time, patience and always a degree of good luck will be required.
There are also the humorous moments, especially in respect of the celebrations and ceremony. Who would have thought you would be expected to run over Lambeth Bridge in your full-bottomed wig and new robes to get to the Palace of Westminster in time? I bet that competency was not down in the application form.
Alex Taylor is director of clerking at Fountain Court