GC100: in-house barristers deserve silk opportunities

The chair of the General Counsel 100 (GC100) has called for barristers working in-house to be recognised as the equals of those working at the bar.

GC100 chair Helen Mahy, who is also an elected member of the Bar Council, told The Lawyer that the QC appointments process should be modernised to include employed barristers.

Mahy, who is also company secretary and general counsel at National Grid, said: “Many self-employed barristers look down on employed barristers, but the truth is that there are a lot of barristers working for companies, in government and in solicitors’ firms in very high-powered positions.”

Mahy said it is disturbing that the bar is still not giving employed barristers sufficient opportunities to become an honorary QC.

“When I was called to the bar there was this assumption that you couldn’t hack it in chambers if you were employed, but that’s simply not true,” Mahy said.

In 2002 the Bar Council commissioned a report to amend regulations relating to the application process for taking silk.

Karen Squibb-Williams, joint chairman of the Employed Barristers’ Committee of the Bar Council, said: “I think the interpretation of criteria should reflect a more modernised approach for barristers aspiring to take silk, as well as for those in organisations who wish to hold a quality position on the bar.

“Employed barristers should be able to become QCs provided they fulfil certain criteria.”

Bar Council chair Geoffrey Vos QC, who took silk in 1993, said: “My own view is that there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be equal, given they adhere to the appropriate rules and ethics that we stand for.”