Expectant barristers have learned whether their silk applications have been successful, with 84 making the grade. Here, Monckton Chambers’ Daniel Beard QC talks about his first two years as silk.
After the euphoria, when you have peeled off the dead sheep and put away your buckled shoes, there is a period of unreality. You get business cards with someone else’s initials on the end. You sit in the wrong row in court. You are expected to know something. It is very strange.
After all, we are in a market where clients are constantly making choices about who to use and why. From one day to the next you are not transmogrified into a different beast. You have the same failings and limitations as the day before. It is not as if you learn some new law during your fancy dress day out. You get nice letters patent in a red leather case, but you do not get access to the magic book of answers.
You hope you are going to get that ‘silk’s leeway’ in court, where they are nicer to you now than when you were a junior. But the arguments still feel hard. Lots of long-running cases keep on running. You keep doing what you were doing before.
Yet still, being a silk does change your practice. Even if it is not sudden. You begin to realise that for some clients the initials are important. They want the advice to have the traditional imprimatur. But more than that, you take on more responsibility in larger cases. You end up not just making calls on different legal views but needing to think more about strategy and policy. Your clients want you not only to fight the fires as they flare up in court but to set the tone earlier in discussions. Rather than just being brought in to challenge a regulator’s decision, you may be brought in to help steer the legal strategy in the run up to the decision.
And that is what is fun about it. New cases, new problems. Managing bigger teams. Helping clients resolve their own internal disputes; giving an independent perspective on their strategy. And still getting to stand up and argue the toss and think on your feet and do the advocacy.
It means that there are more facets to the job. You are not being promoted out of law and instead you are having to broaden your approach: whether it is the politics and agonies of Sky and News Corp seeking to merge, or the sensitivities of inquiries into deaths in Iraq; whether it is fighting about airports being sold, or dealing with international terrorist sanctions; you need to do the law, give the clients confidence, set the tone and then lead the line in court. And people pay you for it. What’s not to like?
Daniel Beard QC of Monckton Chambers took silk in 2011