Situation vacant

As job applications go, this one seems almost mundanely standard. A CV, succinct covering letter and two examples of how you’ve worked well either on your own or as part of a team to reach a relevant goal.

Tick all these boxes and you’ll be interviewed by a panel of your would-be colleagues at which you’ll make a presentation – subject yet to be decided. PowerPoint is probably not required.

Sounds like a typical hiring process from anywhere in the country. Only this is no ordinary job: this application is to sit at the top of the highest court in the land as president of the UK Supreme Court (2 April 2012).

For £215,000 a year you will be shaping the legal landscape of the United Kingdom.

The man in whose groundbreaking footprints you will follow is Lord Nicholas Addison Phillips of Worth Matravers.

Phillips SCJ is retiring on 31 September, but will first appoint his successor. He has overseen the transfer of the highest court from the House of Lords and this week a number of silks who have duelled in his presence have spoken to The Lawyer about his legacy.

Alex Bailin QC of Matrix Chambers says: “His leadership during [the Supreme Court’s] creation has been fantastic. He has genuinely modernised the court in a pretty short space of time.

“This hasn’t just been a move across the road, there’s real change afoot in transparency and accessibility.”

Bailin points to the use of cameras in the Supreme Court, press releases accompanying judgments, intimate documentaries about justices’ lives and the removal of wigs and gowns as examples of innovations introduced under Phillips SCJ’s “brilliant” tenure.

He adds: “I wonder if the forward thinking, modern outlook of some of the younger justices may perhaps lead them to apply.”

Essex Court’s Hugh Mercer QC believes that Phillips SCJ’s “less academic” interest in the law makes his legal precedents more relevant and applicable to a broader range of cases.

He explains: “In terms of our premier law lord, his style is very practical – that’s a compliment. He’s focused on the task in hand, what he’s being asked to do, where he is to move the law, and on what basis.

“He sees the judgment as a guidance for future courts. He’s focused on choosing the right sort of cases to blaze a pathway for others in the same area to help develop law.

“My impression is he has fulfilled a very valuable role with an even keel during a successful tenure.”

Michael Fordham QC of Blackstone Chambers sums up Phillips SCJ’s presidency as “unstuffy”.

He says: “He had to lead during an important constitutional transition, under the spotlight, and to follow in [former senior law lord] Lord Bingham’s footsteps. Neither was easy. He has done both with distinction. His court is strongly independent, has hinted at an openness to constitutional developments, but has chosen its moment and not rushed headlong.

“Phillips has led an unstuffy, receptive and appreciative court, which places oral argument at the heart of the process, does not squeeze advocates into tiny time slots, and is willing to hear interveners. These are very important values, which could easily have been lost in translation.”

Jenny Rowe, chief executive of the Supreme Court, adds: “He has sought to deliver change through consensus. He has strongly upheld the independence of the UK Supreme Court and has  always been ready to support me and other staff.”

A pretty hard act to follow then? Those rumoured to be among the front runners currently downloading the application forms are the court’s deputy president Lord Hope, Lord Mance – who oversaw The Times Reynolds privilege case – and Lord Dyson.

Anyone else fancy their chances?