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It Is a bit of a strange shopping list: one pair of silk breeches, one set of ruffles, a jabot, one pair of steel buckled court shoes, one pair of white gloves and one full-bottomed wig.
But it is the same shopping list held in the quivering hands of 104 new silks as they visit Ede & Ravenscroft to get fitted for their jabots – a ceremonial lace bib worn for the ritual at the end of March that will see the lucky few join the ranks of Queen’s Counsel.
The wig alone costs £2,400, but most chambers have a few knocking around for members who need them. If bought, the rest of the bill can come to around £2,000 for all the ruffles and breeches. According to clerks and people who have been through the ancient ceremony before, the steel-buckled court shoes are the least comfortable of the lot.
One QC-to-be said: “The best practical tip I’ve heard is to wear the shoes in at home because they’re desperately uncomfortable.”
Despite the opportunities for a nice bit of dressing up, this year saw fewer applications than ever before. Sixteen women made the grade from only 29 applicants this year, while overall 247 barristers applied for QC status compared with 333 last year. 3-4 South Square got two new silks while 2-3 Gray’s Inn Square got three.
Solicitor-advocates have had a better time of it. Allen & Overy, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Debevoise & Plimpton all bagged a silk apiece for their dispute resolution practices. In all, three out of the four applications from solicitor advocates made it through.
Peter Rees, the new silk on the block at Debevoise, said the application process was difficult, but that solicitor-advocates were on an even keel with their barrister counterparts. “The forms run to more than 60 pages and you have provide a lot of detail about your practice and referees,” he said. “I hope this signals a growing acceptance of solicitor-advocates as top litigators.
“There were fewer, but better-quality, applications this year. The selection panel was very careful to say that there’s no quota.”
It was also a great year for the Crown Prosecution Service, which bagged its first-ever silk appointment. Serious organised crime specialist Graham Reeds got the nod after three frustrating years.
Reeds said the secret was to spend a lot of time preparing for court cases that would be heard by judges on the selection panel. “I really believe, although the process isn’t perfect, that they’ve done a really good job of getting it as close as possible.
“They’ve taken out the secret soundings and it’s less political now. It’s definitely not about the old school tie anymore, and that’s got to be good for everyone.”