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The historic appointment of two solicitors as Queen's Counsel has brought a welcoming but cautious response from within the profession.
Herbert Smith partner Lawrence Collins and Arthur Marriott, a partner at US firm Wilmer Cutler & Pickering, were named last week among the 68 new QCs.
The pair were among six solicitors who applied for silk. Their appointment comes three years after solicitor advocates were first allowed access to higher courts. Both men qualified as solicitors in the 1960s and their distinguished careers in international advocacy are seen as a key reason for the Lord Chancellor's Department appointing them as silks.
Their appointments brought a warm response from the profession but it was seen as little more than a symbolic breakthrough for the country's small band of solicitor advocates.
Chair of the Solicitors' Association of Higher Court Advocates, Paul Hampton, said the appointment of two silks did not mean the distinction between the Bar and solicitors would break down in the foreseeable future. He said clients would decide if the divide will remain between the two professions.
A Law Society spokesman said it hoped gaining silk would not be the only route for solicitors to be appointed judges.
Marriott, a commercial arbitration specialist and assistant recorder, said while he had formerly favoured fusion of barristers and solicitors, he now thought the legal profession was developing in a typically pragmatic English fashion to meet the needs of clients. "I think there will always be a need for a specialist bar or group of specialist advocates," he said.
Collins, who heads the litigation and arbitration department at Herbert Smith, said he favoured the fusion of the two sides of the profession.
There were 500 applicants for silk, 41 of which were from women, of whom five were successful. One of the 12 barristers from ethnic minorities applying for the post was awarded silk.
Sally Smith, who was admitted to the bar in 1977 and gained silk this year, said many more women in the generation following hers would achieve silk. "I think it is a matter of them working their way through the system," said Smith, a tenant at 1 Crown Office Row, the chambers of Robert Seabrook QC.
The most successful chambers were the leading commercial set Brick Court and the civil set Monckton Chambers, which gained three silks each.
Monckton Chambers senior clerk Graham Lister said the appointments would strengthen the EU practice.
There were eight honorary Queen's Counsel appointed.