The silks get screened

Silk appointments slipped to an all time low last week with just 84 being appointed in the 2012/13 round. The 183 applicants are required to fill in a tough 70-page application pack, no mean feat. The Lawyer quizzes five successful applicants on why they chose to become silk and who helped them become a top notch lawyer worthy of the title.


Hardwicke’s Michelle Stevens-Hoare

Year of call: 1986

What was your first job?

I was a shop assistant in a low -end clothing store in St Mary’s Butts shopping centre in Reading, working from 8am to 8pm for £4.50.

Which barrister most helped shape your career and why?

Nigel Jones QC [Hardwicke]. His strong belief that the bar needs to modernise, be open to the best and that it exists to provide a quality service for our clients and be focused on their needs, showed me what the modern bar could be.

He also created the environment in which a woman who is teetotal, gay, left-wing and a feminist could see a future and thrive.

Which case was your most memorable as a junior barrister?

Being (HHJ) Michael Hopmeier’s junior for the, often forgotten about, second defendant in Polly Peck the first time round.

Why did you apply for silk?

Because not enough of the fantastic women at the bar do. The more of us who apply and succeed, the more younger women will see it as accessible to them and feel confident about putting themselves forward.


Monckton Chambers’ Kassie Smith

Year of call: 1995

Which barrister most helped shape your career and why?

It would be invidious to name just one. I’ve been lucky to have had inspirational leaders from chambers, including [Monckton Chambers’] Christopher Vajda QC, John Swift QC and Jon Turner QC, who taught me a great deal. Also I had a wonderful example in Melanie Hall QC [Monckton Chambers], who showed me that it’s possible to be a successful barrister and mother of three, although I’ve only managed two.

What was most challenging part of the silk application process?

For someone with an EU/competition/regulatory law practice like mine, which often involves a smaller number of larger cases that do not always go to trial, it is difficult to find the required number of judicial references. In the end, I took the view that quality was more important than quantity and only nominated 10 judges.

What’s the toughest thing about your job?

The unpredictability; you never know when you will need to work through the night to meet an urgent deadline. But a corresponding benefit is the flexibility – there can be days when you can escape from your desk to go for a long walk at lunchtime and, as long as you get the work done, it’s not a problem.

One Crown Office Row’s Richard Booth

Year of call: 1993

Which case was your most memorable as a junior barrister?

When I was very junior, I was instructed on behalf of a Scandinavian au pair who had been secretly filmed by the couple employing her. The Sun found the writ and was soon publishing pictures of her headed ‘Curvy Kira’.

What was most challenging about the application process?

The application form. Merely thinking about it brings me out in a cold sweat.

If you weren’t a barrister what would you have been?

A sports journalist.

What book are you reading?

Life by Keith Richards

Landmark Chambers’ Christopher Boyle

Year of call: 1994

What was your first job?

Draftsman emanuensis for architect with delirium tremens.

What was the most challenging part of the silk application process?

It would be that the application form requires a ­distasteful degree of self-promotion.

What’s your biggest work/career mistake and what did you learn from it?

Reading jurisprudence at Oxford; entirely unnecessary for practising at the bar.

What’s the toughest thing about your job?

Remembering names: witnesses, cases, clients.


Serle Court’s David Blayney

Year of call: 1992

What was your first job?

My first legal job (albeit unpaid) was at the Legal Resources Centre in Cape Town, where my work included helping to formulate legal arguments that saved a mission community from eviction for long enough to obtain a new site to live on after the elections in 1994.

Continued interest in community legal work has since led me to the Reigate and Banstead Citizen’s Advice Bureau, where I play an active part as one of the trustees.

Why did you apply for silk?

I prefer to be the one talking to the judge.

What’s your biggest work/ career mistake and what did you learn from it?

Perhaps not applying for the recusal of the (overseas) judge who was so hostile to my client that she said to my opponent during my submissions, “Don’t worry, I’m not listening to a word he’s saying…”