Fountain Court’s Derrick Dale QC on his first two years as silk

Expectant barristers have learned whether their silk applications have been successful, with 84 making the grade. Here, Fountain Court’s Derrick Dale QC talks about his first two years as silk.

Derrick Dale QC
Derrick Dale QC

Whether one admits it or not, the first reaction of any successful applicant for silk is one of relief. It certainly was mine when I took silk in 2010. It is a fence you don’t want to hit. The application process is protracted. However much you try to put it at the back of your mind, you know your name is ‘in play’. I remain incredibly grateful to those who were prepared to support me through silk and who have continued to do so.

A striking feature of the current market is that commercial practitioners apply later for silk than a generation ago. That is no bad thing. Demography has its part to play, as senior silks carry on for longer. Whilst this means one has been the ‘apprentice’ for longer, it also makes the transition easier.

That said, it is still a brave new world. You are exclusively in the front line. You are there to dodge and absorb the bullets. You are there to deliver results. The most important change relates to the skill sets that come to the fore. These are trust, judgement and forensic skills. These are the qualities solicitors are looking for in a junior silk.

I spent the first two years of silk in a large team on a banking and financial fraud case. Since then, I’ve spent the last year dealing with more medium-sized commercial disputes and, in particular, one vicious fight between two family companies who were once best of friends and then became the worst of enemies.

It was the corporate equivalent of Romeo and Juliet, where the most appropriate advice would have been (to quote Confucius): “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

That case tested these skills to the limit.

We were a small team of one partner, one assistant and myself. Having sussed us out, the client paid us the compliment of trusting us sufficiently to tell us the whole story, warts and all. As a result, we could then work out what position to take. Having gained his trust, the client was then more inclined to accept our judgement on what battles to fight, what would fly in court and when to make a virtue of a reverse gear. The silk’s job is not just to be the acceptable face of the client. Persuading the client to follow a more reasonable course opened up the case.

Ultimately, however, it is cross-examination where one proves one’s mettle. It is never easy. It is a dynamic process and there is never just one approach. It is why I wanted to come to the bar in the first place.

I’m fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to learn from the best in the business. Although it was an alcohol-fuelled remark at the celebratory lunch, being told the cross-examination was like “watching someone pick a pocket” has been the most satisfying moment of silk to date. If only it always worked out that way.

Derrick Dale QC of Fountain Court Chambers took silk in 2010