Silk plus two

Expectant barristers today learned whether their silk applications had been successful, with a total of 84 making the grade. Here, Monckton Chambers’ Tim Ward QC talks about his first two years as a silk.

Tim Ward
Tim Ward

I vividly remember walking down Chancery Lane on the day I took silk in my stockings and breeches full of the conviction that life would be different from now – and better.

In my case, as I suspect for a lot of barristers, one of the key incentives to take silk was the prospect of getting away from being a senior junior. The problem with being a senior junior is that you are too useful: the phone rings constantly and 200 emails a day are not that uncommon.

The truth is that I was looking forward to a couple of years off – a little bit of lofty hand-waving, delegating everything difficult to eager juniors, and mostly sitting in the garden. It didn’t quite work out that way.

I do remember that I had a few weeks before the summer of the first year when I actually managed to clear out old sets of papers from my room. Since then, it has been pretty much full tilt.

The reality is that in my practice area, the divide between junior and silk practice is not quite as rigid as it was when I started out at the bar in 1995.

As one very senior silk put it to me at my own silk party “silk isn’t what it was”. There are, however, still important differences.

I do indeed have the benefit of support from a range of fantastic juniors in chambers, some of whom are now suffering as I used to. There are quite a few occasions when I’ve happily delegated a trawl through a mountain of documents – in the name of efficiency of course.

At times, on larger cases, my role is more one of project manager than counsel. But the real hallmark of silk practice is that the buck stops with you: you are supposed to know the answer.

The nature of the work itself has also changed. Some areas of practice disappeared overnight. On the other hand, I’m now doing cases I couldn’t possibly have been instructed in as a junior. Last year a large part of my time was taken up on trips to Iceland to help defend it against infringement proceedings in the EFTA Court.

So has life changed for the better? Definitely. It was well worth the gruelling application process – and the exotic dressing up. I hope this year’s new silks enjoy the whole thing as much as I did.

Tim Ward QC of Monckton Chambers took silk in 2011