Last year, Clyde & Co solicitor Margaret Curzon spent a week on the bench alongside commercial judges Mr Justice Saville and Mr Justice Cresswell. It was an "unfortunate week" where "nothing went according to plan" said head of listings David Bird. Despite this, Curzon found the experience "extremely interesting for a solicitor" as "you are seeing it from the other side. It was a very useful experience."
During the one week placement, she spent a day with Mr Justice Cresswell when he was dealing with a very short summons.
She also spent time with Mr Justice Saville on a longer matter, which featured a litigant in person. The placement showed her the "frustrations from their side and how in practical terms you can make their life easier".
The opportunity to sit with judges in the commercial courts has existed for a long time but has only recently been formalised. Mr Justice Saville drew attention to it in 1993 although pointing out that the demand was such that every applicant could not be accepted, just "those who show particular promise". The court receives about three applications a month for such placements.
Although judges may be approached directly, the preferred channel is an application to Bird who looks at the applicant's cv to ascertain what type of placement would most suit them. "If it's a shipping firm or a banking firm, I try to make sure they get a judge whose background experience is specifically in the area," Bird says.
The placement can vary from pure observation to getting involved in what is going on. One placee reorganised one of the judge's files in a high-profile case, a seemingly simple task but of invaluable help to the judge as a mass of documentation needed to be sorted out .
Interestingly, more solicitors than barristers apply for such placement and of these, the majority are women.