Taking the silk road? Four tips from a QC

This year a record number of solicitor advocates were appointed to Queen's Counsel. Adam Johnson, one of the six appointed, shares his tips for success.

One of the challenges for solicitors working in a large commercial practice is that we often handle large litigation cases, which will sometimes run for a couple of years on their own. Sometimes they will settle before trial or a substantial hearing. In many instances, you will do a good job for your client if you avoid a trial or a substantial hearing.

So accumulating the experience of contested hearings you need to apply for Queen's Counsel may not be straightforward. If you are starting from a limited base, taking silk is a three- to five-year process. You will need to make a plan.

Understand the process

Solicitors should familiarise themselves with the application process. Study both the application form and the competency framework carefully. Work out whether you have the evidence available to support your application and fulfil all of the criteria. 

It is a rigorous and extensive process. You need to provide evidence from a number of cases you have dealt with over a two-year period, and identify referees – they will include judicial or arbitral referees from those cases, and client and other contacts (eg experts) who have encountered you in your professional life as an advocate.

Get experience

There is a lot of work involved to put yourself in a position where you can have the best chance of fighting contested hearings and grabbing the opportunities to demonstrate what you can do.

My approach involved two strands: planning and organising my work in a way that gave me the best chance of accumulating the right number of 'flying hours'; and taking any hearing I could to give myself the best chance of being involved in hearings which fought and did not settle. 

Make a plan

If you review the form and decide you don't have the evidence to make an application, ask yourself how likely it is you will be able to accumulate it within the two- to three-year timescale, and devise a plan. Do your best to implement it, but be open-minded about other opportunities as and when they arise.

Be confident

Many of the routine parts of a solicitor's practice involve a high degree of advocacy (for example, producing correspondence, negotiating with an opponent etc). Solicitors should be confident that the skills they are deploying much of the time provide a very strong platform for developing their advocacy skills, and they should be confident doing it.

The Queen's Counsel Selection Panel invites applications from suitably qualified advocates every year, during February and March. Guidance on the application process is available all year. To find out more, visit the QC appointments site.

This blog post is adapted from an interview with Adam Johnson QC. Read the full interview

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