Article by Lynne Townley on the SAL/AWB QC Applications Event
June 20, 2018
Lynne Townley - Chair of the Association of Women Barristers
On 15 June 2018, the Society of Asian Lawyers in conjunction with the Association of Women Barristers held a joint QC Applications event at the Bar Council. Of the 1,700 silks currently in practice, 13.5% are women and 6.4% are from BAME backgrounds. There are only 22 BAME women currently in silk. While the number of women and BAME appointees in recent competitions is representative of the current pool of eligible applicants, there is clearly a lot of work still to be done.
It’s a humbling thought to consider that even if the current rate of progress is maintained, it will still take another 50 years for the ratio of male/female appointments to silk to reach 50:50 – and a hundred years before BAME appointments to silk reaches 16% (which is representative of the general population).
With this in mind, we at SAL and AWB are doing what we can to assist and encourage our members, who tend to come from under-represented groups, to apply for silk. We were very fortunate to have a very distinguished panel at the event – Russell Wallman (the Head of Secretariat at QC Appointments), Sophie Lamb QC (Latham and Watkins LLP), and Sonali Naik QC (Garden Court Chambers), who all generously gave of their time. Each offered many nuggets of invaluable advice to would-be candidates.
Russell Wallman said that smaller numbers of women than men tend to apply for silk. Those who have taken career breaks or have worked part-time following child-birth have reported difficulties in finding judicial and other assessors to report on cases within the requisite period of three years prior to making their application. However, this should not discourage candidates and any breaks from practice for family reasons can and should be explained on the application form. Russell also emphasised the importance of finding a mentor and seeking help from someone who has recently gone through the application process.
Sophie Lamb QC emphasised the importance of strategic planning of work and lateral thinking when filling in the application form. If your practice does not lend itself to some of the competencies, she advised diversifying and to consider taking on pro bono work (also a great way to give something back). She also advised careful planning in respect of the type of cases that you undertake and on the importance of getting clients and judicial assessors on-board early.
Sonali Naik QC said that she had worked part-time for family reasons for a number of years. She emphasised the importance of explaining on the form the reasons for any career breaks or changes in working patterns that may have resulted in a failure to take on larger or more complex cases for a time. Sonali also emphasised the importance of working with chamber’s clerks to ensure that the right type of work was being sent your way.
The event was followed by Q and A’s and the panellists generously gave of their time to mingle with the delegates and provide further insights and advice. The feedback from those who attended said that they found the event to be of tremendous value, not least because of the input of the two recently appointed silks who were in a unique position to provide their perspective on the application process.
The event was a great success. SAL and the AWB share many common aims and we hope that this will be the first of many joint events that we organise. We are already working on an event for the autumn term on honour crime and forced marriage. So watch this space….