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Large law firms are under-represented in the English judiciary

26 July 2012

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Not enough solicitors from large law firms apply for judicial appointment, the Law Society of England & Wales has said.

Despite the existence of a large number of solicitors serving as district judges and on tribunals, few solicitors in large corporate law firms apply for these positions.

A new campaign has been launched to address the apparent unwillingness by leading practitioners in the large corporate firms to apply for ‘silk’ and judicial positions.

Twenty law firms have to date signed up to the declaration of commitment to the promotion of judicial appointments: Addleshaw Goddard, Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Berryman Lace Mawer, Bird & Bird, Charles Russell, Clifford Chance, Clyde & Co, Eversheds, Farrer & Co, Field Fisher Waterhouse, Herbert Smith, Hogan Lovells, Lewis Silkin, Linklaters, Russell-Cooke, Stephenson Harwood, Simmons & Simmons, Trowers & Hamlins, and Weightmans

“We have been working closely with the Judicial Appointments Commission, and with the support of the Lord Chief Justice and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, to try to gain a better understanding of the reasons for the apparent lack of interest in judicial appointments on the part of solicitors from corporate law firms,” said Law Society President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff.

“Many solicitors from such firms are well placed to make excellent judges. What is more, taking up a judicial appointment often enhances both the skills of the solicitor and the reputation of the firm. Solicitors who hold part-time judicial posts can enhance a firm’s reputation with clients and help to demonstrate the commitment of the firm to wider society.”

“Solicitors who wish to take this route should have the support of their firms and those who work in signatory firms can be confident of having this support.”

Added immediate past president and former Allen & Overy partner John Wotton: “We are asking [firms] to encourage solicitors to plan ahead in order to be in a position to apply at the appropriate stage in their careers. Empowering more solicitors to apply for silk and judicial positions will help to sustain the enviably high quality of our judiciary.”

There are many benefits to developing a ‘portfolio’ career. “Having several strings to your bow is a long-term investment in a fulfilled life that is career-proofed and not vulnerable to the vagaries of the economy or the firm’s board. The kudos you gain from these activities will generate more referrers, clients and business for the firm – as well as for yourself in the long term,” said Patricia Wheatley Burt and Chrissie Lightfoot (see Career winner).

The Law Society launched the solicitor judges division on 9th May at Chancery Lane to create a community of solicitor judges in all courts and tribunals, providing opportunities for networking and also supporting solicitors who aspire to judicial positions.

The Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) has today advertised that it anticipates there to be at least 16 posts available for district judges at magistrates’ courts. There will likely be ten immediate vacancies and six vacancies for future posts, all of which will be in the crime jurisdiction.

The JAC notes that this is the first opportunity in two years to apply for these salaried, full-time positions, which last time attracted over 400 applications for 30 roles. Applicants are expected to have substantial knowledge of the magistrates’ jurisdiction and previous fee-paid judicial experience.

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