Swapping a law firm for the courtroom
Solicitors should be open to the idea of becoming a recorder, explains Circuit Judge Sarah Jane Lynch
I was appointed a recorder in 2009 and really enjoyed sitting part-time in the family court. When a salaried post was advertised that was pure family work I decided to apply and I now sit as a circuit judge.
As a child care lawyer I did a lot of my own advocacy so the court setting was familiar to me. The family court is a world where solicitors and solicitor advocates are very much operating. For me, it was all I ever wanted to do. It was where I’d spent my entire time in practice, so becoming a recorder was a natural progression.
It’s a wonderful job and a huge responsibility. We are making decisions about whether children should return to parents, whether they should go and live with family, or if they should be placed for adoption.
I still do mostly child care work as well as other areas of work that I didn’t do in practice – for example, the removal of children abroad on a permanent basis. I’ve just received a section 9 authorisation to do High Court work. It’s a great privilege and a great opportunity.
The recorder role was hugely useful for me. I became instantly more up to date on the law. It gave a new dimension to my practice in terms of how I prepared cases. You look at things differently when you’ve sat on the bench.
Being a recorder was very useful preparation for becoming a full-time judge. I was much more confident, and in terms of evidence it was valuable to have had that experience of sitting as a recorder.
The best thing about being a recorder was the confidence it gave me in my own practice as a solicitor, looking at a case from a different perspective, looking at the law, looking at how to formulate a judgment.
Juggling being a recorder and other legal work can be challenging. As a recorder, as opposed to a deputy district judge, you tend to sit in blocks for three to five days, so you are away from your desk. That means you have to be organised. I still had to do my case work and deal with emails and phone calls.
Colleagues were very supportive, and in return I was able to keep them updated on legal changes and tell them about experiences on the other side of the bench.
There is no reason why a solicitor should think they can’t be a recorder. Barristers seem to be much more open about saying that they are applying. It’s seen as a natural career path. But as solicitors we can be just as well-equipped for the role.
The different and complementary skills a solicitor brings are useful on the bench. We are experienced in dealing with people and we are equally experienced at forming decisions. Solicitors bring knowledge of legal aid and all those other practical problems we encounter that the counsel may not.
To me it was a logical progression because of the specialist role of working in the family court. It meant I was hearing cases in a world I already operated in. I’m sure there are many other solicitors who would find it the same.
To a solicitor interested in judicial work I would say go for it. My experience of the Judicial Appointments Commission is that they are very much open to solicitors who don’t have traditional backgrounds. There are plenty of opportunities to sit in, to see what happens in a courtroom, or to talk to a judge. People are very willing to give support. It’s just a question of asking for it.
Sarah Jane Lynch was appointed a recorder in 2009 and is now a circuit judge on the family bench. She was previously a solicitor specialising in child care law