Tuesday, 26 November 2013

To the Bar: Why have cotton when you can take Silk?

"Taking silk" is the barrister's term for becoming a QC - a recognition of excellence and seniority, awarded to about 30% of barristers after 18 or 20 years' experience. The term originates from the QCs' court gowns, traditionally made of silk.

When I said 30% of barristers, you didn't think I meant 30% of the men, and 30% of the women, did you?! 

For a few years now, the progress of women at the Bar has been the focus of a number of professional bodies, keen to reduce the rate of attrition which is particularly pronounced among barristers in their mid-30s (i.e. when the kids come along). Last night, I attended a talk at the Temple Women's Forum where no less than 8 female QCs shared their experiences and gave advice to those wanting to apply.

It was inspiring to see such an impressive panel of women - top barristers as Bridget Jones might have put it, but not a bunny outfit or a Mark Darcy in sight.

It is a pretty closed world, so this sort of event was a golden opportunity to gain some insider knowledge. The discussion took place in one of Inner Temple's beautiful halls, a stone's throw from the church built in the 12th century by the Knights' Templar... it didn't feel like the place to whip out my iPhone and snap, so you'll have to make do with an outside shot!

The application system changed in recent years from a nod-and-wink system to a more modern process, with applicants assessed against professional competencies. Since that system was introduced, the percentage of successful female applicants has doubled!

Why is it so important to raise the number of female QCs? Well, we all stand to benefit from the raised profiles of other professional women - and crucially, being a QC is a step towards becoming a High Court Judge. If we want women judging cases about divorce and children, domestic violence, rape, human rights then this is the first step. And we may even want to have more women deciding cases about banking, phone-hacking, tax - goodness knows the boys could do with some help there.

No comments:

Post a Comment