Obstacles to becoming a judge – fears vs reality

Not enough courtroom experience?

Karine : I didn’t think I was what JAC was looking for initially.

Going through the application process, I realized that they are more interested in relevant skills and your ability to learn and adapt than anything else.

At the Planning Inspectorate, I conducted inquiries into planning calls on behalf of various Secretaries of State and realized that this gave me transferable skills instead of direct experience of courtroom.

I was appointed to serve in the family court as a clerk, although it had been over 25 years since I had set foot in a courtroom as an attorney.

Aisha: It can seem daunting to apply for a judicial appointment if you don’t have a background in litigation, but I’ve met many judges who have never done advocacy.

I wondered if I had the “right” experience before I started to sit as a judge in court.

At times I felt out of my comfort zone – especially since I worked in a different jurisdiction than the one in which I had practiced – but the Judicial College organizes both technical training and judge training courses , you quickly get used to being in a courtroom, and there is always someone to ask if you have procedural questions.

You are not a lawyer?

Karine : Perhaps solicitors do not have the same networks as lawyers, who sometimes have the advantage of having colleagues perform part-time judicial duties.

Some lawyers may feel that they need courtroom experience when this is not necessarily the case.

As a lawyer, you can bring many specific skills to the bench, from interpersonal skills, writing documents and statements, to focusing on legal arguments.

Aisha: I think lawyers develop good communication skills, working with colleagues and advising clients, and this is invaluable when working as a judge.

You can also offer time management skills. As a lawyer, I learned how to read and analyze documents or meet multiple deadlines in a particular day, and those skills come in handy when it comes to managing your court docket for the day or when of the business hearing – because evidence is often served late!

Advice to notaries

Barristers are still underrepresented in the roles of Recorder and Deputy High Court.

Ayesha and Karen share their top tips for lawyers considering or about to apply for a legal career, including how they prepared their own applications and what they found useful.

Don’t exclude yourself

Aisha: Above all, I would tell lawyers not to be discouraged from applying.

I thought there would be obstacles, but I found supportive colleagues, whether lawyers or barristers.

Karine : Just give it a try and see what happens, seek help from existing paid and full-time judges, and persevere with the application process. Don’t be discouraged by initial rejections.

Take the time to prepare

Karine : I would advise candidates to search the JAC website, focus on core skills from previous exercises and provide relevant examples.

Aisha: It’s important to start preparing examples at an early stage – at first it can be difficult to think about what proofs to use and how to capture your examples within the word limit.

Visit local courts and tribunals to observe public hearings. This can be a useful way to observe how judges manage their lists.

When preparing my own application, I found it helpful to see how different judges dealt with difficult scenarios in a hearing and I was able to use some of the techniques I observed in role play during my maintenance.

I also did a mock interview with a friend, as I realized I hadn’t had an interview in years – this practice really helped my technique.

Consider a portfolio career as a judge

Karine : These days, it is increasingly common for paid judges to hold a mixed court and tribunal portfolio. If you are considering a judicial career, I encourage you to consider applying for both fee-paying court and associate district judge appointments. You can then learn forensic skills that can help you in your candidacy for higher positions.