Since the Queen's Counsel selection panel replaced the more secretive machinations of the Lord Chancellor for the appointment of silks, only 11 of the 714 who have received the accolade have been solicitors.
One of the reasons why so few are appointed is because comparatively few apply in the first place. Following this week’s announcement of the latest round of appointments, the chair of the selection panel Dame Joan Higgins said: ‘The panel is concerned that there appears to be considerable hesitancy on the part of solicitor advocates to apply for silk, even where they may be well qualified to do so.’
Here are the statistics for the number of solicitors who applied and the number who were successful:
2012 - 0/22011 - 2/52010 - 1/102009 - 3/42008 - 1/62006 - 4/12
In the past the Law Society has felt that the rank of QC was somewhat archaic and unnecessary. But Chancery Lane’s view seems to have shifted. Hearing of the latest results Law Society president John Wotton expressed his disappointment, but said he was ‘convinced’ solicitors have much to offer in the role and encouraged more to apply. There was no call for the accolade, which recognises excellence in advocacy, to be abandoned.
Wotton’s stance is markedly different from that of the former president Fiona Woolf, who in an interview with the Gazette in 2006 following the announcement of the first cohort of silks appointed under the new regime said: ‘I’m not sure I would perpetuate a QC system. I would go down the route of specialist accreditation.’
Six years on, with the opening of the legal market and the focus on public or consumer interest, specialist accreditation schemes are certainly growing in visibility.
The Crown Prosecution Service has an accreditation scheme for its advocates and the spectre of the controversial Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates looms on the horizon to rank those doing publicly funded work, beginning with those working in crime.
So, in this new world, does silk serve a purpose for the consumer of legal services - or merely to congratulate those who have excelled at what they do? While congratulations must be given to those who made the grade, has the mark of silk had its day?