On the day that Gary Hickinbottom becomes the second solicitor to be sworn in as a Court of Appeal judge, leading legal figures have lifted the lid on the factors deterring many solicitors from pursuing a career in the judiciary. According to Law Society president Robert Bourns, one reason may be that senior solicitors are not accustomed to dealing with rejection.
‘They’re not used to being interviewed or getting into a selection process,’ Bourns told the House of Lords constitution committee today. ‘I understand people can apply nearly three or four times before they are appointed. Solicitors would find that difficult, to keep continuing to volunteer for that process.’
Family solicitor Anna Nice, who was appointed a recorder in 2009, told the committee that geography was a significant factor, especially when applicants are not told which court they will be based at.
She said: ‘You’re expected to commit to a circuit. The western circuit stretches from Swindon to Penzance to the Isle of Wight… It’s possible people might not apply or defer applying if they have no prospect of being anywhere near where they live.
‘Should people be expected to move to where the courts are? Some people have made heroic efforts to do that. But there are many who cannot move their entire household [because of] partners who are working, children in school.’
She added: ‘The sort of job we’re talking about is incredibly stressful. I do not want to live away from my family in rented accommodation all week. I want to live with my family and have that support.
‘I do not think it is unreasonable for a candidate to say “I would like to work within [a certain] distance from my home”.’
Millicent Grant, vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, told the committee that 202 members applied for judicial posts between 2010 and 2015. Of those, 22 were shortlisted and two were appointed. She pointed out that legal executives face a ceiling in their judicial career as they are unable to go beyond the level of district judge.
Today's evidence session took place a fortnight after the committee heard that law firms' attitudes were deterring solicitors from applying to join the bench.