Barristers often seem to feel that the current competency-based assessment systems for both judicial and QC appointments are something dreamed up by human resources managers with nothing better to do with their time. In fact this method of selection has an honourable history originating in the Second World War, when the War Office needed urgently to find more officers from non-traditional backgrounds. This success led directly to first the Civil Service and then commercial and professional organisations taking it up. CBA has been well-researched and is a highly validated form of assessment. A great virtue of this approach is that it strengthens the rigour and objectivity of the assessment process and reduces the possibility of unconscious bias skewing decisions and even of the ‘old boy network’ wielding an influence.
Adopting the right attitude to the selection process
In our experience modesty seems to play a part in the reluctance of many to engage with the process – ‘I feel that I shouldn’t be blowing my own trumpet’ is a frequent refrain; fear not – this method actually allows you to let your cases speak for you, rather than your having to talk about how good you are at different aspects of your work. In addition, many lawyers are much more comfortable discussing their cases and the technical challenges they posed rather than the skills and abilities they brought to bear in dealing with these cases. Remember, this process is primarily about demonstrating how you do what you do, recognising that technical expertise is not enough to do a job well and not about your own opinion of yourself.
Investing time in your preparation
So, how to do this? Well, preparation is important, especially if you’re considering an application for QC. You really need to think about a 2-3 year campaign, and how you can ensure the right cases come to you (which may mean refusing some smaller cases). Talk to your Head of Chambers and Chief Executive/Clerk as well as others who have gone through the process.
For both judicial and QC appointments, do be prepared to invest some time in making notes about your cases before you totally lose those facts when you prepare for the next one. Just a few lines will suffice — what the important points about the case were, what you did well, what you learned, so that when you come to write your examples you will not need to search the memory banks. Remember as well that your examples need refreshing — if you are to talk about them at interview, it’s important that they are no more than two years’ old, and that they become more complex as your career progresses. It’s useful too, to capture examples of your achievements outside of your professional role. For judicial appointments in particular, it’s important to show you’re a well-rounded individual.
Your chance to shine
For both the application form and the interview, think about how you want to present yourself and the examples — it’s no good saying ‘I was involved in
C v D‘: the panel may not know the case, and this would tell them nothing about your contribution. The structure should be along the lines of why the particular case or situation was challenging, what you did about it, and what resulted from your actions.
Four top tips to get you started:
- Be prepared to write about and discuss at interview about half a dozen cases that best exemplify the competencies
- Ensure that your examples are able to address all of the competencies, sub-headings included
- Never assume that just because you’ve done something, the shortlisters and interviewers will recognise the skill involved. They won’t. You have to make these links explicit
- Present your examples in the CARL framework: the Challenge they posed, the Actions you took, the Results you achieved and what you Learned throughout the process
Applying for QC or judicial appointment is undoubtedly a challenging and highly competitive process. Invest in your application and you’ll be giving yourself the best chance possible for appointment.
By Michele Rosenberg and Lysiane Bysh specialist consultants at JS
About the authors
Michele Rosenberg and Lysiane Bysh are specialist consultants at JSB who combine training expertise and coaching skills with years of practical experience in helping lawyers prepare for QC and judicial appointment applications and competency-based selection processes.