Has the Judicial Appointments Commission Created a Level Playing Field for Solicitors?
Depending on the actual judicial post, competition is increasing with the applications to posts ratios ranging from 8:1 to 21:1. So for some competitions you have to be in the top 5% of candidates. No recruitment process is perfect and with the talent applying for both the salaried and fee paid positions the reality is that many very good candidates won’t even make it to the selection day. With HMCTS in the process of cutting 37.8% from their budget and various policies seeking to reduce the work that reaches the courts and tribunals, it seems realistic that the number of sitting opportunities will be reduced. Add this to concerns in both professions and we can expect to see more candidates seeking fewer jobs.
So you have a choice: you can either simply not bother or you can get serious and start planning your selection campaign. If you haven’t already done so look at the JAC website and if you do get the opportunity attend one of their roadshows. They give lots of advice about their process and insights into how to best prepare.
I have had the privilege of attending numerous swearing in ceremonies at The House of Lords by previous Lord Chancellors and latterly at the RCJ by the Lord Chief Justice. These were solemn and very special occasions for the new judge and their family. Judge Judge (still makes me smile) was really warm, welcoming and down to earth. Although he personalised his address, he always offered the same advice that judges needed an old fashioned quality – fortitude. I think that is a virtue needed by all candidates applying to the JAC for whatever role.
The appointments process has come a long way and is now much fairer and more transparent. Undoubtedly, the JAC are striving not only to be fair but to be seen to be fair. I believe this benefits both minority applicants and solicitors for some posts. However, referees can have a significant impact on the selection process and for the more senior positions it appears to me that the barristers retain an advantage over solicitors. Given the fierce competition, selection of the right referees is critical for success.
Most candidates let themselves down by failing to differentiate themselves from their rivals. Too many forms are hastily prepared and completed without giving striking examples of the required competencies. As one successful candidate commented on the JAC website “You need to think creatively”. Applicants should ask themselves the question could another candidate give a similar answer. They have to be able to succinctly and powerfully tell their stories. Ultimately, fellow human beings conduct the short-listing and interviews and their task is made harder by, on the one hand, the high calibre of candidates and on the other some boring and bland application forms. Often it is the candidates that are able to give novel and different examples, often away from their legal careers, who are successful.
At a JAC Law Society Roadshow the speaker encouraged applicants to use the STAR technique. Situation – set the context for your story. Task – describe what was required of you. Activity – explain what you actually did. Result – tell how well the situation played out. However, I also believe that the key to success is being able to quickly tell interesting and engaging stories that address the competencies.
As well as the JAC run competitions there are also numerous other opportunities to sit on regulatory tribunals. They include the regulators for all the professions, e.g. General Medical, Dental, Nursing & Midwifery Councils, a host of sporting bodies and many more organisations. You won’t be surprised to learn that they select following similar principles…