Hannah Markham QC – 36 Bedford Row, London

Hannah Markham QC was one of 107 applicants (25 of whom were women) who were appointed Queen’s Counsel at the silk ceremony in Westminster Hall on 22nd February.  Hannah’s practice encompasses all areas of children’s work, including international, Court of Protection and family related judicial reviews.  She is also a qualified family mediator and trains social workers in court skills and often presents lectures to the judiciary and local lawyers in ongoing training and skill development.

We began by talking about the interview for QC.  Hannah said that she had found the interview a rather odd experience, perhaps because she had had a mental picture of what it would be like.   Even the rather small room came as something of a surprise.    She said that the interviewers “were engaging, respectful and intelligent”, but she had been somewhat disappointed that neither of them knew about her specialism.  But Hannah took the point that it would be impractical for each Panel interview pair to know something about every applicant’s own area of law, and that this aspect would hopefully have been covered by her assessors.  Nonetheless, Hannah said that she would have been delighted to have been interviewed by one or two (now ex) Panel members (whom she named) who would have known a great deal about her area of work!

Hannah said that she had metaphorically “raised her eyebrows” at one gender-based question.  This had related to events in that day’s news media, and she had not been sure how useful it had been in terms of eliciting an answer to inform the diversity competency.  All-in-all though the interview was not an overwhelming or ‘crushing’ experience and she had even managed to laugh once or twice during it.   She had come away “having quite enjoyed it”.   She had liked the fact that, having arrived early, she was not left waiting until her allotted time, which assisted with her interview ‘nerves’.

Hannah said that in preparing for her application, she had found the feedback from her previous unsuccessful bid for QC to be “very helpful and detailed”.  In fact it provided more detail than she had expected bearing in mind the need for the Panel to protect assessor confidentiality.   She said that she had found it best to put the feedback away at first and then come back to it at a later date when the disappointment at the unsuccessful application had faded a bit.  Then she found that she was better able to take on board the numerous “signposts and pointers” to getting closer to achieving the standard of excellence across the competencies.   Hannah said that there had been nothing in the feedback that she had found unfairly negative.

On her first attempt at silk, she had fallen down on competency A (understanding and using the law) in regard to a particular aspect in a case, and felt that she had been able to address this in her work to the satisfaction of her future senior judicial assessors.  Hannah admitted that if she had not succeeded this time it would have been more of a blow.

Like many other applicants Hannah felt that the ten month application process was rather too long.  But she had found the communications on the competition from the QCA Secretariat, for example about the date and time of the results announcement, extremely helpful.

More generally, Hannah said that the whole application process could seem overwhelming at first.  The application form was long and difficult to complete (and she knew someone who had taken three weeks off work to complete the form) but she felt that it was important to take the necessary time to sit down and distil your cases and competencies within the limited word space.  She was not surprised that many people took more than one attempt to get silk as it was a “real art”.  It was easier second time around.  For example she was able to re-use some of the cases from her previous application.   She also sought out advice from a QC successful in a previous competition, and also from one of the training companies.

Hannah said that despite some criticisms she “could not think of a better way of selecting silks”.  It was much better than the old ‘soundings’ system, in terms of transparency and fairness.  She felt that for the future some sort of formal mentoring scheme would be useful, pairing up applicants with a silk who had successfully negotiated the process.  This might help the many applicants who did not seek help from their close colleagues because they wished to keep their QC application private.

Hannah felt that although silk was an extremely important and prestigious quality mark it was not be the be-all for all successful advocates.  There were plenty of brilliant leaders, she said, who were not silks.  The step up to silk entailed risks as well as opportunities, and for some barristers – for example, those specialists for whom there was less work available for silks – the risks might be too great.

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