Hugh Sims QC

Hugh Sims was called to the Bar in 1999 and appointed to silk in 2014. The legal directories already recognised him as a leading Western Circuit barrister – across no fewer than seven areas, from commercial through professional negligence to insolvency. Prior to taking silk, Hugh had been on the Attorney General’s Panels since 2002. We met at Hugh’s Guildhall Chambers in Bristol. Hugh told me that he had studied physics at Manchester University but although he enjoyed the subject (and was good at it, he gained a ‘first’), he said that the prospect of “a lifetime spent underground at CERN” did not really appeal to him. And a friend’s dad had already suggested to Hugh that he would be a ‘natural’ for a career at the Bar – because he was “so argumentative”. Hugh said that the mix of the intellectual challenge and the practical aspects of the law had a strong appeal for him, and he successfully took a conversion course in Law at Exeter University.

Hugh thought that the Bar was still rather London-centric. He personally had always been clear that he would make his career in the West Country (Hugh commuted into Bristol each day from Devon). He considered it was important to continue to build the regional circuits at the most senior levels. He said that he had found commercial and Chancery work suited him very well. He relished the variety.

The spur to applying for silk, he said, was having had a good run of the right sort of cases over the relevant two-year period. Although he said that he really had not had it in mind to apply so soon (he was of 14 years call), he was strongly encouraged (or “cajoled” as he put it) to apply for QC by senior figures in chambers, keen to see him progress – and for chambers to acquire another silk. He suggested that those thinking about applying should “strike when the iron is hot” in terms of their practice. Hugh suggested that this “right time, right place” approach would be particularly important for practitioners (such as personal injury and clinical negligence specialists) who did not get into the most senior courts as frequently as other advocates. Colleagues with rather narrow specialisms might also need to think about broadening out to get the necessary experience. If you did not have the requisite advocacy experience, it would be extremely hard to complete the QC application form.

Hugh added that aiming for silk had to be something that you strongly felt would suit you as an advocate and as an individual: The expectations from clients, colleagues and the courts were greater. As a silk you were expected to “bring something extra to the party”. You would not thrive merely on doing a competent job; the expectation from the courts, from opponents and from clients would rightly be for excellence: In fact, a senior junior having to face you as a QC would in all likelihood “raise their own game” too.

A chambers’ colleague had mentored Hugh through the process, encouraging him to think closely about his cases in relation to all the competencies in the run up to making his application. Hugh believed that this thinking ahead to the competition was essential to his eventual success. He felt that he was “extremely lucky” to have succeeded at his first attempt at QC, especially as he had left the interview feeling that he had not done particularly well. He said the interview was “extremely pleasant” and the interviewers encouraged him to give of his best. Hugh said that the questions were posed so as to allow him to talk about how he met the competencies. It was quite structured. He did, however, find talking about himself rather difficult as it “did not come naturally”. Hugh suggested that applicants should get used to hearing their own voice talking about themselves. It was important to try to feel comfortable with that aspect, perhaps by “stepping outside yourself” and looking at your strengths and abilities as objectively as possible. And to think in detail about all you did, the “nuts and bolts” of your work, so that you could give the best account of yourself and your practice. He recommended listening carefully to (and observing) the interviewers so that you honed in on what they had asked you and stuck closely to the issue in your answers.

The discussion turned to diversity, one of the required competencies for appointment as QC. Hugh said it was vital to resist easy stereotypes, as all experiences differed, and the interviewers could sniff out “stock answers”. He thought diversity was all about actions and behaviours and “not excluding people”. Hugh referred to the fact that some might think he was a stereotypical member of the Bar, but neither of his parents had attended university, and he went to a state school. Hugh said that he did not think he gave a star performance on the diversity questions and had had some difficulty in bringing to mind examples of where he had challenged unacceptable language or behaviours.

Finally, as to the benefits of being a QC, Hugh said that he thought that whilst the “stakes were raised” in terms of expectations, as a silk you also got that “extra bit of respect” from the bench and from peers, which could assist your clients.


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