Marc Willers QC

Marc Willers’ room in Garden Court Chambers, London was rather small, with every surface piled high with journals, papers, and books (most of them bookmarked) as Marc was midway through an urgent task to identify some authorities for a case. Marc, who was called to the Bar in 1987, began by telling me that it was not until a couple of years ago that he had started to give any serious thought to applying for QC. At that stage he had found himself increasingly up against silks (and often alone himself), and he was also getting encouragement from his peers and senior judges to think about making an application for QC. For Marc, being regularly up against silks in court enabled him to measure his own performance against that of existing QCs. Nonetheless, he had some lingering doubts that his practice might not fit the silk ‘template’ as he perceived it. But when he gave the selection process a closer inspection, he was surprised and impressed by its rigour, thoroughness, and transparency, and by the way in which diversity was core to the process – not only as a competency in its own right to be demonstrated by applicants, but also in terms of the Selection Panel’s own recognition of the increasing diversity of senior advocates, as indicated by Panel recommendations for silk in recent years.

Despite his success at his first attempt, Marc retained a little bit of wonder that “someone like me, with my type of practice” could be awarded the QC ‘badge’. Marc is well known for acting for members of the Traveller, Gypsy and Roma communities in planning, human rights and administrative law matters. As a pupil, Marc had worked on a number of cases for Gypsies and Travellers and had immediately felt attracted to working to improve access to justice for members of their communities. In recent years, Marc has appeared in many of the leading cases, the most high-profile being in 2011 for the Irish Travellers living on Dale Farm in their judicial review challenge of the decision by Basildon Borough Council to use its direct action powers to evict them from their homes. Amongst much other Traveller and Gypsy rights’ activity, Marc is a trustee of Friends Families and Travellers, a charity promoting the rights of Gypsies and Travellers, and is the editor, author or co-author of numerous books and articles. He also co-writes a regular blog on the “Travellers’ Times” website. Marc regularly assisted in drafting consultation documents on proposed government legislation, and is often called on as the legal expert on Gypsy and Traveller Law issues by the Council of Europe, the EU, member states and beyond.

Marc said he found the QC application process “quite a challenge, requiring a great deal of effort”. Anybody thinking about applying should have no illusions on that score, he said. It was also very important to “pick your moment” as to when to apply. In particular, you needed to ask yourself whether you had done enough substantial cases within the required timescale. Marc said that in his particular specialist field, such cases were not common. The Dale Farm case was one such, and the spur to making his QC application.

Marc was impressed by the level of scrutiny the application process required from one’s peers and senior judges, and the attention and detail evidently provided by assessors on your performance and practice. It was a really thorough and challenging process. It was important to give your assessors and the Selection Panel as much relevant information as possible through the application form. A chambers’ colleague who had been successful in a previous competition year had advised Marc to pay very special attention to the application form. That individual had received some training on completing the form, and another QC that Marc had spoken to had received some training on interviewing. For his own part, Marc did not undergo such training, although he could see the benefits, especially for anyone who had not undergone a selection process for many years.

Marc applauded the QC process for requiring demonstration of real commitment and pro-activity to diversity, not just an understanding of the issues. You needed to show the Selection Panel what you had done, Marc said. He recognised that some practices such as his own provided more scope for demonstrating excellence in diversity. However, he considered that it was possible for any practitioner to satisfy the Panel of their commitment to diversity. For example, looking at how you operated as a senior member of your chambers and its various committees; and citing work with voluntary organisations. Just because diversity was part-and-parcel of ‘who you are’, you still needed to be explicit and provide solid examples of what you actually did. Indeed, after his own interview, Marc was not too sure that he had given the best account of his own diversity credentials.

Given that Marc continued to accept the same sort of briefs as he had before he took silk, there had been no great change in his day-to-day workload and pace, or indeed to his work/ life balance – where family and hobbies often had to take a backseat. Marc already had a portfolio of senior management and committee membership responsibilities in chambers, in addition to his other activities championing Travellers’ rights.

Marc’s passion and respect for the Gypsy and Traveller communities was evident: he said he found the people to be down to earth, genuine and the “most appreciative clients” he had ever encountered. Moreover, he said, “the work was never ever boring”. His main wish was that the QC ‘badge’ would help promote his clients’ interests: judges, even if they did not know you of old, recognised that to have gained silk was no ‘walk in the park’. However, you still had to ‘deliver the goods’ for your clients and the court, and there could be no question of resting on your laurels. Marc said that it was what you did professionally and personally with the silk ‘marque’ that mattered.

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