Legal Business Blogs

Silk and steel: Women lead the way in latest QC round as five solicitors make the cut

Well over half of female applicants were successful in this year’s Queen’s Counsel (QC) appointments, spearheading a cohort that also saw solid solicitor representation.

The five successful solicitors represented a cross-section of elite disputes firms: Ruth Byrne, dual commercial litigation and arbitration partner at King & Spalding; Allen & Overy arbitration partner Kate Davies McGill; Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s London arbitration head Sylvia Maria Noury; international arbitration partner at Herbert Smith Freehills Chris Parker; and Gaëtan Verhoosel, founding partner at arbitration specialist Three Crowns.

It was a record year for solicitor applicants, with 21 trying their luck. As such, the five appointed reflected relatively slim pickings – in last year’s round, six out of 15 solicitor hopefuls were successful. Six is the record number of solicitors made up in one round however, shared jointly between 2020 and 2016/17, which casts this year’s numbers in a more favourable light.

Parker told Legal Business: ‘It’s a huge honour and I’m really thrilled. Since I was an associate, I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to do lots of advocacy. That wouldn’t have been possible without the training, mentoring and support I’ve had at HSF – we’ve always been clear that advocacy is critical to everything we do as disputes lawyers and I’ve had several excellent mentors to learn from.

‘It’s great to see that a record number of solicitors applied this year, and I hope that the trend continues and that more solicitors are successful next year.’

Byrne (pictured) commented: ‘I am thrilled to be recognised alongside this line-up of very talented and diverse advocates. Over the course of my career to date I have enjoyed guidance and support from colleagues – too numerous to name here, but they know who they are – who have in no small part contributed to this achievement and to whom I am hugely grateful.’

On the diversity front, women took silk at an impressively high rate of 62%, with 45 out of 72 applicants succeeding. This was an increase on last year, when 55% of 72 female candidates were appointed. Conversely, this year saw the lowest number of male lawyers take silk since 1998, with 56 candidates succeeding from a pool of 202 applicants. Despite this vastly lower rate, women still made up the slight minority of appointments, consisting of 45% of new QCs.

Fifteen lawyers from an ethnic minority background were made up this year from a selection of 38 applications, translating to a 40% success rate. This is slightly lower than last year’s 47% rate, when 14 ethnic minority lawyers took silk out of 30 applications.

Sir Alex Allan, chair of the Queen’s Counsel Selection Panel, hailed overall progress while bemoaning stasis in other areas: ‘We were particularly pleased that for the first year ever, the proportion of women amongst those appointed – 45% – exceeds the proportion of women in the relevant segment of the profession. This reflects the high standard of their applications and assessments.

‘The proportion of applicants from a minority ethnic background who have been appointed is also broadly equal to the proportion of minority ethnic advocates in the relevant segment of the profession, although it is disappointing that within that group, there are comparatively few applicants from black African or black Caribbean backgrounds.’