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Exclusive: Barrister who vowed never to become Queen's Counsel takes silk
02 March 2012
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A barrister who had previously supported the abolition of the QC system and said he would never apply for silk has, errr, been appointed Queen's Counsel. He is joining a small crop of 88 top barristers donning new silky gowns.

As revealed on RollOnFriday earlier this week, David Wolfe QC, of Matrix Chambers co-signed an idealistic open letter to the Lord Chancellor in 2003 (when he was a junior) calling for an end to the QC system, and stating that he would never apply. The letter poured scorn on the system, stating that it "[could not] be justified as being in the public interest or promoting competition". Doesn't time fly?

RollOnFriday contacted the freshly-minted QC, who said "I applied this time when it was clear that lack of ‘QC’ meant I was losing work and could not service my clients fully. But I will not be putting my fees up as a result of it, and I continue vigorously to push for effective quality assurance systems for all advocates, which the QC system is not. Lack of mandatory periodic re-accreditation, and the lack of any real linkage to area of practice remain just two of the fundamental problems. So no ‘youthful indiscretion’ here - sorry to disappoint".

  David Wolfe QC. Coming to a courtroom near you soon.
 
The results of the 2011/12 competition show a marked decline in the number of applications. Only 214 barristers put their names forward, and the 88 acceptances make for a lowly 41% success rate. Last year, 251 put their names forward and 120 - 48% - made the grade. In 2009/10, the figure was 275, with 129 successes (47%). And that's nothing compared to the 443 who put themselves forward in 2005/06 (admittedly following a three year embargo on promotions). Could  the decline in applications be something to do with the £2,340 fee for the pleasure of filling in the 63 page form? Or does it just reflect the continuing squeeze on the Bar - most notable at the junior end?

Despite regular claims that the Bar is a boys club, it seems the chances of taking silk are much improved if you're a woman. From the admittedly small pool of 40 female applicants, 23 were successful, which is a healthy 58%. But rather depressingly, only 15 applicants declared a non-white ethnic background, a mere 7% of the total. So much for diversity at the Bar.
  

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anonymous user
02/03/2012 11:34
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'contuing squeeze on the Bar' ?? attention to detail tsk tsk
Frank @ RoF
02/03/2012 12:01
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Just another example of crowdsourced proof-reading. Thanks
anonymous user
02/03/2012 12:47
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I think your maths is a bit out. 15 of 214 is about 7%.
Frank @ RoF
02/03/2012 13:02
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Corrected. Fanks
anonymous user
02/03/2012 15:15
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It’s great that RollOnFriday is so interested in the debate about the QC system.

I took a stand ten years ago as part of a campaign to try to bring about change in the public interest. I’m still trying to do that and will continue to do so.

I’m certainly not embarrassed still to be pushing for a proper quality assurance system for all advocates. I've just changed the way I'm going about it - is that so bad?

As I said ten years ago, the QC system cannot be justified as being in the public interest or promoting competition. At the very least it would need to include mandatory periodic re-accreditation and linkage to specialist work types before it could properly make such claims. I’ve not changed my mind on any of that – contrary to what you seem to think.

If I’d “taken silk” and then gone quiet or, worse still, come out in support of the existing system – hypocrisy indeed - you would have had a point. But that’s not my style.

And signing up as a QC so that I can better represent my clients’ interests is surely no great crime either?

But anyway, I am flattered by your interest in my views. Thanks for that.

David Wolfe
anonymous user
02/03/2012 17:11
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don't be disingenuous. rof isn't engaging in the qc debate; this is an article about your hilarious inconsistency.

your "style" appears to consist of securing your own professional reputation and workload by reaping the advantages of a system that you fundamentally don't agree with. your "bringing down the system from within" spiel is arguably even more weaselly than the open hypocrisy you shun.

still, at least we can all sleep soundly having had more proof (as if any more was needed) that a good lawyer always knows how to u-turn in style. if i were you i wouldn't have responded.
anonymous user
02/03/2012 17:54
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Totally agree with last contributor.
What an arrogant twerp.
anonymous user
02/03/2012 22:08
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Almost ten years ago. Give the man a break. Ten years ago I was a different person altogether!
I do happen to agree with the QC tradition and it would be sad to see it go. But come on... What were you saying yourself ten years ago and is it consisten with the way you act today?
anonymous user
03/03/2012 08:33
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sanctimony here reaches new heights.
anonymous user
03/03/2012 09:19
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"lack of 'QC' meant I was losing work"]

Can be pretty sure you wouldn't have lost work if you hadn't already put up your prices to those a QC charges.

"will not be putting up my prices because of it"

Raising prices before taking silk is equivalent to raising prices after taking silk as above. Also, are you saying that, in the long term, you will not charge the rates your clients are willing to pay? Balls. A short-term price freeze is pretty meaningless.

"so I can better represent my clients' interests"

This is a clever way of saying: "potential clients will not choose me to represent their interests as lead counsel on big cases unless I take silk". Taking silk will not enable you to represent your clients' interests any better once you have been given a brief.
anonymous user
04/03/2012 06:07
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Please do not knock what you do not know about - this is great news for all. Well done to David!

David is an excellent, most principalled and dedicated lawyer, who has the highest moral and ethical standards, who pulls out all the stops, and at the same time is most approachable, intuitive, and easy to get on with, with such a great way with his clients. Anyone watching him in action in the courts cannot fail to be impressed by his demeanour and superior ability.

If those two letters assist him to do his utmost to get redress for his clients who have been so unfairly treated, often by the "misdeeds" of government/agencies, then it is the right move. Of course he does not win all the cases he takes on, as they are so often such difficult cases, against government battalions of lawyers, who enjoy unlimited tax payers money to fund it all, while David acts for the ill-treated underdogs, i.e. ordinary citizens of the UK who are faced with not only malpractise by the government of the day, but also by the Judicial System of "judicial discretion" - as well documented in the infamous Edwards and another Rugby Cement case.

Watch David go from strength to strength and celebrate with him! If you ever needed a lawyer you could do no better!
anonymous user
05/03/2012 11:10
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I am a solicitor. I happen to have met DW but, whilst personally he is (I think) a very nice bloke and a good man, of principle, I have not worked with him or instructed him so I cannot say exactly how good I think he is or what rates he charges and whether they've gone up before taking silk or are very high.

I want to comment that the "losing work" issue is not, as a previous comment suggested, a matter of pure economics i.e. of charging rate. In the high profile end of work, instructions will be made on clout or standing and reputation so that the case will win. A cheaper option is not chosen in these cases, only the better option, that is the one most likely to lead to success.

The issue is then, why do these two letters mean so much? And why does it affect the choice, when solicitors should know what the real substance of the lawyer is? I think it's in part the fact that they know that (rather older, stuffier, less progressive lawyers who are) the judges in Courts respond to notices of hierarchy like this; and in part because they feel safer or find it easier to opt for surface gravitas. Solicitors play into the archaic system as much as it pre-exists (and they feel they have to).

The issue DW highlights, and most people probably agree with, is that having two letters to denote quality is fine only if it means quality. More stringent and ongoing quality assurance is a reasonable and sensible proposal for enhancement of the system. I hope the standing he now has helps effect that improvement.
anonymous user
07/03/2012 08:22
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"Also, are you saying that, in the long term, you will not charge the rates your clients are willing to pay? Balls. A short-term price freeze is pretty meaningless." There writes someone with absolutely no knowledge of the legal aid system which is involved in the majority of the cases David Wolfe undertakes. The ability to raise prices to "market" levels simply is not there in publicly funded litigation, and the entire premise of this comment is therefore false.

anonymous user
07/03/2012 12:26
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Given his practice area I can see how not being a silk might mean losing work. Some public clients which operate list systems won't open up instructions on the biggest cases to non-silks. When acting against such bodies for legally aided clients there can be a condition on the grant of the legal aid that a silk goes against a silk (eg I remember a case during pupillage when my very senior junior pupilmaster was required to be led in the House of Lords in a criminal appeal to enable his client to get legal aid for the appeal). Imagine the uproar if legal aid were seen to only allow its dwindling class of eligible recipients to obtain the services of those who might (in some cases unfairly) be seen as inferior barristers to those on the other side. A quality marking system that was more reliable than the present silks system would avoid this, but it is what we have at the moment and senior juniors aren't going to be able to get the cases to demonstrate their ability if they boycott it.
  

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