In the Media

JAC commissioner: 'let solicitors become judges'

PUBLISHED May 2, 2012

Thursday 03 May 2012 by Jonathan Rayner

The newly-appointed solicitor commissioner to the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) has expressed scepticism about targets and quotas for diversity as well as the 'tipping point' method of favouring under-represented groups.

Alexandra Marks (pictured), a judge since 2002, said in an interview that targets 'tend to become de facto quotas' and the JAC should select only the most meritorious candidates. As for the so-called 'tipping point', where if two individuals are equally qualified the minority candidate is picked, she said: 'This is superficially attractive, but how do you decide between a woman and a black person, for example? Which protected characteristic carries the greatest weight?'

Marks, a former partner at magic circle firm Linklaters, also criticised the 'short-termist' attitudes of law firms for not supporting partners and senior solicitors in seeking judicial roles. 'It is in the profession's DNA' to regard judicial appointment as a 'distraction or lack of commitment', she said. However, she argued that solicitors with the broader perspective of judges serve clients better and bring prestige to the firm.

She said: 'The old model of billable hours and keeping noses to the grindstone 24/7 is not how to get the best out of top players and keep them. A fee-paid judge's role, on the other hand, enhances an individual's skills, builds confidence and is good networking. Clients are genuinely interested and impressed.'

Marks, who became a commissioner in January this year, told the Gazette that she was part of 'phase two' of the development of the six-year-old JAC. So far, the commission's selections have been 'astonishingly good', she said. Out of 2,500 selections, some 1,000 have been women. Female applicants do 'disproportionately well' in the selection process, she added. 'This is probably because women tend to underestimate their abilities and are more self-critical, whereas men tend to have a go anyway even if they can't tick all the boxes,' Marks said.

She stressed the need for candidates to prepare carefully. 'Candidates are often disappointed because they know they have skills, but have failed to paint a convincing picture. You need to be able to demonstrate your skills with very specific examples of when you have acted with authority, shown good communications skills or treated people fairly. You need to prepare these in advance. It is no good sitting in the interview racking your memory.'

She also urged candidates not to wait until they reach the top of the profession before applying for a judicial career. 'You should start thinking about it in your late 30s or early 40s, perhaps running a fee-paid role alongside your work in the law firm.'