Sarah Jane Lynch is a Circuit Judge on the North Eastern Circuit.
Like many solicitors, I thought that solicitors became Deputy District Judges and barristers became Recorders and Circuit Judges, so I was quite nervous about applying for Recordership in 2008.
It was not the selection process that was worrying me, although I cannot pretend that was easy. Rather, it was what my colleagues would think. It seemed presumptuous to think I might be able to become a Recorder.
But in my day job as a solicitor, I was not as stretched as I used to be and I had got to that point in my career when I wanted a different challenge.
I saw an advert in the Gazette for the Recorder positions, for the first time with a family law-only option. I also saw a poster in the advocates' room at court for a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) outreach event, which I went along to. From these I felt encouraged to apply.
At that time I was a salaried partner. The only person I told about my judicial application was my head of department and I asked for it not to go any further. I then moved jobs and told my new firm, Howells, I was going through the selection process which turned out not to be a problem. They recognised that I would be bringing something extra to the job and gaining experience I could share with my colleagues. Judicial roles also provide a way of keeping people at a more senior level engaged when equity partnership is not necessarily an option.
The selection process first involved an application form on which with hindsight I should have spent more time. The idea behind the application form is to enable you to show how your experience relates to the required competencies. They are looking for real examples from your own caseload and they will come up again in the interview if you get through to the selection day.
The next stage was a qualifying test and I was somewhat unnerved when I realised that the test was going to be in a jurisdiction I was unfamiliar with - there was one quasi-criminal part and another quasi-civil element. I later understood that the JAC is looking for court skills, not skills specific to your jurisdiction - it is more about how you manage the court, time management and reaching decisions. And the people at my exam were from very varied backgrounds - one was a solicitor working in conveyancing, while others had corporate backgrounds.
On the selection day, I took part in two role plays, where you take the role of a judge in a pretend courtroom. There was also an interview. Again preparation is worthwhile, thinking about the key areas of interest and development at that time in the jurisdiction for which you are applying.
Although I did a fair amount of my own advocacy, I do not think this experience is necessary to be selected as a Recorder. It probably does help though to be familiar with the courtroom. And the training once you are appointed is very good. You should then go out with as much confidence as you need to hear a case.
Juggling the day job with being a Recorder was challenging. As a Recorder you tend to sit in blocks of time of at least a week. I did need support from the office when I was sitting, but thanks to the joys of technology I could keep up to date by dealing with my emails at the end of the day. My sitting days were also often booked far ahead, so it was possible to work out when would work best and avoid clashes with people's holiday. I loved the mix of my two jobs and the skills from one area invariably helped me in the other. That said, I am now a Circuit Judge - I was appointed in July 2012 and am based at Leeds Combined Court Centre. It has been a very successul move for me and I am thoroughly enjoying my new world. I feel I bring a lot to my new role given my understanding of the world solicitors operate in from day to day.
My barrister judicial colleagues are no different to me. When I was a Recorder I very occasionally got the odd comment showing surprise that I had got an appointment which might be seen as one of 'their' jobs, but a good solicitor is just as capable of being a Recorder or Circuit Judge as a good barrister. And now the appointments are made on merit, you know that if you get through it is because you are as capable as anyone else of doing the role. I have also found judges very supportive and there is now a division within the Law Society for solicitor judges.
So all I can say is it is well worth trying to become a Recorder or Circuit Judge. Don't think you are not good enough and you are not the right person. Apply and let the JAC decide if you are ready.