How to be competent at ‘competencies’: advice and tips on how to improve applications: Michael Jennings reports

Employed Barristers’ Committee and Western Circuit Women’s Forum

  • Moderator Lucinda Orr, Chair of the Employed Barristers’ Committee, Enyo Law
  • Speakers Kate Brunner QC, Western Circuit Women’s Forum, Albion Chambers; Maggie Semple OBE, QC Appointments; Susanna McGibbon, Government Legal Department

In days gone by, jobs were offered on the basis of connections, education, being a ‘good egg’, and with a ‘tap on the shoulder’. Little was transparent or fair about these processes. Today, competency-based selection helps encourage diversity and fairness and is used in a variety of recruitment processes involving members of the Bar. However, many barristers (who may well be very good) struggle to complete competency-based applications. Seeking to demystify the process, the three excellent speakers in this session provided clear guidance on how the process works.

Kate Brunner QC, who spoke about JAC applications, had a very clear message: ‘preparation’. Too many of us leave applications to the last minute – a fatal error. Competency-based applications depend on examples of things you have done; and the earlier you start thinking about these the better. Do your research. Consider what the competency is looking for and how you can provide an example that meets it, and remember to turn it into a story about what you did. Brunner explained how to do this by using the acronym SOAR – Situation, Objective, Action, Result (also known as STAR where the ‘T’ stands for task) – your example should meet each of these criteria.

Susanna McGibbon from the Government Legal Department, who runs the Attorney General’s list of Panel counsel selection process, echoed this advice. She emphasised the importance of a strong, evidence-based application with examples showing insight into issues which are likely to come the government’s way. Select your referees wisely. Describing references from the judiciary as the ‘crown jewels’, she injected a note of caution: if you do ask a judge to be a referee make sure it’s one who knows you well and (more importantly) one whom you’ve impressed. Remember to record achievements and store for later use as competency examples.

The final speaker, Maggie Semple OBE FCGI is a lay commissioner on the QC Appointments Panel, and gave an insightful talk on what the panel looks for: values, behaviour and decision-making. Lay members, although paired with a practitioner commissioner, don’t know who you are and this is why it is so important that you provide a strong application. The Panel looks for evidence of advocacy (both written and oral) in substantial cases. Select your eight judicial assessors carefully, and make sure the assessor knows you and can speak to your best work. Evidence from QCs and previous opponents is also valuable. Think carefully about how to demonstrate you meet the competencies, be authentic, avoid the appearance of having being coached and remember – there are no trick questions! ●

 

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Michael Jennings

Michael was Called to the Bar in 1994 (Gray’s Inn). He was a Crown Advocate with the CPS and from 2011-14 a legal adviser to the Attorney General. In 2014 he joined the GLD Home Office Legal Team advising on public law issues.