Taking silk is a huge moment in a barrister’s life. It is unique in its public acknowledgement of a barrister having achieved a level of excellence as an advocate. If you are one of this year’s new silks, congratulations on your fantastic achievement.

Now that the pomp and ceremony at Westminster Hall has been enjoyed, the reality of the new job will be setting in and there will be much to think about as you navigate this major shift in your career.

Issues that new silks might be asking themselves include how will my practice change going forward? How do I want it to change or how will it have to change? Can I continue to do the same work as I did before? Will my regular solicitors who have provided me with a steady diet of junior work over the years, have any need for the regular involvement of a silk? And how long will it take to get a full workload at silk level?

One new silk, when asking a more established silk for advice for their first year in silk, was told to take up tennis as they were likely to less busy for some time!

If a change in work type is to be expected, then where will your new work come from? Will the juniors in Chambers turn to you when they need a leader? What about juniors from other sets? How well networked are you? And other than your legal expertise, why else would juniors want to work with you? What sort of leader are you going to be?

One challenge often felt by new silks is the increased need to delegate and getting used to letting go. Striking the balance between retaining control and keeping on top of the issues while not micromanaging, is a skill that will be important to develop.

Navigating these changes can be challenging for any new barrister. On top of this can be that unhelpful voice of your imposter questioning whether you are really up to the job. It can be an unsettling period, but support is available. Clerks and practice managers will be only too keen to support the fledgling practice of their newest silk, but sometimes a new silk may not want to discuss their concerns and insecurities with their clerks. Support in the form of professional business coaching is another option.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of coaching, at its heart, coaching is a partnership in which the coach helps the coachee to think and to explore. Unlike a mentoring relationship where the mentor provides advice based on their own experience, a coach’s role is to enable the coachee to find their own the path, the one that is best for them, by asking insightful questions and offering encouraging challenge.

Another key principle of coaching is that it is a confidential relationship. Nothing you discuss with a coach would be shared with anyone else. Coaches come with no judgement and no agenda other than to help the coachee find their own best route forward.

So, what might happen as part of a coaching session? There can be a temptation for a new silk to want to rush to identify what may not yet be going well and what improvements they need to make. This well-intentioned impatience should be resisted. An experienced coach will encourage the new silk to pause first and reflect on what has changed in their practice since taking silk. What are the different types of interactions/meetings/conversations that have been happening recently? What, if any, different expectations were placed on the new silk? It is also important to recognise what has been going well. When has the new silk already felt really ‘silk-like’ in their interactions? What were they doing and how were they being in those moments? What were the reactions of others? Building on successes and strengths should (we believe) be the starting point in coaching.

With unchartered waters ahead, rather than booking tennis lessons, we would suggest to new silks pondering changes to their practice, that you instead consider whether some time with a professional business coach could better help you navigate your route through to success in silk. 

© David Bleeker - London / Alamy Stock Photo