Taking silk is a defining moment in a barrister’s career. It’s a tremendous achievement and a significant milestone.

But once the wig has been put away, the photoshoots are over and the last guests have left the silk party, a whole new set of challenges arise which could make the achievement feel like less of a cause for celebration. Reliable junior work is no longer available and long periods of downtime may loom large on the horizon.

Having a plan for how to build your silk practice will help you hold your nerve as you transition to your new role. Here are some ideas to ensure the first year in silk sets you up for long-term success.


Over the years, it’s likely that you’ve established a loyal group of clients, on whom you rely for your instructions. They have written your references, invited you to events and acted as your unpaid sales force with their own network. These are relationships you have nurtured for many years, and which have contributed to your journey to silk.

The unfortunate truth is that these clients may no longer be able to instruct you, or perhaps less frequently than before. The complexity of their cases don’t require the attentions of a silk or, frustratingly, you’re now simply too expensive. If this is the case, you will need to begin to nurture a new set of client relationships.

Conducting a regular audit of your client list is important at all stages of your career, and especially so in the early days of silk. Taking a dispassionate look at your current client list will save you time on fruitless marketing and outreach efforts. If you’re not sure about whether or not your existing clients will be instructing you in the future, simply ask them. A good client will give you an honest answer.

The first step towards securing instructions from your future clients is to know who they are. Create a profile of the type of client from whom you’d be happy to be instructed in the future, so you can design a plan to position your practice directly in front of them. 

Continue networking online

If you’ve attended a networking event over the last few months, you will have noticed the large number of name badges left untouched on the entrance table. While networking events are back on, the volume of people attending them is diminished, and people are less inclined to travel into cities just for a one-hour after-work event. Large firms appear to want to bring their people into offices, but for how long this trend continues is yet to be seen. Flexible working policies are very attractive as the route to retain top talent.

These trends suggest that online networking will continue to play an important role in barristers’ outreach activities for the foreseeable future. You may feel that social media platforms are no longer a suitable or appropriate marketing method for your new practice and you would prefer to rely on more traditional methods of winning business. The thing to remember is that solicitors are active on social media platforms; their in-house social media teams make sure of it. Also to be found on social media are legal journalists, an audience who have the ability to amplify your practice, and spending time getting to know them on social media is time well spent. 

Building your network online is not an onerous task. With a simple messaging system you can expand your network rapidly. This means that when you opine brilliantly online, the people you need to reach are ready and waiting to hear from you. You may be surprised by how those two letters after your name alters the interest levels in what you have to say over social media.

Meeting people in person

Some time ago, I listened to a frustrated silk explaining his sales and marketing process. ‘I went all the way to Baker Street to meet this fellow for a drink, sat there for two hours, bought all the drinks, and I haven’t heard a word from him since. Complete waste of time.’

Well, yes.

Marketing is a long-term business process, not a one-off test of endurance and you need to practise patience to yield results. Potential clients move through your sales cycle in a messy non-linear way, but you can be sure that meeting someone for a drink in Baker Street, without qualifying them as a prospect first, is likely to empty your wallet and result in a prolonged silence afterwards.

Probably, you will want to bring in new instructions quickly, so the best people to approach are those who have a specific need for your practice and are in a position to instruct a silk. Clients will pay for silks who can hold themselves out confidently as the expert in a specialist field, so you may need to review and update the marketing collateral you use to talk about your practice.

When you’re considering the places where you’re likely to encounter new clients, think of all the types of occasions where you actually speak to people. Look to your local social networks as well as the traditional types of events, and perhaps closer to home. Prepare a practice ‘one-liner’ that draws people into conversation if they are in the market for your services, and which makes introductions and conversations flow easily.

Designing a sustained campaign to attract a new set of clients is a good investment of your time as you enter this next phase. Campaigns don’t have to be broadcast media blasts; they can be subtle and sophisticated, and written to tap into the behavioural biases of your prospects. Positioning yourself as expensive, and worth it, is your aim.

Don’t spend it all at once

I feel a responsibility to include this section, aware that what I’ll write will fall on deaf ears. Financial disasters only happen to other QCs, after all. Here goes, anyway.

Sometimes I meet QCs who are completely broke. Not because their practice isn’t astonishing successful, but because the promise of new instructions is not fulfilled fast enough to keep up with their new spending patterns post-silk.

If your good intention to save up for the first few months in silk didn’t quite materialise, and the costs associated with getting to silk escalated, this is the right time to get your finances back under control.

Resisting large purchases, at least until you have a clearer idea about the volume of work which will come unto your practice, is one way to manage financial stress in the short term.

And as with any big life event, this is the time to revisit income and expenses, so you can mitigate cash flow uncertainties over the next few months.

Decide what you want next

According to Will Smith, everything you want is on the other side of fear. Now that you’ve reached the other side of fear, what are you going to do next? Perhaps you want to be known as the number one in your field. Or enter the ranks of the Benchers, or become a High Court Judge at some point in the future.

The laser sharp focus you’ve had on becoming silk needs to be adjusted for a new set of goals, with a similar timeframe to the one you have just achieved. Like the next-day disappointment many feel after having run a marathon or cycled a century, someone with your level of ambition won’t hang around at the same level for long.

Decide what you want to do, choose what you are prepared to give up in order to get there, choose your non-negotiables for the journey and set about bringing your next big thing to life.

Next year’s application

Considering all the impractical downsides of taking silk, it’s a wonder that people keep applying. For a short while at least, new silks come under even more pressure than before, are less financially secure, and have to navigate a lot of change – something many barristers don’t appear to enjoy very much at all.

Sometimes barristers tell me that they don’t want to take silk but I don’t believe it. Telling yourself you don’t want to step up to that level alleviates the possible disappointment of not making it, but where’s the achievement in proving yourself right about that?

If you want to take silk, go for it. Book the date of the party in your diary and aim all your efforts in that direction.

Just make sure you have a very good plan in place to manage the first year after the parties and photoshoots are over.