As we all know, the path to silk is not easy and requires a degree of dedication that is difficult to capture in words. On 18 March 2024 the Swearing In Ceremony for the most recent silks was a wonderful occasion. The happiness and emotion of friends and family is a joy to watch (and hear).

Not in Westminster Hall but, to my mind, the unsung heroes of the whole process were the assessors. In 2023, well over 1,800 individuals provided in excess of 2,500 assessments – an extraordinary service to both the legal sector and the wider public. They rely on the letters ‘KC’ as signifying excellence.

As many of you who were once applicant or assessor will never forget, an applicant lists assessors in three categories: judicial (sits in a judicial capacity, which could include, for example, coroners or arbitrators), practitioner (generally barristers) and client (usually professional, so a solicitor but occasionally lay). The assessor underpins the whole process. We need the views of people who have seen the applicant on their feet as well as putting in the hard slog preparing the case. It’s not all starry stuff in the public eye. We need the assessors to help us build a picture and that’s by information and colour we couldn’t hope to get through an interview alone.

But my word we know how time-consuming this is for our assessors. We also know it’s not always obvious what information will help the Selection Panel (the ‘Panel’). That’s why I was asked to write this article to try and make assessors’ lives a little bit easier when May comes calling.

How and when will I know if I’ve been listed as an assessor?

The first batch of requests will be emailed to assessors on 3 or 7 May 2024. These will be King’s Counsel Appointments’ (KCA’s) original selections from the applicant’s list, and the deadline will vary from three weeks to eight weeks, depending on how many you have been asked to write.

You might get a request later, perhaps with a tighter deadline, where others have declined to provide an assessment or can’t give enough useful evidence. The Secretariat team will try and avoid these, but so each applicant has a full complement of nine assessors and the best chance of success, they are unashamedly dogged. They will find you. They will be charming, but they will persist.

If you can’t write an assessment for whatever reason, please tell the team as soon as possible so an alternative colleague has as long as possible to write. And if you need more time, just ask. The team is not only dogged, persistent and charming, but helpful and realistic.

I’ve already had lots of requests to act an as assessor and those are just the people who’ve let me know – I can’t possibly complete all these assessments

KCA encourages applicants to tell assessors if they plan to list them and to provide as an aide memoire any written work on the case. We’re careful about this, though, because it can allow applicants to list only cases where they know the assessment will be favourable. Please don’t take offence if KCA approaches you unexpectedly.

The same assessors can be listed by a lot of applicants. We know how busy the working days are and that we ask a lot of you – you do this in your own time and we are very aware of that – so we make sure you have a maximum six assessments. Last year KCA’s trial of longer deadlines for assessors with a higher number of assessments went well. Feedback was positive so a high number should net you longer to complete them – and, as always, if you’re going to struggle, just tell the team and they’ll help.

I don’t have anything helpful to say – what should I do?

Often assessors think they have nothing useful to tell us but we know their evidence can be invaluable. It’s always worth having a quick chat with the Secretariat team to see what they think. If you really have nothing to say, either because you can’t remember the case or you saw very little of the applicant, please tell the team as soon as you can so they can ask someone else.

What if I don’t have anything nice to say? I don’t want the applicant to find out

We won’t tell them you’ve nothing nice to say (or even if you do)! Any assessment is kept in complete confidence. We don’t give an applicant any information which might identify an assessor and we have exemption from UK GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018. The one exception is if the individual makes a complaint, when it might be seen by the Complaints Committee, but only with your express permission.

I can’t tell you how vital it is that you are candid. The Panel aims for a rounded view. You know a lot more about an applicant’s abilities and readiness for silk than we do, so we need your unvarnished view, positive or negative. The profession wants to stay world class and you’ll be making that more likely if you help us avoid unwise appointments.

How does the competency framework link to what I need to write?

The competency framework is on our website and will be alongside guidance for assessors by late April. It looks intimidatingly dense but it’s a good reminder of the kinds of examples we’re looking for.

KCA uses a competency-based assessment because we want to understand not just that an applicant is brilliant but exactly what it is they did which makes you think they’re brilliant. Or not. ‘Wonderful advocate’ won’t help us navigate to excellence. What did they actually do that was excellent and how was it far more demanding or complex than the day job? We always recommend applicants use the STAR approach (the Situation the applicant faced, their Task, what Action they took and what was the Result) and it works just as well for assessors.

This year, alongside our normal written guidance, KCA will host a series of webinars for assessors throughout early May. Details will be in the email request and more information will be on our events page.

You can also ring or email the office (tel: 020 7831 0020; email: and the team will give you the help and support you need.

The Panel knows what an undertaking it is to compose an assessment but we also see, every year, the value of what you give us. Thank you. Thank you very much indeed.