Liz Davies KC

Garden Court Chambers, London

Liz is a renowned housing and homelessness advocate, described as ‘one of the most outstanding, highly regarded and dedicated barristers in the country (with) an infectious passion for social justice’. She started out as a solicitor in 1989, where her experience in the Magistrates’ and County Courts whetted her appetite for representing her clients in the higher courts. Liz switched to the Bar in 1994 when higher rights of audience were extended to qualified solicitor-advocates. She joined Garden Court Chambers in 1997, where she has remained ever since.

Within housing law, Liz steadily developed a particular specialism in homelessness and the allocation of social housing. Liz also practises in areas of community care and Children Act cases, particularly where accommodation is an issue. Like many working in social welfare fields, Liz’s campaigning work went hand-in-hand with her legal case work. Liz acts as a consultant to the homelessness charity Crisis, and has also represented Shelter pro bono in interventions.

Liz had been aware of colleagues applying for silk over the years but never thought of applying herself. However, her practice had developed to a level where she was routinely in KC-level type cases. She was also aware that whilst there were KCs representing homeless people in other chambers there had been none in her own, since Jan Luba KC (now HHJ Luba KC) had become a judge in 2015. Liz considered that she owed it to herself, to her chambers, but mainly to her clients, to apply for silk. Her potential assessors were very positive and encouraging.

Liz had just completed the KC application form when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And when she was called to interview seven months later, she was still recovering from her treatment. The prospect of an interview in London, two hours away, was overwhelming. Her request for a ‘Zoom’ interview was declined but Liz was extremely grateful to be offered a face-to-face interview in a town 20 miles away, which she was fortunately well enough to attend.

Her interviewers were friendly and put her at her ease, but it was a hard interview. Liz felt that women were generally more uncomfortable than their male counterparts in using the ‘I’ word. Liz was used to usually speaking in terms of ‘us’ and the team.  

At the time of this profile interview, Liz had just conducted her first case in the Court of Appeal as a silk. By far the most satisfying aspect of being awarded the accolade was the extra attention and respect from the court to the benefit of her clients, particularly the homeless, many of whom have the hardest time getting their own voices properly heard.

Laura Dubinsky KC

Doughty Street Chambers, London

Laura, one of five Doughty Street Chambers barristers appointed to silk in 2022, works in public law, with a particular focus on cases with a refugee, immigration, civil liberties or ECHR dimension. Laura has long been recognised for her insight into complex asylum and detention law.

After her studies (Oxford and Columbia Universities), she took an unusual and demanding career course, working as a senior trade union organiser/official in the USA and Canada assisting immigrant workers (primarily of Latin-American heritage), often extremely deprived with immigration status difficulties, and living in fear of the authorities. She says working outside the law before coming to the Bar can be very important. Her trade union work contributed to advocacy and negotiating skills as well as personal resilience. It provided insights on immigration status, deprivation of liberty, vulnerability to exploitation and more. She says the experience was critical to her understanding ‘how other lives are lived’.

Laura recommends that those contemplating applying for silk communicate with judges to gauge whether you are ready. They will have important insights even if you lost in front of them. Allow yourself plenty of time to complete your application form, and overcome the ingrained professional reticence to talk about yourself. Accept all the generous help/advice offered by colleagues who have experience of the KC application and/or judicial application processes. Never hesitate to ask King’s Counsel Appointments (KCA) staff for advice and guidance. In Laura’s experience, that advice had been extremely helpful.

The COVID pandemic had impacted hardest on primary carers, who were disproportionately women. Laura observes that, much like many others at the Bar, during lockdowns she had juggled her extremely busy practice with caring for her child, and also her elderly and highly vulnerable parents. She thinks there is a considerable way for the profession to go in accommodating the responsibilities of primary carers generally. And more broadly, that there is a tendency still for women to be more cautious about seeking advancement. Laura hopes that able female senior juniors will apply for silk. Laura, who has a moderate hearing impairment, also emphasises that people with disabilities should not be deterred.

Deanna Heer KC

5 Paper Buildings, London

Deanna, who grew up in Rugby, is the daughter of a Sikh father and English mother of Welsh descent. She is a specialist homicide lawyer with a background in organised crime cases. Deanna also specialises in inquests work. After attending a local state school and having failed to get the A-Level grades to study economics, Deanna opted to study law. She aimed for a career at the Bar because it seemed the more ‘glamorous’ option.  Deanna considers herself as one of the ‘last fortunate generation’ that are not burdened with huge student loan debts.

Deanna did an unfunded common law pupillage ‘learning the trade on the job’, working as a waitress in the evenings. She always wanted to become a criminal specialist ‘because of the jury advocacy’. At almost 20 years’ call Deanna found herself increasingly up against silks and felt that the time was right to apply herself.

Deanna considers diversity to be a vital competency for those applying for silk, and for the profession. It is a mistake to consider this a ‘soft’ competency. You need not just a thorough intellectual knowledge but also a visceral and authentic commitment to, and proactivity in, diversity issues. 

Deanna advises future applicants not to be shy in calling on those who have successfully negotiated the selection process recently, taking up all offers to, for example, look at their application forms. The best advice she received was ‘not to play down your achievements’. The interview was ‘terrifying but exhilarating’. She ‘had no idea how it went’ afterwards, but she had been confident about her application form and her cases and felt that she had done the best she could.

One of the nicest things about the KC process, says Deanna, was the way so many people, including court staff and opponents, had rushed to congratulate her, expressing real pleasure in her success. The warmth made Deanna even more determined to ‘live up to the accolade’ for the benefit of her clients and the criminal justice system, which she was so proud to serve.

Catherine Heyworth KC

30 Park Place, Cardiff

Catherine conducts complex, demanding cases with a particular focus on sexual abuse, physical abuse, infant/child death and severe neglect. Her ambition to be a barrister dated back to age eight when she watched TV drama series Crown Court. Later, a careers adviser ridiculed Catherine’s ambition, suggesting a job in the local underwear factory was more suitable for a state-educated South Wales valleys’ girl. This only strengthened Catherine’s resolve. 

When during her first day at Bar school Catherine and another polytechnic-educated woman were singled out as the ‘least likely’ to pass the Bar exams, it was Catherine’s mother who encouraged her to persevere. A year later, Catherine became a pupil at Iscoed Chambers.

For many years, Catherine’s priority was as single parent to her daughter, Lydia. During that time, Catherine was increasingly being encouraged by judges and colleagues to apply for silk. She eventually ‘took the leap of faith’ and applied. The ‘understanding/using the law’ and written advocacy competencies were particularly demanding due to the law being rather settled in her speciality and because most of her advocacy was oral. She had to think extremely carefully about all her cases, looking at them again in detail. In doing so, Catherine found that she had sufficient ‘understanding/using the law’ and oral advocacy in appropriately complex cases to satisfy the application process.

Catherine was delighted to be offered an interview, but also nervous due to medical issues. However, KCA made all the necessary adjustments including ‘beautifully arctic’ aircon in the room.

The turn of 2021/22 was a bittersweet time. Catherine’s mother – who was seriously ill – lived just long enough to learn of her daughter’s elevation to KC. Indeed, the florist supplying the funeral flowers knew all about Catherine’s achievement from her proud mother – as did half the valleys! In a blissful piece of synchronicity, Catherine’s daughter, Lydia, was called to the Bar just three days after she accompanied her mother to the silk ceremony.

Lisa Linklater KC

Exchange Chambers, Leeds

Lisa, who is the first female commercial chancery KC in the North Eastern Circuit, specialises in shareholder and partnership disputes, corporate insolvency and contractual disputes. She grew up in the Scottish Borders and attended a state primary school and an all-girls independent school in Edinburgh – ‘where there was no talk of glass ceilings’. Lisa had no family connections with the law but loved taking part in the school debating society, so studying law at Cambridge was a natural choice. She became very involved in mooting competitions and also represented the university at football. Lisa particularly enjoyed studying company law as it involved both forensic/technical detail and the interpersonal dynamics.

Leeds and the NE Circuit provided plentiful opportunities for high level advocacy including in the Court of Appeal, and Lisa relished being part of both the local legal and wider business communities. Lisa aspired to silk principally to develop her practice. She was finding herself increasingly instructed at silk level and against silks and had the right sort of cases to make a viable silk application. Lisa benefited greatly from help with the application process from colleagues and friends. A recently appointed local KC provided a similar geographical outlook as her own.  

Lisa attended various legal and other events in London and talked with many people in order to broaden her KC network. There were still relatively few female role models in the commercial and chancery specialisms, particularly outside London. Support networks were vital to help female barristers balance life, work and mental and physical health needs. Lisa found the KC competition demanding and thorough, but a process that enabled her to develop personally and professionally.

Lisa says it was so heartening to see so many families at the Silk Ceremony at Westminster Hall in March 2022. It was ‘one of the best days of my life, surrounded by family, friends and Chambers’ colleagues’ and ‘a particular joy’ to have her elderly parents from Scotland there after the dark days of the pandemic. Lisa says that her career success would not have been possible without the huge support of her husband.

Harpreet Sandhu KC

No5 Barristers’ Chambers, Birmingham

Harpreet, whose parents emigrated to the UK from Punjab, India in the 1970s, grew up in the West Midlands. The first in his family to attend university, Harpreet studied English literature at Durham University. He chose to study a subject he enjoyed, taking time before opting for a particular profession. He worked briefly in management consultancy before deciding that he wanted to become a barrister. There followed a one-year graduate law conversion course, Bar school and pupillage. Harpreet became a tenant in 2007, initially working in crime, family law and other areas. However, in late 2008, Harpreet decided to concentrate solely on criminal cases and professional discipline work.

In autumn 2020, 13 years after completing pupillage, Harpreet decided to apply for silk in the 2021-22 round. He had been leading juniors in big cases for some years and was being encouraged to apply. Harpreet advises future applicants to think about their cases in terms of the competencies several years before applying. Also, to set aside adequate time to complete the ‘lengthy and demanding’ application form and take up all offers from colleagues to assist you, using people as ‘sounding boards’.

Familiarity with your application form boosts your confidence when it comes to the interview. However, Harpreet advises against ‘over-preparation’ for interview as this can add unnecessary pressure. The interview was very important but not of itself determinative of the outcome. It formed a part of the package of evidence, including the assessments. The interview felt ‘short and intense’ but the interviewers made him feel as relaxed as possible in the circumstances. The whole application and appointment process was extremely lengthy, and Harpreet says applicants need to be ready for the sustained and changing psychological pressures during that period.

Harpreet found Competency C (working with others) and D (diversity) the most demanding. However, he says that the more he thought about these areas, the more he realised what he did day-to-day fitted the criteria well. His advice is to stand back and look what you know and have achieved in these competencies.