Benjamin Myers QC
We met at Benjamin Myers’ rooms in Exchange Chambers in Manchester. Ben is one of the 100 Silks appointed in 2014 and one of 20 of the new QCs who were based outside of London. Called to the Bar in 1994, Ben specialises in serious crime. As well as appearing regularly for the defence, he is a category 4 prosecutor and a specialist rape prosecutor. He has lectured on criminal law and been a tutor in International Human Rights at the University of Leeds. Before he took his LLM, Ben studied philosophy and psychology. He chose those subjects because they were people-based and therefore highly relevant grounding to becoming a criminal barrister, which was always his aim. Similarly, knowing that he would spend most of his working life in the legal world, Ben spent four years as an officer in the Royal Artillery before commencing his law conversion course and then attending Bar School. This, he said, provided him with extremely useful life experience and made him a more rounded and mature person. He added that he also felt more comfortable in court being that little bit older. He felt he was better able to cope with instructions in complex and demanding cases, including murders, high-value frauds, money laundering, drug trafficking, organized crime, rape, historic sexual abuse and armed robbery.
Ben said he chose to specialise in criminal law for the human interest aspect, and also for the scope it provided to do lots of oral advocacy. Oral advocacy is fundamental to this area where, as he put it, “the facts are so dramatic”. However, for any young person contemplating working in the field, he cautioned that the pressures could be enormous; you needed to be personally robust, not allow yourself to get entangled in the raw emotions, whilst at the same time still caring. It was important to be at your best for your clients, justice and the courts, and to be at your best you needed to take good care of yourself.
Ben said that there was no individual ‘spur’ to his making the decision to apply for silk. It was more a case of the culmination of experience and the fact that he was routinely getting work in the most serious and substantial cases, including in the Court of Appeal. He was also regularly leading others – perhaps one of the best indications that the time was ripe to apply for QC – and he was conscious that when being led by silks, he was increasingly valuable to them and played a significant role in cases.
Ben said that he found the QC selection process to be demanding, but he was glad that it was so demanding. To fill in the lengthy application form well, required you to be very good indeed. It was in itself a highly effective sifting mechanism. Ben said that it was right that the selection process was so rigorous: because once you have the badge of QC – which he said was a “fabulous honour” – the expectations of judges, peers and clients were, quite rightly, “enormous”. He did not think there was much point in applying for QC unless you were already “there or thereabouts” – that is, already operating at the level of a silk and working alongside and opposing silks. Also, it was not enough to be excellent in a routine way; you also had to have that something ‘extra’. For example, you must be able to consistently think ahead and anticipate the needs and challenges in cases. To get to that stage in your career entailed “the long haul and a great deal of extremely hard work”. It was only as a culmination of all that effort that you would be in a position to satisfy the QC Selection Panel that you met all the competencies at a level of excellence, and had the cases and assessors to provide the vital supporting evidence. For Ben, achieving silk had always been his ambition and long-term career aim. With that in mind, you had to develop your career over the years so that you were in the position to convince the Selection Panel.
So, how had he prepared for the application? Ben said that he made sure that he understood the process thoroughly by reading all the necessary documents such as the Guidance for Applicants. Secondly, he took advice from those who had already gone through the process successfully. Thirdly, he practised talking about himself and his practice in relation to the competencies: This did not come naturally, as barristers were used to advocating for others but not for themselves. However, it was important that this did not feel awkward or unfamiliar. Fourthly, he kept in mind all the time that the Panel were looking for evidence of excellence at the level of a QC now, not at some future point; if you were successful, you would be a QC from day one.
As a new QC, it was vital to manage your time even more carefully than you did as a busy senior junior. You could not allow events to dictate to you. “Clients would be much less forgiving” if you failed to deliver to the highest level as a silk. At the same time, it was important to stick to your non-work routine, to maintain a healthy work/life balance. He said that murder cases, for example, where one was leading, took an enormous amount of preparation. So as a silk, you had to be ready to delegate more and try to steer away from the frenetic pace of the busy senior junior. Planning was the key in all this, Ben concluded.
Diversity was a tricky competency, Ben said, as you did not always realise that you could demonstrate how well you understood it, even though it was intrinsic to who you were as a person, and in your day-to-day professional life. He wanted to do what he could to help make the profession more accessible to everyone in society, and had done a lot of work with schools, visiting them and explaining to students what a career at the Bar involved and how accessible it was to those with the right personal qualities. He had gone to a state school himself and most of his contemporaries had not even thought about a career in the law as a possibility. In preparing for the competition, you needed to take note of what you actually did and you also had to check your understanding of diversity; did you really understand it in all its aspects and subtleties? You needed to prove your commitment to diversity to the Selection Panel.
To those contemplating applying for silk, Ben suggested that you needed a great deal of energy and endurance to see through the process. It was a lengthy process and awareness of it was “there in the background” all through your competition year, until the result was announced. He wondered whether there might be scope to shorten the process, if only by a couple of months.
© Queen’s Counsel Appointments Ltd
- Date: March 25, 2019
- Category: QCA Profiles 2014