May 11, 2023
Silk lawyers, also known as Queen’s Counsel (QC), are elite barristers or advocates in the UK legal profession who have been selected for their exceptional knowledge, experience, and expertise. This article explores the history and qualifications of silk lawyers, their roles, challenges, and impact in the legal profession. We also look at some of the recent trends and predictions for the future of silk lawyers.

What Is A Silk Lawyer?

Silk Lawyers, also known as Queen’s Counsel (QC), are senior barristers or advocates in Scotland who have been selected for their knowledge, experience, and skill. Upon the death of the Queen all QCs immediately became KCs. The title “silk lawyer” originates from the silk gowns that KCs wear in court, which distinguishes them from junior barristers who wear wool gowns. In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the history, qualifications, roles, challenges, and impact of silk lawyers in the legal profession.

The History of Silk Lawyers

The practice of appointing KCs dates back to the late 1500s and early 1600s, with the appointment of Sir Francis Bacon. Initially, the title was known as King’s Counsel (KC) and was only bestowed upon men. However, during the reign of a female sovereign, it was changed to Queen’s Counsel. Helen Kinnear was the first woman to be appointed King’s Counsel over 300 years after the practice was introduced in 1934.

The title of King’s Counsel is recognised in courts across the United Kingdom, and in some Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. While Commonwealth countries like Sri Lanka and Nigeria have abolished the practice, others have adapted it to Senior Counsel or Senior Advocate to symbolize the same status and ranking as a KC.

In late 2022, His Majesty King Charles III approved the appointment of 95 barristers and solicitors as new King’s Counsel (KC) in England and Wales. You can find the current King’s Counsel here

Qualifications and Roles

Silk lawyers are appointed based on merit rather than a specific number of years of experience. Most KCs have between ten to fifteen years of experience, and they typically charge high fees due to their status and skill. KCs are brought in to consult on various cases and are assisted by another barrister, referred to as their “junior” barrister.

To become a silk lawyer, a barrister must apply and complete a lengthy application process. The application requires them to demonstrate that they possess the necessary qualities, including exceptional advocacy skills, outstanding judgment, and a deep knowledge of the law. The application process also includes references from judges, solicitors, and other KCs.

The selection process for silk lawyers is highly competitive and rigorous, with only a small percentage of barristers being appointed each year. For example, in 2020, 117 new KCs were appointed, out of over 200 applicants. However, the status and recognition that come with the title of KC make it a highly sought-after achievement in the legal profession.

Evolution within the Legal Profession

The role of silk lawyers has evolved over time, reflecting changes in the legal profession and society as a whole. In recent years, there has been a push to increase diversity and inclusivity in the legal profession, including the appointment of more women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds as KCs.

Another significant change has been the introduction of solicitors as Queen’s Counsel in England. Previously, only barristers were eligible for the appointment. However, in 1995, the rules were changed to allow solicitors who met the necessary criteria to become KCs.

Examples of Silk Lawyers

The impact of silk lawyers in the legal profession cannot be overstated. Their experience, knowledge, and prestige make them highly sought after for high-profile and complex cases. For example, in the UK, silk lawyers have been instrumental in some of the most significant legal cases in recent history. One such example is the phone-hacking scandal that rocked the media industry in the early 2010s. In this case, a number of high-profile individuals, including celebrities and politicians, had their phones hacked by journalists. The scandal led to the closure of the News of the World newspaper and resulted in a number of criminal charges being brought against journalists and editors. The legal battle that followed involved a team of silk lawyers on both sides of the case, including some of the most renowned KCs (then QCs)in the UK.

Silk lawyers have also been involved in landmark cases that have shaped the legal landscape. For example, in 2017, a group of KCs (then QCs) led by Lord Pannick successfully argued before the UK Supreme Court that the government could not trigger Article 50, the mechanism for leaving the European Union, without parliamentary approval. This case had significant implications for Brexit and was seen as a major victory for those seeking to ensure that the UK’s departure from the EU was subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

The Role and Responsibilities of a Silk Lawyer

Silk lawyers play a crucial role in the legal system, particularly in the higher courts where they are expected to be the experts in their field. As such, their responsibilities include providing expert legal advice and advocacy in court, representing clients in high-profile cases, and advising on the most complex and challenging legal issues.

A silk lawyer may be involved in cases that involve large sums of money or high-profile clients, and they are often hired by large corporations, government agencies, or high-net-worth individuals. They are also involved in the development of legal policy and the establishment of legal precedents.

Silk lawyers are expected to be leaders in their field and are often called upon to mentor and train junior lawyers. They are also expected to participate in the development of the legal profession, serving on committees and professional bodies, and contributing to the development of new legal policies and practices.

Challenges Faced by Silk Lawyers

Despite the many rewards that come with being a silk lawyer, the job is not without its challenges. One of the biggest challenges is the intense competition for the role. Becoming a silk lawyer requires a high level of skill and experience, and the selection process is rigorous. As a result, many lawyers who aspire to become a silk lawyer never achieve the goal.

Another challenge faced by silk lawyers is the high level of responsibility that comes with the job. Silk lawyers are expected to be experts in their field and to provide legal advice that is accurate, reliable, and innovative. This can be a heavy burden to carry, particularly when dealing with high-profile clients or complex legal issues. They are also required to balance their advocacy responsibilities with their administrative duties. As senior barristers, they may be responsible for managing a team of junior barristers and clerks, as well as handling administrative tasks such as billing and invoicing.

Silk lawyers also face the challenge of balancing their professional responsibilities with their personal lives. The long hours and high stress levels associated with the job can take a toll on a person’s health and well-being, and many silk lawyers struggle to maintain a work-life balance. This also means maintaining their reputation and credibility. Due to their status and high fees, they are often scrutinised more closely than other barristers. Any mistakes or ethical breaches can have a significant impact on their reputation and future career prospects.

The Future of Silk Lawyers: Trends and Predictions

As the legal profession continues to evolve, the role of silk lawyers is likely to change as well. In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards diversity and inclusion in the legal industry, and this is likely to impact the role of silk lawyers.

One possible outcome is that we may see more women and people from diverse backgrounds being appointed as silk lawyers. This could lead to a broader range of perspectives being represented in the legal profession, which could ultimately benefit clients and society as a whole.

Another trend to watch is the increasing use of technology in the legal profession. As more and more legal work is performed by artificial intelligence and other forms of automation, the role of silk lawyers may shift towards more strategic, high-level work that cannot be performed by machines. This could make the role of silk lawyers even more valuable, as they will be able to provide the kind of nuanced legal advice that machines simply cannot.

Overall, the future of silk lawyers is likely to be shaped by a wide range of factors, including changes in technology, shifts in societal values, and the evolving needs of clients. However, one thing is certain: silk lawyers will continue to play a vital role in the legal profession for many years to come.


Becoming a silk lawyer is a long and challenging process that requires a high level of skill and experience. However, for those who are able to achieve the goal, the rewards are significant. Silk lawyers are highly respected members of the legal profession who play a critical role in the administration of justice. They are experts in their field, and their advice and advocacy are highly sought after. While the job is not without its challenges, for many lawyers, the opportunity to become a silk lawyer is the pinnacle of their legal career.


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