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Barbara Fontaine is Senior Master, Queen’s Bench Division. She was admitted as a solicitor in 1978. She was the first solicitor to be appointed as both Queen’s Bench Master and Senior Master.
“I was in practice for 17 years then took a four-year career break to take care of my twins. It’s always a bit tough coming back from a break; your legal knowledge is a bit rusty and your confidence is not what it was but you soon catch up and get to grips with it again.
“In a sense that was the start of my second career. I began by doing a fee-paid appointment without going back into practice at the same time. I then became a full time Master in 2003. If I was advising anyone else I would say build up as much part-time sitting experience as you can. The more you do it the better you get at it.
“I would really encourage solicitors to apply for a judicial role. In particular litigation solicitors - litigation brings much valuable experience to the role. The Law Society has a division devoted to solicitor judges and they provide help and support. Solicitors can also apply for some judicial shadowing time so they get experience of the judicial role.
“After you’ve been a solicitor for a number of years, when you take a judicial role it’s very enjoyable to look at things from a different perspective. You are no longer at the beck and call of clients and partners and you have a greater degree of control and independence. It is also more intellectually stimulating than being a partner in a law firm where much time has to be devoted to practice and client management and administration.
“When applying for a judicial role I would encourage an applicant to talk to as many people as possible who can offer relevant advice, not necessarily judges or lawyers – I also spoke to people in HR positions when I was applying for a leadership and management role.
“Try to think of examples of things you’ve done in your professional career that would demonstrate the qualities required in a judicial role. You’ll need a supply of those at your fingertips at the interview and if you don’t consider these in advance it might be difficult to think of them on the spur of the moment.”