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Juliette Coffey is a District Judge and was previously a Deputy District Judge (Civil) and a fee-paid judge of the First-tier Tribunal, Social Entitlement Chamber. As a solicitor she qualified in 2001 and worked in a City law firm before joining the Government Legal Service (GLS) in 2007.
“I had been thinking about becoming a judge for a number of years before I was appointed to my current posts. For me, a judicial career was a conscious choice as an alternative to becoming a partner in a firm. I was lucky enough to have a Deputy District Judge in my firm who helped to inspire me.
“The GLS have been very supportive of my move. They have given me time and flexibility to complete my training and have allowed me to continue part-time working alongside sitting. My manager was supportive during the application process and has commented on the benefits of my judicial experience to my GLS work.
“I think the judiciary is a real option for appropriately-qualified government lawyers. Judicial roles like Deputy District Judge and the Social Entitlement Chamber make good use of the wide legal experience you get through the GLS. I received a well-rounded body of experience in litigation at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
“I hadn't spent a lot of time in court in the years immediately prior to my application to be a judge. However, the selection panels look at your core abilities to see if you have what it takes to be a judge. Of course, you then have to be prepared to take on a lot of learning after appointment to round out your legal knowledge. The judiciary is very collegiate and I have a supportive mentor who has provided excellent guidance in how to approach my learning and development.
“The selection process was rigorous but fair. If you want to succeed, however, you need to do a lot of preparation. You can't over-prepare. I strongly recommend shadowing someone who is in the role. I have found that people are willing to give you pointers and share their insights; I met two deputy district judges in the GLS prior to appointment, one of whom kindly let me sit in with them for a day prior to my selection day.
“I am really enjoying judging, but it is a steep learning curve, especially the Deputy District Judge role due to the breadth of the jurisdiction and the fact you don't really know what each day will bring. You have to be able to give on-the-spot judgments with confidence; it's exciting but daunting.
“In tribunals, you know what's happening as you have the papers for each case and you are working with one or two other tribunal members. You have to discuss each case and reach an agreed view, which can sometimes bring its own challenges.
“Both my judicial roles are very different from what I'm used to. There are ever increasing numbers of litigants in person and you are trying to enable them to understand the law and achieve a fair hearing for all parties. The work is varied and very rewarding.
“A lot has changed in the judiciary in the past 10 years. There are increasing numbers of younger judges with more varied backgrounds. I think being a GLS lawyer and sitting on the bench are two pieces of the same puzzle which complement each other; developing an understanding of legal drafting and judicial interpretation are mutually beneficial.”