Adam Johnson was appointed as a High Court Judge in 2020, assigned to the Chancery Division, sitting in the Rolls Building, London. Prior to this, Adam was appointed as a s9(4) Deputy High Court Judge in 2018.
For the whole of my working life I was a solicitor in private practice. I joined Herbert Smith (as it then was) as an articled clerk in 1988 and qualified in 1990, later becoming a partner in 1997. In 2006 I helped set up the firm’s in-house advocacy unit.
In 2017 I took silk. My practice through all this time was in the fields of commercial and chancery litigation, and international arbitration, latterly (after 2008) with a main emphasis on banking and financial services work. I had, and have, a particular interest in private international law and international litigation.
After 32 years in practice, I felt that I needed a change. Solicitors in the major practices are increasingly specialised. I felt I would benefit from the diversity in terms of workload that comes from a judicial post, and the opportunity to do new things and meet new challenges. I have not been disappointed. I also felt, again after 32 years in practice, that I wanted the opportunity to give something back to a profession that had been good to me over the years.
The status of London as an international centre for dispute resolution is dependent on the professions supporting the judiciary, including those who have appropriate experience making their skills and expertise available and taking up judicial roles. I wanted to play my part in that. I also felt that, coming from my background as a solicitor, I might have something to offer in terms of providing a slightly different perspective on the dispute resolution process than might be offered by others coming from a more traditional, barrister background.
Becoming a judge has been a big change, after so many years of doing another job – and one which I was very comfortable with – making the transition to something new. It is exactly what I wanted. I think the main change is the sense of responsibility you have, knowing that every day you are making decisions that are of real importance to the litigants involved. But at the same time, it is enormously satisfying and rewarding to be able help people resolve their differences and move on.
I would say that my background as a solicitor dealing directly with clients, one critical skill that I brought to the bench is the ability to listen with an open mind. An important part of the work of a judge is to absorb information, distil it and be able to recognise – sometimes hidden away in the detail – the few key points that really make a difference to the outcome. I think that is a skill acquired in practice which I continue to draw on, with varying degrees of success, every day.
I have no family background in the law or the professions. My route into the law was really the product of not being able to think of anything else I wanted to do at university and thinking that at least a law degree had a vocational element that might allow me to get a job. Thankfully, I turned out to be quite good at the subject as a student, and then rather fell on my feet when I joined Herbert Smith and found myself in a really engaging and supportive environment for a young lawyer.