Barbara Fontaine, retired Senior Master, King’s Bench Division. She was admitted as a solicitor in 1978, and later became the first solicitor to be appointed as both Queen’s Bench Master and Senior Master. Barbara retired from the judiciary in September 2023.
Barbara shares her pathway into the judiciary.
“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.
I initially decided to apply for a judicial role when my children were small as the more regular hours fitted in easier with family life than private practice. I began with a fee-paid appointment. I had thought that I might return to private practice, but I enjoyed my part-time judicial role so much that I decided I would rather work in a full-time judicial position. I became a full time Master in 2003 and Senior Master in 2014. 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. They have a hands-on role with clients and in dealing with steps such as disclosure, taking witness statements, liaising with experts and working on costs. They are likely to have acquired an understanding about how a client’s business works or how a client’s business interests or personal circumstances may impact on a claim. I found such experience to be very helpful in considering the practical aspects involved in many hearings. 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.
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.”