Joanna Wade is a Salaried Employment Judge, sitting in the Central London Employment Tribunal, Holborn, appointed in 2009. She was a Fee-paid Employment Judge from 1998 (pre-JAC) and a solicitor, and has been a partner in two firms.
A Salaried Employment Judge is a full-time judge who hears claims about matters to do with employment, including unfair dismissal, redundancy payments and discrimination.
“I became a judge after spending 15 years as a solicitor. A combination of career enhancement, liking to be involved in administering justice and conflict resolution, and a desire to do a good job, led me to apply. Also, solicitors tend to be very good at putting people at their ease and understanding what they are saying, which makes them excellent judges. Good examples of transferable skills are being a successful manager in a firm or a mediator.
“The judiciary and the appointments process are now very different. I am a person who is openly gay. I found the selection process – and since appointment find the tribunal – to be very inclusive.
“If more lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) lawyers do not seek to enter the judiciary, or enter it and do not feel able to be themselves, the current perception some people have, of not being welcome, will continue. This would be a real shame, as what may appear to be frostiness is, in my experience, likely to be unfamiliarity. Of course, there are degrees of “outness”. I am very openly lesbian because I feel I have a role to play, to get the message out that within the judiciary all is well. It would be nice if more LGBT people felt encouraged to apply for judicial roles and, when they are successful in getting appointed, felt confident to be themselves.
“Employment law is very important to people. A lot of cases are to do with claims of unfair dismissal or discrimination. What I enjoy is feeling that I have done a good job – giving people a fair outcome, which hopefully they understand and can accept. What is challenging is the high workload, which means you have to act quickly and decisively.
“I now work 80 per cent of the full-time hours as a full-time salaried judge. The majority of my time is spent hearing cases and I have to fit in the preparation and write-ups around this. The average case is three days long, but this varies a lot and adds to the interest of the job. A minimum wage case could take only an hour, whereas a discrimination case could take weeks. When you have been an employment judge for a while, you can also do mediation and training.
“The JAC selection process was challenging. It was scary having to sit an exam (the JAC qualifying test, used as a shortlisting tool) for the first time in many years. But I was very proud and pleased when I got through. The selection process is rigorous and focussed on proving what you can do rather than what you think. It is very fair and conscientiously carried out.
“For the exam, you need to sit down and re-read the law that you think you know. For the interview, re-read the application form, understand the competencies and work on your ideas. You have to think of enough examples so you do not have to keep on repeating yourself. You also need to be good at thinking on your feet and able to formulate answers quickly. It is also worthwhile taking a thorough look at the JAC website and going to an outreach event.
“So, have a go at becoming a judge and do not be deterred by a sense you would not be welcome. The judiciary are a diverse bunch and the benefits of increased diversity are huge. Also, do not be put off if you do not get in first time around – the experience is invaluable. And if you are not sure about the role, go and watch some tribunals in action. You get a real sense of what the work entails.”