Emma Burns, Employment Judge

I had been a solicitor in private practice for 20 years, specialising in employment law when I was appointed as a salaried Employment Judge in 2019.

I had worked for two large regional commercial law firms, becoming a partner in 2008 and leading a team from 2011. I enjoyed my job hugely, but it was time for a change. I had also been the chair of the board of trustees of a leading charity. My term of office in that role had come to an end, but it left me wanting to find a new challenge that offered the same sense of fulfilment from being involved in something worthwhile that chimed with my values. Becoming a judge has done just that. I have been able to continue to use my legal knowledge and skills in a leadership role which feels important and valuable. It has been a great move for me.

I felt confident about my employment law expertise. I had also done some work as the legal adviser to Social Care Wales panels for a couple of years before applying, so I had experience of participating in a neutral role in a decision making process in comparison to acting for a client. I attended a talk with some employment judges before I decided to apply, and also did some shadowing. All of which convinced me that I was ready. Plus, the judicial pension scheme was a very attractive financial benefit.

The application form was straightforward from memory. I gave some careful thought to my independent assessors and made sure I approached them early on to explain what was involved. I did the online test at home. It was challenging to complete it in the time allowed. Having not done an exam since the LPC, I felt out of practice in relation to doing timed tests, but the questions were all within my capability. I was very nervous ahead of the interview. The role play scenario required me to put myself in the position of being a judge. Having not been a fee paid judge beforehand meant that I had no actual experience to draw upon, but I was sufficiently familiar with employment tribunals to be able to answer the questions. I had prepared for the competency questions by thinking of examples from my own experience in advance.

I work in a very busy centre and we have a huge variety of cases. I really enjoy not knowing what is coming up next. It is a real privilege to see snapshots of people’s working lives and learn something new every day. A great day at the office is when a hearing has gone well and both sides felt heard. Inevitably emotions can sometimes run high, but an important part of judge craft is managing that. It can be challenging at times, but very rewarding. I also work with great colleagues who are very supportive.

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