Lisa Linklater’s Road to Silk

February 28, 2022

This interview originally appeared in the Leeds & Yorkshire Lawyer, February 2022 edition (Issue 174).

Lisa Linklater, barrister of Exchange Chambers is to be appointed Queen’s Counsel on 21 March 2022 following the approval of her appointment by Her Majesty the Queen in December 2021.  Lisa is the first female barrister from the North Eastern Circuit practising in the field of Commercial Chancery to take silk.  Lisa specialises in shareholder and partnership disputes, corporate insolvency and contractual disputes.  She has developed her practice from Chambers in Leeds.

How has practising from Leeds contributed to the development of your career?

Practising from Leeds has enabled me to build strong working relationships with instructing solicitors from across the North of England over many years; three of the cases on my QC application form were from solicitors who had instructed me from the very early years of my practice.  From the start of my career, I have enjoyed many and varied opportunities for advocacy, including trial advocacy, in the High Court, Chancery Division (now known as the Business and Property Courts) in Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool, as well as appellate advocacy as sole Counsel in the Court of Appeal.  I have always found that the judges “keep you on your toes”, which has been very beneficial for the development of my advocacy and expertise.  As the cases in which I have been instructed have become ever more complex, this experience has been invaluable.  The principal clerks I have worked with have positively supported and encouraged me and enabled me to develop my practice and successfully apply for silk.

I have always worked on the basis that the best marketing is the work you do – both in and out of court – and I have always set very high standards for myself.  This has led to increasingly challenging and specialist work throughout my career.  Having a practice focussed on certain courts (in my case the Business and Property Courts of the High Court in Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle) has also helped me to achieve important career milestones such as being recommended in the legal directories and appointment to panels because the referees really know your work well.

At the same time, I have also always really enjoyed being part of both the legal and local community and contributing where I can.  I am enjoying being on the committees of both the Northern Chancery Bar Association and the Leeds Business and Property Courts Forum.  I think that the various Business and Property Courts Forums across the North of England have been very successful and really raised the profile of the work we do here.  They have also contributed to the professional development of practitioners at all levels of experience.  The forums have also connected us with the Business and Property Courts nationally.

When work is up to date, easy access to a wide variety of landscape and leisure opportunities has been a great balance in my career.  As it turned out, two of the cases in my QC application form stemmed from chance meetings with instructing solicitors when out and about at the weekend – one at RHS Harlow Carr and another at Hadrian’s Wall – that is work/life balance in action!

Please tell us about your practice (including any particular highlights)?

I specialise in shareholder and partnership disputes, corporate insolvency (both litigation and technical applications) and contractual disputes.  I think that every case is a highlight, particularly those where I am instructed from before action to a successful finish and which involve a variety of professional challenge both for myself and the team that I am leading.  One recent case that stands out in my mind is a shareholder dispute in which I was instructed from before proceedings to successful resolution before trial after some very hard-fought and unusual interim applications against a QC.  The case is now not only in a leading company law practitioner textbook but also involved me making important strategic decisions under time pressure, effectively leading a team with different levels of experience and advocating and negotiating at an online mediation that was full of emotion for my clients.

Why did you apply to become Queen’s Counsel?

Over the last five and more years I was increasingly being instructed on cases at silk level and against Queen’s Counsel and enjoying the challenge.  At the same time, I was starting to compete for work against Queen’s Counsel, which could create an additional hurdle to instruction if the instructing solicitor or client had not worked with me before.  Therefore, I applied to become Queen’s Counsel to keep moving my practice forwards.

What does the QC application process involve?

The application process is rigorous and independent and was introduced in its current form in 2004.  The process involves three main stages – a written application form including twelve substantial cases, assessments from four judges, three practitioners and two clients (selected by the Queen’s Counsel Selection Panel from around thirty assessors named by applicants in the application form and linked to their twelve substantial cases) and an interview by two members of the Selection Panel.  Applicants must provide evidence of their excellence in law, written and oral advocacy, as well as working with others and diversity.

As a QC how will you be looking to further develop your practice?

I would certainly like to maintain the excellent working relationships with the solicitors and clients who have instructed me to date.  At the same time, I am looking forward to continuing to develop my specialist fields of practice and receiving instructions from solicitors and clients who may not have worked with me before.

What sort of feedback have your received since December’s QC announcement?

The feedback has been overwhelming.  So many friends and colleagues across the legal profession have been so kind and generous with their warm wishes, which I really appreciate.  It has been lovely that people with whom I have worked throughout my career have reached out to me at this exciting time; many memories have been evoked.

What impact has the pandemic had on your practice? How has it changed the way you work?

The Business and Property Courts moved seamlessly and quickly to remote working.  We received early and excellent support from the Chancery Bar Association with electronic working.  Therefore, my practice did not change really – I was conducting a shareholder dispute trial in the High Court against a silk in June 2020, which was one of the first trials to take place remotely in the North of England.

Who (or what) has had the biggest influence on your career?

My pupilmasters, Lord Justice Snowden and Jonathan Peacock QC, have been a significant influence on how I approach cases, apply the law and analyse the facts.  In the early years of practice, HHJ Klein who was then a colleague in my former Chambers, gave me excellent direction, which included pointing out the advert for Junior Counsel to the Crown in Counsel magazine.  I applied successfully and served for three consecutive terms, representing different Government departments, particularly HM Revenue and Customs and BEIS in complex and precedent cases across the North of England.  He also introduced me to other barristers and judges in Chancery work in Leeds and Manchester through Northern Chancery Bar Association events, which put me at ease in my practice and made me part of a wider legal community from an early stage in my career.  More recently, HHJ Cawson QC, my former colleague in Chambers before his elevation to the Bench, has been a positive influence during the last decade and is an excellent role model for me in silk.

What challenges have you met as a woman in law?

I think that the main challenge I have met has been not having many female role models or colleagues in my practice area, particularly when I became pregnant and returned to practice after my children were born.  I did receive some excellent advice and did have a lot of support from most of my colleagues, although there were challenges.  There are certainly now more visible female role models across the legal profession and the judiciary compared to when I started in practice and this creates a positive cycle.

I am really enjoying being part of the North Eastern Circuit Women’s Forum, which is very inclusive.  The events are very supportive and forward-thinking with the link between wellbeing and consistently excellent performance a central theme.  I think it is very important to ensure that women are not isolated at any stage of their career so that we can achieve our career potential and fulfil our ambitions, while balancing this with other responsibilities, demands and our health.  One way to achieve this is to have a variety of formal and informal support networks both within and across Chambers and firms and to be as inclusive and positive as possible in the workplace.

How do you achieve work/life balance?

I think the balance will always alter throughout any year.  For example, during and in the lead up to a trial, the balance will very much be in favour of work.  I try and have a range of activities I enjoy and that take up different amounts of time – some that I can enjoy at home such as cooking, listening to music and watching a film – and others such as swimming and more recently golf.  I am also enjoying catching up with friends more regularly again.

What would your advice be to anyone wishing to follow in your footsteps as a QC?

Believe in yourself and don’t wait for a tap on the shoulder.