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Legal Success Part 3: A Great Junior

Legal Success Part 3: A Great Junior

In a special four part series exclusive to Law and More, Dr Joshua Wilson SC of Owen Dixon Chambers West will be sharing his insights on how to succeed in the legal profession, influenced by his decades of experience in court and teaching across the world.

Dr Wilson SC has been practising as a barrister in Australia for over 25 years.  His expertise derives from worldwide advocacy experiences and he is usually found in the Supreme Courts and Federal Court of Australia dealing with commercial and equity cases.  A legal genius (Josh took Silk in 2008 and holds a PhD in extradition law!) and with a large topping of good humour, Law and More proudly presents Dr Joshua Wilson SC's guide to success in the legal profession.

This week, Dr Wilson SC gives Law and More readers his top ten things that make for a great junior:

There’s little more dynamic than a successful silk and junior combination. When that combination is on fire, make sure you get out of their way.  In some instances the mere fact of their being retained to argue the case will precipitate settlement discussions.

Silks are constantly on the hunt for the good junior. Why? Because a good junior will be a future silk and the good junior will help with the case in a very meaningful way thereby lightening the load for the silk.

On the other side of the ledger, juniors usually aspire to work with silks because the cases silks do are more significant, often they are high profile cases and the fees are better. So how can the aspiring junior get noticed?

1. Triple A Status

2. Get Along

3. Know your Place

4. Technical Mastery 

5. Debate until the End

6. Loyalty

7. Be Ready to Step Up

8. Don't Wait to be Told

9. Older Juniors

10. Repeat Business


No, this is not a Standards & Poor credit rating. The triple A status refers to the three A’s of being a good junior. The first “A” is affable. A good junior needs to be genial. The second “A” is able. The good junior needs to be well capable of the task. But by far the most important “A” is available. The good junior must be available to take the brief at all times.


Silly as this may sound, a harmonious working relationship between silk and junior is predicated on you both getting along. If you squabble the relationship is doomed.


This is a tricky concept. Let’s face it: barristers bring new meaning to ego. From the moment we learn to say “If your Lordship pleases” we are inculcated to the notion of hierarchy and to the concept that we, be we ever so humble, are superior to just about anyone else. So getting a barrister to take a back seat is not easy. 

The simple issue in this point is this - don’t usurp the role of your leader. You are the junior – he or she is the leader. You are called “junior” for a reason. So, when it comes time to confer, don’t take charge of the running of the conference. When the client seeks counsels’ advice, resist blurting out your view first – unless, of course, your leader asks you to express your views before he or she does. It is essential that the good junior keeps in mind that he or she is in the case for a purpose and to perform a function. But if the client had wanted junior counsel the client would not have retained silk to lead junior counsel. 

So, the good junior should not have extensive discussions with the instructing solicitor of which the silk is unaware. Nor should the good junior give advice on tactics and on significant pleading issues leaving the silk out of the loop. Of course, if the silk consents to such an approach then well and good – but not until.


Silks will mostly concede that their last foray to the university law school was longer ago than was the junior’s. Silks will (or should) also concede that their time is shorter than they would prefer and so the simple opportunity to master the facts and the law of the case will need to await a time nearer the start of the trial.

That’s where the good junior shines.

The good junior will be on top of all the detail at every stage, especially before they shake hands with the client or the solicitor. The good junior will be able to give the silk the sketch of the case in sufficient detail that the conference goes well or so that the client is otherwise filled with confidence. 

It is essential that the good junior ensures that at no stage does the silk have to fall on such phrases as “good question – we’ll let you know our answer in due course” or “Nigel here will research that and we all will be better informed as a result”. Little causes the client to fret more than his developing a sense of foreboding that his legal team is anything but up to speed.


This point is mostly underestimated. It has as its genesis the dress rehearsal of the debate that will ensue in court. It is a simple enough notion – silk and junior will engage in a debate on some issue of fact or law that will mimic the debate later taking place on the same issue when conducted in court between silk and judge. So, what are the keys? It’s easy – be perfectly prepared to argue the point as if you were arguing it in court. That means having the exhibits with you or being sufficiently familiar with them that you can recite their terms. It means knowing the authorities and what each judge says on some issue – helpful or unhelpful. It means being able to debate why some witness is more reliable than is the witness giving the contrary version of that evidence. And you should expect that the debate will be robust – no pussy footing around.


Life as an advocate can be a challenge at the best of times. One thing you don’t need is undermining. Competition is fierce for briefs. More and more counsel are being pinned down to fees that do not match the contribution counsel makes to the case. The last thing a silk needs in a case is division within the ranks.

This can reach the unfortunate crescendo of the silk and junior writing separate opinions on a matter for the client. Little sends a stronger message of disunity than that.


Being a junior does not mean being unskilled. In fact, quite the reverse is the fact. The good junior is a person who can, at a moment’s notice, take up the cudgel and take over the running of the case. It happens, but mercifully those occasions are few and far between. The point here is addressing the situation where the silk asks the junior to take a witness or to address a particular segment of the case. In bigger cases this happens a lot. It can also happen through sickness or unavailability of the silk. Rarely does the case come to a halt by reason of the ill health of the silk. So the good junior is ready at all times to step up – into the role of the leader and to take charge. That means the good junior is utterly on top of the case at all times, that he or she is able if called upon to make all the critical tactical decisions and that he or she can take all and every witness thereafter. This is a big undertaking. But this skill is among the most real for the good junior. A favourable performance of this role will go a very long way to positioning the good junior for silk.


The good junior is pro-active. He or she will have the draft pleading ready without having to be told to create it. The good junior will formulate the draft interlocutory order without the silk having to spell out what the order should say. The good junior will have organised the solicitor to get transcript or an interpreter or a welfare officer for the minor or to have multiple copies of documents (where appropriate). In short, the good junior relieves the silk of the dross so that the silk can get onto the real issue in the case, such as working up the cross examination or getting the argument about admissibility sorted or putting the final touches to the submissions about precedent - or whatever might be the real matter to hand. The good junior lightens the silk’s load.


This is a seriously difficult conundrum and is more prevalent than you might think. It happens because the numbers of barristers at the Bar are constantly growing and there is room only for so many as silk. That results in more and more very able people being passed over for silk with the result that they give up seeking silk and they become older juniors. It is not uncommon to find some older juniors in their late sixties with over thirty five years experience at the Bar. These barristers have acquired skills and talents of their own over their many years of doing battle. Some can be unwilling or unable to take orders from a person who is younger and less venerable than they.

When the silk junior relationship works with these juniors it can be magical – age and wisdom matched with energy and vitality. When it doesn’t work it is disastrous. I can simply implore older juniors to provide assistance, even though they may have a different approach to the case. After all, the style to be adopted in the running of the case really is the silk’s call.


Unlike solicitors who acquire a client thereby developing and maintaining a life long business relationship with that client, at the Bar we have business relationships that last usually for no longer than the duration of the case. So repeat business for us is essential.

The good junior can acquire a steady flow of repeat business by being brought in to cases by the same silk if that silk had a favourable and lasting memory of the good work the good junior did. 

The old adage remains true – you are only as good as your last case. Make sure your last case is always your best.


Check back next week for Part 4 of Law and More’s Legal Success special.  Dr Joshua Wilson SC will give Law and More readers his Top Ten Things that Judges Hate about Advocates.


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