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Every year hundreds of the country’s top barristers and solicitors apply to the office of Queen’s Counsel. Only a handful make it in, and even fewer from outside the bar.
“As I went through the silk application process, I spent much of my time thinking I was not barristery enough,” says Amanda Brown, who was appointed to the office of Queen’s Counsel at the end of 2020.
Brown, who has spent the last quarter of a century as a tax disputes lawyer at Big Four accounting firm KPMG, says she was worried she would miss out on the silk because she didn’t fit the traditional mould.
“I had appeared as leader or junior in every court in the UK and alone at the CJEU. I had a quality practice and valuable experiences many barristers lack. But I was worried I hadn’t attended the right school or university, or that I had never been self-employed, or that I was too embedded in the corporate way of working.”
But then, after talking to a friend, she came to a sudden realisation. “My experiences would either be enough, or they would not.”
Instead, Brown broke the mould entirely, becoming the first solicitor from a Big Four accounting firm to take on the honorary title of QC.
After graduating from the University of Manchester, Brown completed her training at a well-known law firm, and then spent six years at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which she “absolutely loved.”
“There was so much autonomy. I had interesting, complex cases and great advocacy opportunities.”
But lacking the opportunity for further advancement due to strict internal promotion requirements, Brown moved to Big Four accounting firm, KPMG.
“Luckily, I found that being at KPMG held the same interest, complexity and opportunity as I had at HMRC, and here promotion is based on merit and the ability to deliver a business opportunity.”
Working at a Big Four presents opportunity plain and simple, says Brown.
“Opportunity to develop as a lawyer. Opportunity to understand where the law fits into the real world of business. Opportunity to complement and fit with the skills of other disciplines. Opportunity to be stretched, encouraged, supported and to grow. Opportunity to have fun along the way.”
Read more about how the Big Four are disrupting legal services
Unlike traditional law firms, where work is typically done within a much narrower confine, KPMG Law is part of a broad, multi-disciplinary practice, says Brown.
“Our employment lawyers work as part of huge people and change projects transforming organisations. The legal input is vital, but it is part of a much greater whole. And it’s a similar story for my corporate law colleagues.”
To better explain, Brown likes to use the analogy of making purple paint.
“Historically, clients who wanted integrated business, accounting and legal advice (purple paint) had to buy each of those offerings separately (blue and red paint). They then had to choose what colour purple to paint the wall and, by trial and error, mix the blue and red together.”
“With a multi-disciplinary firm, clients can buy the exact shade of purple they need and receive colour advice and, where necessary, an ombre purple wall.”
“By bringing together such a diversity of skills, everyone gets a chance to learn every day and be better tomorrow,” says Brown, who admits her sentiment might come across somewhat nauseating, but the approach works for both the individual and the client.
Brown hopes her appointment to QC will inspire others to take less conventional career paths to the top.
“Every one of us is a bit of a misfit in our own way, but we all have an achievable aspiration within us. And most of these aspirations are within grasp if we want them enough and invest in their achievement.”
To provide a non-legal example, Brown referred to her completion of an Ironman competition back in 2016. “At school I was probably the thousandth kid out of a thousand that you would have picked to achieve an Ironman…but I did it!”
“I set an aspiration, I trained diligently and hard for 40 weeks without missing a single training session, and on the day, it was nowhere near as hard as I thought it would be.”
Her advice to anyone starting out in their legal career, or for those with their eyes on the QC prize: “Wishing isn’t enough. Working hard, doing it your way and having fun throughout the journey is how you can give it your best shot.”
Read our report on the Big Four accounting firms
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