Breaking the Mould at the Bar
Setting the Scene
I remember one family holiday in Torquay. I was just 11 years old at the time with a very pronounced stammer, which I was not to overcome until I was 21. The Maltese landlady of the B&B which my mother and father had booked my brothers and I in at was saying goodbye. Asked what I wanted to be when I was older – I told her with some difficulty – a barrister.
No doubt, my mother seeing the look of surprise on the woman’s face, tried to explain that I was always telling people the same thing. Having come from an island famous for its wartime courage, the landlady looked me fully in the face and said ‘where there is a will there’s a way’.
I certainly had the will – yet along the way – there were to be others who would, no doubt with the very best of intentions, suggest that perhaps for me a career in advocacy was not the wisest of choices. Of course, now after a number of decades in the profession there may still be those who would suggest I should have listened to the Job’s Comforters!!
Dealing with stammering gave me a determined character to prove the doubters wrong – I hope, too, it gave me some understanding of others, who have lost their confidence or had none to start with and who feel the odds are just too heavily stacked against them.
And so fast track forward – you can imagine therefore my reaction when colleagues and friends in my profession suggested that leaving my former Chambers, where I was the longest serving member and setting up my own Chambers on my own, was perhaps altogether too much of a risk to take. Accordingly, I decided that it was something I had to do. But this time it was not just through a single and dogged determination to prove I could do it – it was also because I saw that expectations of clients and solicitors had changed and in my view the Bar to survive had to be up to the challenge to meeting and exceeding those expectations – if I could do it successfully – then I believed others too would be won over to take the same step.
The Bar in the 1980s and 1990s grew too large so that the specialist advocacy work which had been the profession’s exclusive territory became so thinly spread that barristers were engaged on court work well below their capabilities. In the process, the Bar lost its edge and to some degree its expertise and reputation.
The demands of the client and solicitor increased. It was no longer good enough for the barrister to be an intelligent lawyer – many solicitors were just that and in addition had a commercial experience above many at the Bar. Instead, the barrister needed to add something extra and not to stand apart and aloof, but to be very much part of the legal team in the presentation of the client’s case.
Thoroughness in preparation, client care and value for money had become essential aspects of instruction. As a commercial valuer friend of mine confided in me about the similar development in his profession, the lay client was no longer willing to be told a specialist professional would be engaged on his or her behalf – the client wanted to know why such a specialist was needed in the first place and, primarily, what was it going to cost. For years the Bar had simply presented its fee note at the end of the case on the basis that the client was privileged to pay it – all that has now changed – and not before time.
The future for the Bar has been a topic of debate ever since I started. However, as the impact of legal aid changes have shown at the criminal bar and now with family practitioners – the question of the Bar’s future not only in these disciplines but across the board is a very relevant one. In my view and with an experience of the law more than most – there certainly is a strong and vibrant future for barristers but only in a more specialised and compact profession and in the role where the barrister as a specialist in his area of the law is capable of providing for the client and solicitor high level advice and lead management of the more complicated case from instruction to outcome at a known or packaged cost.
In this, too, the barrister has to be fully aware of and implement developments in IT and be prepared to constantly adopt better and economic ways of service delivery.
For me, therefore, the process of setting up my own Chambers was almost a natural one in these circumstances. I was the first barrister in the North to practise well over two decades ago exclusively in ancillary relief work. I was the original campaigner and protagonist for the ‘Money Judge’ system – albeit unlike its current working, not as a substitute for the High Court Judge. For years, too I had believed that solicitors in the North West would have benefited from there being a Chambers exclusively of family specialist counsel as have existed in London and the South for some time. But now, I also believed that going further, counsel, before and after instruction, should be more available to the solicitor and client.
I have therefore become the first family law barrister on the Northern Circuit to set up his own family and divorce finance Chambers and to offer a direct diary booking facility online without the need to speak with Chambers or fill in an email enquiry form. It is astonishing how many of my colleagues suggested that to open my diary to online direct bookings would be a disaster – when in reality it has been a very considerable success. Many solicitors to book me use the online diary which sends automatic confirmation of receipt which is then followed up by contact from my Chambers – it is notable that a large portion of these solicitors have only started to instruct me since the diary went online!
In addition, the availability of my website which contains everything about who I am, what I offer, my publications and Flyers and my ethos and approach as well as practical links and advice have been overwhelmingly welcomed by both clients and solicitors. Indeed, I have to say that my solicitors have been a tremendous source of encouragement to me in this venture.
For me and I am sure for many of my professional colleagues, this is the future and the way – they just need the will.