You’ve been a senior clerk at your chambers for over 30 years…how have you seen your role as a clerk and your chambers develop in that time?

In some respects – to the extent that chambers is a collection of individual practices and the barrister’s function has fundamentally not changed in providing excellent advocacy and advice – not at all. What has changed beyond recognition though, mirroring the commercial world, is acceptance that our chambers is a multi-million pound business and has to be treated as such. Chambers is now professionally run, taking into account modern business principles. Back in the Middle Ages when I started clerking the pace of professional life was slower for all. Now with the advances in modern technology one simply has to keep pace or the business will not thrive. What has also changed is the marketing activity of chambers. Back in the day chambers didn’t need all of our clerks involved in marketing activities as it was a smaller business. Indeed when I first started barristers were not allowed to “tout” for business. The marketing we do now is unrelenting and on a daily basis, and members and the administration team are central to that. We have a committed approach to all proactive activities to cement relationships with clients and to maximise on the opportunities. Personal service is embedded in our philosophy.

Your chambers is one of the oldest established sets of barristers’ chambers in Lincoln’s Inn with a history dating back to 1893.

Indeed…there are times I feel I’ve been clerking since 1893!

You were the first Chancery set in Lincoln’s Inn to achieve the LSC Quality Mark Standard for the Bar in 2006. How did this come about?

Professional clients now expect chambers to demonstrate good working practice and one good way to show that is through quality working standards. We were keen to enhance that principle and guide chambers under modern business methods; it is a much better structure to go forward. At the time a lot of public sector clients were going through major change in their practice, with local authorities embarking on quality standard contracts and standard of excellence through various kite mark accreditation. There was a move that the Bar should consider it to fall in line with good practice with public sector clients.

I understand many members of your chambers are recognised as leading practitioners in their fields in the Chambers & Partners 2010 and Legal 500 2009 directories and your set is noted for having “an abundance of expertise and experience in foreign jurisdictions and international law”.

Directory recognition reflects the high level of expertise at 9SB across our three core areas of land and property, company and insolvency and all aspects of private client. Regular instructions from overseas and off shore clients have, over many years, created a high and consistent demand for our legal services. 

What are the future plans of chambers both in the UK and internationally?

The world is now a much smaller place due to modern technology and communications. I feel a wider view is necessary for markets and workloads. We have a strong emphasis on the UK domestic market for the core of the legal services provided by 9SB and that will continue, but we are also conscious that clients all over Europe and the world can grasp the opportunity of access to the English Bar. Historically we have always had strong links overseas, we will continue to cement those links and develop new opportunities. Our aim is steady growth of excellent barristers, at all levels. Steady growth falls in line with our personal service philosophy.

How is your chambers gearing up for legal services reforms?

Like all chambers we are aware of the impending changes like LDP’s – what we don’t know is how that will impact on the Bar. We’ll have to see if some will embrace changes quickly, whether larger corporate structures will want to adopt chambers and whether there will be a “move” on a set of chambers by some to bring them under a much larger umbrella. Some sets of chambers, particularly those with publicly funded practices may consider new models of practice. We will monitor the changes and consider new practices that will guarantee the future success of the Bar. The advantage of a slightly smaller set, in the sense of management structures, is the decision making process is far quicker. This therefore may give us an advantage if we had to react very quickly to a market opportunity. However, a barrister practices at the Bar primarily because he/she wants that freedom of professional lifestyle, less restrictions, less bureaucracy which leaves more time to practice law. 

Alan Austin, 9 Stone Buildings, was interviewed by Guy Hewetson, LPA Legal