Alex, both of you are highly commended in the Legal 500 2009. What do you think sets Magic Circle clerks apart?

It’s probably the high standards and demands of our client base and members that sets Magic Circle clerks apart from the rest. However, when I was restructuring the clerks’ room, I didn’t just look at Magic Circle clerks; hence Paul’s recruitment and also Sian Huckett and Chris Paterson (who are Team Leader Assistants). There are some good clerks out there who are not at Magic Circle sets. Although I started at Fountain Court, I had been at two other sets before returning and I learnt from the experiences outside of the Magic Circle. You always had to work that bit harder on your reputation, relationships and service to make you stand out and win work. Clerks have a crucial role in fostering strong working relationships with clients and therefore marketing, business development and polished client facing skills, we believe, are central to the modern clerk’s remit.

Paul, you seem to have set a precedent in being the first clerk to be CIM qualified. How has this helped you in your role and do you think other clerks should follow?

I feel quite strongly about it. I was invited to address members of the IBC on the subject of marketing in 2008 and it was enthusiastically received by the 80 delegates who attended from around the country. Building relationships is important, but so is understanding the strategy behind that. The dissertations I did applied to my day-to-day work, so it has been hugely beneficial when dealing with our website, branding and business development initiatives. I can only see it as being good for our profession. One of our Team Leaders has now enlisted on the course I attended, and I think in two to three years’ time a lot of clerks will have this qualification. For example, we have just recruited a Team Leader’s Assistant who has the CIM Professional Diploma in Marketing qualification. Coincidentally he attended my presentation. It was my previous CEO who encouraged me to pursue it and I’m grateful to her for doing so. We aim to be as competitive as possible and, by having our clerks professionally qualified, we demonstrate our hunger and our desire to succeed.

Alex, since restructuring the clerks’ room what has been the main benefit/impact?

I very much believe in team work and was keen to establish a system that facilitated this as well as maintained motivation. I wanted the “trading clerks” – Team Leaders – to focus on the main aspects of their roles and to work much more closely with the members for whom they have day-to-day responsibility. Each Team Leader now has an assistant working alongside them and Glyn Evans (Junior Clerks Supervisor and Facilities Coordinator) supervises the junior clerks. I have an honest approach to management and I quickly put in place a rigorous annual appraisal system for members of the clerking team. People know what is expected of them. The general feeling is that it’s never been so good, which for me is fantastic to hear. We are very communicative with everyone having input into new enquiries and the option of participating in marketing initiatives. Bringing Paul on board has had a positive impact and he has provided a huge difference in our approach to marketing generally. He has also been generous in sharing his knowledge. We have of course benefitted from the vast experience of Mark Watson (Senior Clerk/Team Leader) and Vince  Plant (Deputy Senior Clerk and Team Leader), and the enthusiasm and ability of Oliver Miney (Team Leader). So basically members have gained a bespoke clerking service, clients are being provided with a first class service and new opportunities are being actively pursued. I am delighted to report that business is very good indeed.

Well done on winning Banking & Finance Set of the Year at Chambers & Partners 2009 awards…what is chambers’ main objective at the moment?

Thanks – and not for the first time you know! Our main objective at the moment is to continue to be the first port of call for commercial litigation and arbitration, specifically in banking, financial services and insurance/reinsurance as well as developing further our reputation in areas such as aviation, civil fraud, company, employment, professional negligence, public law, regulatory, and sport. We will do this through the phenomenal strength in depth that we have at Fountain Court and by providing our clients with a top class service to support the work of the members. Longer term – to be recognised as the best set in London of course.

What aspect, if any, will legal services reform have on chambers?

We’re definitely taking it into account. Timothy Dutton QC, our head of chambers, set up a small working party to explore what the impact might be. At this stage it’s a bit early to say, but our discussions have thrown up a few interesting questions such as, “What do you want to be as a chambers?” Being a referral profession, we’re trying to anticipate the effect the reforms will have on clients, and therefore what potential effect it will have on us. Do we build in other services? What do clients want us to be? But if you’re going to be content with the status quo, don’t be so through assumption – if it is not going to affect you, know why it’s not going to affect you.

Alex Taylor and Paul Martenstyn, Fountain Court Chambers, were interviewed by Guy Hewetson, LPA Legal