The Annual Bar Conference will be held on Saturday, 24 November 2018 for the 33rd occasion. This is a conference not only aimed at improving our daily lives as barristers; but also to make us raise our head out of Blackstone’s or the White Book, and consider some of the larger questions and trends affecting not only our profession but the place of the rule of law in the modern world.

A third of a century since it was first inaugurated, the Annual Conference is returning to where it all started; the Grand Connaught Rooms on Great Queen Street, close to the heart of Legal London. It will again be held jointly with the Young Bar Conference and will welcome delegates from across the British Isles – with the Scottish, Northern Irish and Irish Bars all being represented, alongside the English and Welsh Bar.

The theme of this year’s conference is ‘All Bar None: Access, Development, and Diversification’. The Bar has to ensure that it is a profession that is open to any student of law with the requisite talent and drive, and similarly, the justice system should be open to anyone in need of legal redress or remedy. Access to the profession and access to justice are thus both essential strands that should be woven into the tapestry that makes up a fair society.

The common law is also a living organism, constantly evolving to reflect societal and technological change and barristers have to ensure that they keep pace. From hard copy counter filing to online filing; from post to fax to email; and from sticky notes to electronic bundles, the way in which we practise the law is constantly changing. Over the course of a career at the Bar, flexibility and the ability to innovate are therefore fundamental.

Keynote speakers cross different legal practice areas and span the political rainbow. We are delighted to have the newly appointed Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox QC MP, addressing the delegates at the start of the day, and then prior to lunch we will hear from the Lord Chancellor, David Gauke MP and the Shadow Attorney General, Baroness Chakrabarti. All highly respected members of the legal profession prior to their political appointments, they showcase in their respective Chambers of the Palace of Westminster, the key role that lawyers play in holding the government to account.

We are also thrilled to be hearing from Lord Sumption, who at the time of his conference speech will be but two weeks away from stepping down from the Supreme Court, as he reaches the statutory age of retirement on 8 December 2018. Lord Sumption enjoyed a stellar career at the Commercial Bar as joint head of Brick Court Chambers, which culminated in the spectacularly successful defence of the Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich in a multi-billion dollar claim brought by the Putin critic in-exile, Boris Berezovsky. The first lawyer in over 60 years to leapfrog to the highest court of the land straight from the Bar, he will give a unique perspective as he reflects on the closure of another chapter in his extraordinary legal life.

The keynote speaker for the Young Bar Conference is the joint head of Garden Court Chambers, Leslie Thomas QC; a celebrated police law expert and human rights lawyer, who has spent 30 years fighting for the interests of families at inquests.

At the close of the day, we will also have the pleasure of hearing from two judges – one civil, one criminal, with unusual routes to the bench, demonstrating that aspiration to judicial office should equally be open to all, regardless of background or career trajectory. Lord Justice Hickinbottom was a solicitor whose first rung on the judicial ladder was as a parking adjudicator in Neath and Port Talbot; whilst HHJ Molyneux now sits at the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, but in her previous career was a property solicitor in the City. They will both be in conversation with the amiable Jonathan Ames, co-editor of The Times’ The Brief.

Throughout the day there are also breakout panel sessions ranging in theme from how to develop an international practice, to the professionalisation of chambers, to the revolving door between self-employed, and employed practice.

Attending the conference is an excellent opportunity to meet other members of the profession, catch up with old friends and forge new ones. It also helps foster a sense of community and reminds us that we are part of a larger endeavour than those solitary hours drafting in the dead of night can sometimes lead us to believe. It can also help revive in us what initially attracted us to a life at the Bar in the first place. Oh, and of course it also massively assists with your CPD planned outcomes should you be called upon by the BSB to produce your record for 2018! 

Lucinda Orr is the 2018 Bar Conference Chair