You are joint head of chambers and have been a silk for over 10 years. What do you credit your success to?
Any success I’ve had has a lot to do with my early experiences as a young barrister. Right at the start, I received financial support from the Middle Temple, without which I would not have been able to come to the Bar. I then received fantastic training from my pupil masters and I’ve been fortunate to have great clerking throughout my career. In Outer Temple Chambers there was historically the opportunity to appear frequently as an advocate in a wide range of practice areas. This was invaluable experience for my later practice in silk, even in more specialised areas of commercial/ chancery work where good advocacy remains a critical skill. I have always tried to deliver good service to clients, which I think is key, in part by trying to be a good communicator and listening to what lay clients really want. Lastly, there is sadly no substitute for hard work.
What are the challenges and rewards of being a head of chambers of a multi-disciplinary practice?
Since our restructuring in 2012, I am now one of three joint heads of chambers. In advance of some of the changes and challenges that are now facing the Bar, we wanted to be set up in a more efficient way. We now have two departments, Business and Health each with its own Head, and a third Head dealing with organisational and governance issues. Being a head of a modern set of chambers is a totally different job to 20 years ago. When I joined chambers we were 20 members and three staff, now we are over 70 members and nearly 25 staff. The joint head roles allow us to focus on a specific set of responsibilities without having to manage the whole of chambers. Each department can use some of its financial resources as it sees fit. The clerking and administrative structure has been overhauled, as well, to support the new structure. To see all that working is really rewarding. As a result, we have a rather more corporate approach to the running of chambers than used to be the case, particularly in relation to marketing and business development, although I hope that we have retained a firm understanding that our real assets remain our individual barristers’ practices and our staff.
Other rewards from having such a multi-disciplinary range of practices in OTC include being able to put together bespoke teams of barristers covering a range of related specialties, and our ability to offer our junior members a wide range of opportunities when they start out.
One of the major challenges is managing finances where there is such a range of individual earnings across the set. We’ve now brought in a cap to contributions to chambers as part of a plan to retain our high earners. Our overall and average incomes have both exceeded their targets this year and, in a set where some practitioners rely to a substantial extent on publicly funded work, we feel that is a good result.
What trends have you seen in direct international client business, particularly with your now three overseas offices, and as Chair of the newly created International Committee of COMBAR?
I think there is a trend towards a greater understanding of the Bar by international clients. They are looking for better value and service and there is greater awareness that the English Bar can offer that. I think this is a strong and increasingly well received message. There is also a greater awareness of and acceptance by international clients of the importance of instructing specialist advocates, which is strong territory for the Bar. Another trend I am seeing is the Bar doing more and more to reach out directly to international clients. As an example of this, OTC has recently established a full time presence in Dubai now that David Russell QC has based himself there to complement our existing relationships in the country. We are also seeing an increase in the number of foreign law firms expressing an interest in undertaking joint business development ventures with us.
Why did you come to the Bar?
I changed to law half way through my degree course, as I was a scientist. It seemed to me to offer a challenging and fascinating career. I really liked the idea of being self-employed, of being an advocate and fighting cases in court or at the very least getting a good result for a client. Fortunately all of that has pretty much worked out. I still now get those challenges, satisfaction and intellectual engagement, although it feels like you work harder and harder as you get older.
What advice would you give to any juniors reading this?
Listen to advice from any quarter, be that a barrister, clerk or solicitor. When you start at the Bar, nearly everyone else has more experience than you and you will benefit if you seek that out. What I learnt from my pupil masters was invaluable. It is also worth remembering that the big cases you are brought into are usually the result of someone else’s efforts and an understanding of that will go a long way. Lastly, work really hard as success will not just come to you.
How do you relax?
Spending time with my wife and three children, and my friends. It’s the best way to be reminded that what you do is not that significant or important. I’m also quite an outdoors person and love skiing, both downhill and touring, trekking in the mountains and being on a boat in the Scilly Isles, where we spend our summer holidays. If I can do any of those activities with my family, then that’s the best of both worlds.
Andrew Spink QC was interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Mathew Kesbey of Hewetson Shah