You joined St Philips as CEO in September 2009, how has the last six months been?

It has gone at a very fast pace and I’ve had a great time. In short it is the most stimulating job I’ve ever had. The staff and members of chambers have been very supportive and it’s been a real challenge – a dream job really. There was a six month gap between the previous CEO leaving and my joining with the head of chambers doing the role in that time. I was asked to join because of the three hats I can wear – administration, understanding clerking and also taking charge of the marketing, so my time has been devoted to these three areas. One of the first things I did was promote internally and appoint a chief clerk (we have three senior clerks reporting to him) … this has proved a popular move. At the moment I’m embarking on a review of marketing. All our clerks are proactive in client facing activities; we have a busy and varied internal and external seminar programme and also do a tremendous amount of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). I also recently had a trip to Dubai which has proved very fruitful and we’ve had two international arbitration Silks join recently.

Your chambers has 165 members – how do you manage a set that big and long-term do you envisage chambers staying that size?

You have to split the responsibilities across the practice team areas which is now why we have myself as CEO, a chief clerk and three senior clerks (crime, family, civil). We hold regular practice and team meetings. We also have awareness meetings every Wednesday (which I chair) where we discuss the practices of the members and any matters which need to be addressed between the three main practice areas so all the clerks hear and understand what is going on in chambers – this also really helps with the clerking of areas such as regulatory. I don’t think size is important, it’s more about everyone being looked after properly. I can envisage us being 200+ members if the market takes us in that direction but we don’t have an aggressive growth strategy as we’re concentrating more on the work coming in. I actually think our strength is partly due to our size.

What was the thinking behind the appointment of a chief clerk back in October?

Having undertaken a strategic review of our clerks I made the recommendation to chambers that we need one person responsible for the strategy of the clerking teams and also someone who is primarily responsible for the Silks’ practices. This has worked out very well.

In light of chambers winning Regional Set of the Year at the Chambers & Partners Bar Awards 2009, and not for the first time, what is St Philips doing well?

The feedback we’ve had was that we stood out in certain key areas, in addition to our practice areas and, in addition to excellent client feedback, one of the defining comments was about our CSR policy. I think that actually gives us a huge connection with the community and charities (Princes Trust and others). It is also noticeable that this ethos, which runs through our business, mirrors a number of our law firm clients where CSR has also become an intrinsic part of their makeup. I think it helps spread the reputation of chambers and shows chambers as a caring business, not just a legal business.

You are a regional set that has been described recently in Chambers & Partners 2009 as a “national set”…does the reach stop there?

No, we were in Dubai recently, visited India last year and we have recruited Silks with practices in Singapore, South Africa and Bangladesh. We also have links in Australia.

How is chambers gearing up for the legal services reforms?

I’m very interested in this as I see it as an opportunity and not a threat. I think our size will help with the initial transition. Since I’ve arrived I’ve had meetings internally, and with law firms and other professional services organisations. I’ve invited outside speakers to talk to senior members and staff about the changes they perceive the Bar has to be ready for. We’ve set up a small strategy group alongside the management team to look into the best way to position chambers for the future and take advantage of our core strengths, and in a practical sense this could mean the following:

(1) Joint ventures with law firms to recognise the skill set both have and that will ring fence areas of work.
(2) Following the recent road show by the Chairman of the Bar, Nick Green QC, we are considering ProcureCo type arrangements.
(3) We will consider operating with other professional services organisations to offer joint expertise.
(4) If all of this means chambers has to use different structures to manage its business and look after existing and future clients in that way, then that is what we will do.

It has helped my strategic thinking that since September last year we have been receiving work from the equivalent of an ABS/ABM. I can understand therefore how this kind of arrangement can work in the future.

Chris Owen, St Philips, was interviewed by Guy Hewetson, LPA Legal