Geoffrey Carr

Job title
Senior Clerk
14 Gray’s Inn Square

14 Gray’s Inn Square is predominantly a family law set with a strong reputation for representation in all aspects of family law, dealing with both children and financial proceedings. The set also undertakes work in civil law and administrative law proceedings including education, housing, immigration and mental health.

What are you doing to try to keep your members ahead of the curve with all the public funding cuts being made?

Chambers has had to invest a lot of time and money in devising and implementing a rolling strategy. We have constantly been looking at membership and the needs of Chambers to ensure that our IT and internal systems are up to date and relevant especially given the changing environment we are currently in. These systems were primarily put in place a number of years ago when we were looking at the possible impending changes facing us; the key has been to monitor them constantly and ensure members are not only aware of them but also understand what will happen when and if implemented. We have developed over a number of years now a client-centric business plan which looks at the client’s needs rather than the members. Alongside our business plan I have had to make sure that members fully understand the overall plan and the specific goals set. Practice management discussions have been a key process.

ProcureCos…holy grail or conflicts’ minefield?

ProcureCo is a word dreaded by some and embraced by others. The Bar needs to develop a strategy for competing with solicitors for legally aided work, and it will very soon be swallowed up by solicitor in-house advocates.  ABS’s in the main are relatively straight forward concepts. However, this in no way means they are easily introduced into the current 200 year old business model used by the Bar. Whatever structure you use (and there are a few) it means a fundamental and colossal change to the working practices of chambers and the Bar. This means progress will inevitably be slow and drip fed to the whole of the Bar, which is contrary to what everyone wants. So going back to the question, both. What the whole ProcureCo debate has brought about is a need for chambers to look at themselves and their work streams, to see how they can be not only developed, but also expanded along with new novel areas of work previously not thought about or not bothered with until now. My personal view is that it is the barristers themselves who need to understand the fundamental changes we are facing. I have attended a large number of talks and debates on the subject only to find that Clerks, Practice Managers and Directors are by far the primary audience. I could count on one hand the number of barristers who attended an entire series of lectures given by one software provider specifically on new business models and their ramifications.

Duty of care vs. earning a living…what advice have you given practitioners?

In my 27 years of clerking from Chancery/Commercial to Planning and for the last 11 years Family chambers, all of the barristers I have known show and have shown to me that Duty of Care is their fundamental driver….. with earning a living tightly strapped onto the back of that. More and more I am seeing barristers having to do the job of the solicitor and unfortunately this is not going to change, in fact it is without doubt going to get worse, especially with all the drafting and preliminary work required before the commencement of any case.  For a chambers to function professionally and in a forward thinking way it has to be run well, but now more than ever it will involve active participation of the barrister. Barristers have to leave the earning a living part primarily to the manager to ensure that he/she can concentrate on the case.

How will the future success of the Family Bar be achieved?

It has got to be down to our ability to recruit new advocates and be able to look at the future without rose-tinted spectacles. I can foresee 1 – 3 year only tenancies, junior barristers being employed by chambers and then at the end of their contract either being taken on or not. I can see many chambers actively looking at recruiting experienced lawyers from solicitors’ offices and Local Authorities. Along with these changes must come Quality Assurance for both chambers as a whole and for barristers themselves. These standards need to be much more commercially orientated than the current standards we find in Barmark and QualityMark.

“Access to Justice”… within Family Law, who are the winners here?

One of the major problems facing the average person on the street is without doubt the decline in the number of high street legal aid providers. The firms that do undertake legal aid are becoming concentrated in large urban areas which leaves society with people outside these areas being excluded from access to this service. It can also require the lay client to travel much further afield just to get advice or instruct another firm if there is a conflict issue. What people seem to forget is that legal aid clients are the most vulnerable in society; given the way that our legal system is admired throughout the world, it does seem to me to be a false economy to make it harder for them to access justice. Of course the only winners are the Government, everything is money driven, and behind the statements of good intention lies the damning truth that cuts need to be introduced to deal with the huge deficit. But at what cost in the long run?

Guy Hewetson, LPA Legal,
interviewed Geoffrey Carr