Gerard Hickie

Name: Gerard Hickie
Position: Chief Executive
Chambers: Littleton Chambers


Congratulations on winning Employment Set of the Year at the 2009 Chambers’ Bar Awards. You have been working hard on raising the profile of other areas of chambers…how has that been going considering that you are particularly known for employment?

We were very pleased to gain recognition in this area of law because it is, as you say, an area where we are pre-eminent. We set an internal objective at the outset of 2009 to develop deeper expertise in categories of law where we are recognised by directories but not generally renowned. The fruits of these efforts were borne out in our recognition in Legal 500 2009 in no fewer than eight categories – where apart from retaining leading set status in employment law and commercial litigation – we were pleased to achieve greater recognition in commercial arbitration and media, entertainment and sport.

In your time at chambers you have helped increase turnover by over 50% in 2 years…what has been a contributory factor to this?

As ever in these things, it is a confluence of factors. We have some of the leading practitioners in employment law and commercial litigation and have recruited some very strong barristers from other sets. We created a new brand identity and new website two years ago and supported this initiative in the first year after launch through targeted PR. We also augmented our administrative and clerking resource. We energised chambers around the single goal of growth; we increased greatly our marketing activity. Members show great flexibility in giving service to clients, and teams of our barristers often travel to client offices outside London to deliver bespoke seminars. I like to think that our efforts create great loyalty amongst our clients.

You were a Managing Director at L’Oreal before joining chambers, how have you found the transition to working at the Bar?

The greatest difference is of course that between a corporate entity, where there are clear lines of authority and hierarchy, and the multi-faceted nature of a barristers’ set, composed as it is of independent and self-employed professionals. In a sense, it is a greater management challenge, one needs well-thought through, compelling arguments to carry the day. In that sense, the Bar is the ultimate “ideas” business. No comparison can be made between the marketing of skincare and professional services but the common determinants for success are the quality of people and the power of imagination. Without good people, no business will succeed. Without imagination, no new ideas or solutions will emerge. At Littleton, I am fortunate to be involved with leading practitioners at the Bar, men and women in the vanguard of their field, who are always breaking new ground in the law.

In Legal 500 2009 your chambers “boasts ‘a brilliant set of clerks’” and in Chambers & Partners 2009 your clerks are commended for “giving a most responsive, flexible and helpful service”. What do you think is the basis for these comments?

Our clerks have been recognised for some time as outstanding for client service. Our clerks embody what we believe sets Littleton apart; they roll their sleeves up, are pragmatic and practical. We emphasise the concept of “teamwork”. Everything we do relates to building our brand and ensuring that all client contact with “Littleton Chambers” is positive. We want the client to come back.

How is chambers positioned for the challenges affecting the Bar such as legal services reform?

I believe we are well positioned. While there is certainty regarding the advent of LDP and ABS, there is a high degree of uncertainty as to how in practice these new entities will deliver legal services. Markets react differently to enforced change. They can fragment into premium or volume offerings. The middle ground is no man’s land. In the context of the Bar, this could mean the development of “supersets” of barristers where groupings of 100 to 200 practitioners seek to offer a “one-stop shop” to the market. Supersets would have greater economies of scale thus permitting the barristers concerned to supply their services at lower cost without sacrificing margin. On the other hand, a second response would be a drive towards specialisation, a development of niche expertise which will always command a premium. In my view, our reputation places us in this latter category.

What is the main change you have seen at the Bar from when you first entered in 2007?

I guess the main change I observe emanates from the more challenging economic times we are now experiencing. After years of economic growth, we are now entering leaner times and Conditional Fee Agreements (“CFA”) seem to be rising in popularity. The legal press have highlighted this also in recent weeks and months. This implies that from a point two to three years ago, where CFA were considered unattractive, we are entering an era when their applicability may become more widespread. Barristers, and by implication, sets, may need to fine-tune their risk assessment skills in response to this, much as corporate businesses have to assess risk on a daily and weekly basis.

Gerard Hickie was interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Anil Shah, LPA Legal

 

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