You specialise in high value civil litigation work but you are also head of the commercial team at 9 Gough Square, an area your chambers is not historically known for. What has been driving this diversification?
In reality, 9 Gough Square has always had practitioners who have specialised in commercial work, it’s just that we are better known for our expertise in the personal injury and clinical negligence fields, hence our commercial work has not received the recognition it deserves.
Originally, there was no real conscious decision to diversify, rather an organic growth in response to market demand. However, as the team has become more prominent in chambers, our exposure has become greater and our market share has increased. Based in the City of London, we feel ideally placed to push on and become serious players in the national and international market. In addition, we have noticed a large influx of work through our direct access web site, 9 Squared. This allows us to work directly for commercial entities.
How important do you feel it is now for you and other practitioners, in any area of specialism, to actively promote themselves along with input from their administration?
Most of us at the Bar feel somewhat queasy at the thought of self-promotion and rather hope that simply doing our jobs well will be sufficient to keep us busy. It is, however, a feature of the modern Bar that profile is important. In recent times, lay clients have become much more able and willing to question the choice of counsel and unless a practitioners profile stands out, both professionally and online, s/he may find themselves overlooked. Moreover, the advent of direct access has meant that the Bar has had to get more market savvy. Whether you choose to do direct access work or not, its existence means we will all have to actively promote ourselves. In short, I feel it is very important.
With cuts to many areas of civil litigation work, what do you feel the future holds for your practice?
While we will have to wait and see how cost budgeting develops and what further fixed fee regimes may be brought in, I remain confident that solicitors will continue to rely on counsel in high value complex civil claims, whether they be personal injury, clinical negligence or commercial. The Bar remains cost effective and high quality and accordingly I believe our services will continue to be sought out. Further, London continues to be the choice of venue for much international litigation and hence whatever happens domestically, counsel will always be required. In the circumstances, I remain confident for the future.
Given the core areas of your set’s expertise, where do you see the growth opportunities coming from?
While many have sought ever increasing levels of specialisation, we see the advantages of the common law model. As recognised experts in personal injury/ clinical negligence and white collar crime, we see ourselves as ideally placed to grow our health and safety, regulatory and disciplinary teams. Similarly, the experience in commercial work and criminal fraud in chambers gives us opportunities in the civil fraud field. Recent recruitment has been aimed at these growth areas.
How important do you think it is for practitioners to “hunt in packs” when courting clients?
Demonstrating strength in depth is a vital part of gaining new, and maintaining service levels for existing clients. This can be an interesting challenge for a set of chambers where, unlike a law firm engaged as a corporate entity, barristers are instructed on an individual basis. This can create interesting challenges for the clerking team, who have to be aware of individual skill sets, as well as team knowledge, depth, and other commercial considerations. Having the ability to cross-refer work, or get a different view on a matter without going “out-of-house” presents tangible client benefit for common law sets such as 9 Gough Square. For example, a commercial dispute can often require input from, say, property, employment, regulatory, or maybe, in extreme situations, fraud and criminal practitioners, not to mention in-depth industry knowledge. Having all these separate skill sets and experts within your “pack” presents clients with a rounded and balanced opinion, that’s not only capable of withstanding legal scrutiny, but importantly looks at the practical considerations as well.
What has been the best professional advice you’ve been given?
I was lucky enough to have a fantastic pupil master and a brilliant head of chambers when I first started out, who gave me lots of invaluable advice. I was on the Midlands circuit and all the advocacy training was done by James Hunt QC, whose tips I still try and follow. However, perhaps the most memorable advice came from the senior clerk, Michael Goodridge, who told me, on joining 9 Gough Square, to “leave the clerking to me and I will leave the barristering to you”.
What guidance would you give the junior Bar in your areas of specialism?
The Bar is increasingly competitive and recent reforms mean fast track and lower end multi-track work is no longer as lucrative as it once was. This pressure will increase with the threat of fixed fees higher up the multi-track scale. However, there will always be well paid work for able juniors. Find a niche that interests you and make yourself the “go to” person in that field.
Away from the pressures of work, how do you like to unwind?
Spending time with family and friends and sport (increasingly more watching and less doing).
Giles Mooney was interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Mathew Kesbey of Hewetson Shah LLP