You are joint head of newly formed Drystone Chambers and have defended or prosecuted most of the high profile and high value matters to arise on Circuit in recent years. To what do you credit your success?
Prior to the recent merger, I spent my entire career in one set of Chambers, namely One Paper Buildings, providing long-term professional relationships with colleagues in Chambers and instructing solicitors. I have worked alongside a huge array of talent across the Circuits and have seen cases prepared and presented by the most junior to the most senior members of the profession. Knowing that there is always room for improvement has driven me to want to do the best that I can and to be part of a Chambers that is a leader in its fields.
When younger, my sons described me as “The Lone Ranger”. Perhaps I’ve been able to channel my energy into the pursuit of success without realising how isolating it can be. Being content working alone and without needing the support of a “team” has been part of my professional DNA, standing me in good stead when the pressures of bigger or higher profile cases have come my way.
What lessons could other sets learn from the merger of One Paper Buildings and Dyers Chambers (Drystone Chambers)?
I can say how we approached the process, leaving others to make their own judgments about lessons to be learned – but if I was to offer a single piece of advice it would be to focus on trust. I met Andrew Campbell Tiech QC in the autumn of 2014 – we trusted one another immediately and quickly realised that we held a shared vision of the Chambers that we wished to run; one that could incorporate and build upon our respective strengths whilst seeking to break into new areas of work, all the while maintaining the collegiate atmosphere of its members. The importance of this mix of modern and traditional values is often overlooked or undervalued. We made full disclosure to one another (whilst preserving the confidential nature of the information) and ensured that all members of both sets, both tenants and staff alike, were fully informed about what was happening.
What were the challenges of the merger?
Many members considered that we should be looking to merge with a set that was already a “competitor” thus strengthening our position in the market place; Andrew and I took the opposite view: it was the lack of overlap that appealed, providing both sets with opportunities to build upon the successes of the other. Our merger has combined complimentary disciplines and geographical coverage to enhance the potential for expansion of individuals’ practices and Chambers as a whole.
How much of your Chambers’ work is international and/or direct work from corporate businesses?
We receive regular instructions from businesses within the UK and abroad. This has been mirrored by the development of secondments and the provision of visiting lectures in the UK and within the jurisdictions involved, including Europe and the Caribbean. We have a close connection with a Maltese firm of solicitors to cover maritime and financial matters with an international dimension. The breadth of instructions cover such matters as diverse as Health and Safety, Trading Standards, Professional discipline, financial regulation/POCA work and dispute resolution. Some of us are qualified or training to be Arbitrators and Mediators offering to resolve matters without recourse to the courts, thereby saving clients both time and money. Our refurbished premises are ideal to host the necessary meetings.
What is the best advice you have been given in your career?
Be honest and fearless – prepare, then prepare again. High standards of professional ethics are central to all that we do and those who forget it soon find that others don’t trust them. Being fearless is an essential cloak of the best of advocates – not to be confused with being reckless, obstinate or controversial, which qualities are often deployed by the weaker advocates. One can only be fearless if one has “prepared and prepared again” – knowing one’s Brief better than an opponent, or dare one say it, the judge, is at the heart of the ability to be strong in the face of determined opposition.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I seldom mixed “business with pleasure” and I recognise that my own wish to succeed sometimes led me to be overly critical of those who appeared less determined to make their mark. I started my family when relatively young, so long nights working on cases and travelling to often distant courts left me wanting a very separate home life: this undoubtedly caused some colleagues to see me as being unduly focused on my career without having any real insight to the commitment I made to sustaining a happy marriage and contact with friends. The steel fist was visible but the velvet glove was not much in evidence … so to be less critical of others and to allow colleagues to understand more of my private life would be a good place to start.
How do you like to relax?
My wife and two sons are the absolute priority in my life and I have many close friends. We spend as much time together as we can, whether going to the theatre or holidaying. I play golf and I’ve recently joined the MAMILs by taking up road cycling … having been a big fan of Le Tour for many years, I now have an unswerving respect for the men and women who “race clean” and climb mountains in their day job – the determination they bring and the pain they must endure is remarkable. That’s a lesson that the aspiring advocate would do well to contemplate.
Karim Khahil QC was interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Mathew Kesbey of Hewetson Shah LLP