Your 20th anniversary is coming up at 2 Temple Gardens, how have you seen chambers develop in that time?
The way we go about gaining and retaining business is almost unrecognisable from when I started 20 years ago, and I’m sure many sets would tell a similar story. We had nothing as forward thinking as even a brochure and marketing was seen as picking up the telephone when it rang. Despite that, we have always been a forward thinking set; we were one of the first sets, in the late ’90s, to hire a chambers director who was in situ for five years; the business model that was put in place, revolving around dedicated, specialist practice groups, is still in place today. This has helped us focus our marketing efforts and importantly client perception of us being a set which covers a number of specialist areas rather than a set of generalists. We have a very active and successful seminar programme; we have run 50 seminars in the last year for clients in and out of London. I think it’s difficult to cold call prospective clients and tout for business; it’s much easier (and acceptable) to get them along to a seminar and then it’s no longer a cold call when we follow them up afterwards; it’s then down to us to entice them. Another change is how we recruit. There is a lot more lateral recruitment going on at the Bar now. We’ve had some very successful lateral hires and have also made a very conscious decision to recruit the very highest quality pupils. This puts us up against the magic circle sets as far as attracting pupils is concerned, but we see this as the most important investment that we make.
Your chambers is praised for “excellent clerking” in Chambers & Partners 2010. You are one of the younger Senior Clerks at the Bar and have quite a young team, what do you think it means to be a “modern” clerk?
It’s always very flattering to receive recognition as it gives you confidence that at least some of what you are doing is making the right impact. My three immediate juniors have all been with me for over nine years, so we have a lot of collective experience of the needs of the members and, more importantly, our clients. “Modern” clerk is a phrase I hear banded around regularly, which implies that those of a certain vintage are no longer relevant; this is nonsense. One of the strengths of a successful clerk is the ability to adapt as the role has changed enormously over the years. The good ones, as in any business environment, have thrived. In my mind it is no longer acceptable for clerks to be simply reactive. They have to be self-starters and be proactive in ideas of strategy, business planning and marketing. In terms of qualities needed, a word I use a lot is credibility. Credibility with members of chambers (confidence he/she will represent them with their clients) and also credibility with partners in major law firms.
You’ve taken on a Deputy Senior Clerk, what was the strategy behind that?
This is a new position we’ve created. We’ve just had our best ever 12 months in terms of income and had two new QCs appointed in the Spring, so we are recruiting from a position of strength. Most marketing activity falls to me and my 1st Junior, Sam McQuade, and we are keen to up the ante across all of our practice areas. Having another very experienced and highly respected member of the team will help increase activity without compromising other core clerking functions. My head of chambers and board would have me out with clients for three lunches a day if they could have their way – I really should ask for gym membership! I’m obviously delighted that Perry Allen joins us from mid-September and the team are thoroughly looking forward to working with him.
What impact do you see the legal service reforms having on your set?
I suspect for a set like ours ABS structures will not initially be relevant and it will be more a case of steady as she goes. I have, however, looked in depth at ProcureCos and SupplyCos and do see that some sets, and possibly ours in the future, may be able to use this, for the right client, as an add-on business tool. However we are not at present at that stage. One area that we have been looking at very seriously is public access. We will have by the end of September half of chambers trained in accepting instructions from the public (it has always amused me that it’s felt necessary for members of the Bar to be trained before they’re allowed to deal with the public!). We have already had a number of public access instructions in employment and I think, in particular, this area of work will benefit as it is a growth area generally (there was a 57 per cent increase in claims made last year), and because of cost implications I see it as very attractive for clients to instruct the Bar directly.
Where would you like to see your chambers in the future and what one area do you see as having growth potential?
I would like to see chambers maintain our position as leaders in the field in our principle areas of practice and develop areas of potential growth. I see the need to have the critical mass in each specialist area. One area of huge potential is travel law and cases with an international element where we can use our expertise of EU law and private international law – we have already seen growth in cases involving jurisdiction and choice of law disputes and are fortunate to have been involved in a number of the leading cases.
Lee Tyler was interviewed by Guy Hewetson, LPA Legal