To what do you credit your success?
Establishing, maintaining and enjoying good communications with clients; working hard and methodically to get on top of the case and deliver on time what is really needed; and having been hugely fortunate always in those I have worked with in chambers, whether clerks or members.
What does the future hold for your chambers?
I see the future for Lamb Chambers in adapting and growing to serve the needs of the market for specialist legal advice, litigation and alternative dispute resolution services in all areas of private and commercial life. The market is likely to continue to be accessed through legal and other professionals and directly to the public. It may also involve delivery of legal services through or in conjunction with other business structures. I believe we are well placed to do this from our five main practice groups, complemented by other individual specialisms.
Litigation will always hold the prime position in dispute resolution, particularly in commercial cases. Against this, the state civil justice system now imposes increasingly heavy court fees at almost every stage of litigation for a service of declining quality. This is accompanied by the removal of state funding for litigants in most areas of private and commercial conflict. I think that one consequence is likely to be that alternative dispute resolution (ADR) will gain fresh impetus as a more cost-effective approach. Lamb Chambers is fortunate to have its own ADR suite and experienced members with the professional flexibility to switch between litigation and mediation environments.
Do you think a chambers can survive if it is not run as a modern business?
No. I see a recognition now in many chambers that the fast-changing markets and more closely structured regulatory regimes require a move away from the simple model of clerks and barristers. We share the view that management of a modern set should be no different, in principle, from that of any other well-run business. This is not always easy to achieve, because of the unique structure of independent barristers sharing overheads, which calls for particular management skills and experience, as well as clerks who recognise, welcome and enjoy working in a well-run set.
What is the best professional advice you’ve been given in your career?
To master the facts in thorough detail, prepare fully, and when in court enjoy yourself!
Where do you see the future of the civil Bar?
I believe the civil Bar will survive to continue to lead the provision of specialist legal services, but in new ways. It needs to analyse existing and potential markets for its specialist services. It may even need to consider whether its traditional services remain its only offering. It needs to consider whether and how those services could best be delivered. This will require imaginative and even ingenious approaches, but the Bar is not short of those skills.
What have been some of your most memorable client experiences?
I suppose my first experience as an advocate in a contested case is one I will never forget. I was representing a traveller couple in an appeal against an enforcement notice on their winter pitch on land they had bought that lay next to a west-country airport. On the site visit, I was invited into their wonderfully ornate main trailer, where the full appeal of their life was apparent; hop and fruit-picking in Kent in the summer, with the winters lorry driving, among other less particularised occupations. At the hearing in the village hall, a large contingent of local people gave evidence, for and against the travellers’ case, with accounts of gypsy curses from some of the opposition. The council was determined to see the travellers off. Although the decision went against my clients, for many years thereafter I would deliberately drive past when in the area, and was gratified to see the trailers still in place. A manifestation, perhaps, of the jurisprudence that possession is nine-tenths of the law.
What would your advice be to those starting their career at the Bar?
New recruits to the Bar who succeed in obtaining a good pupillage and overcome the further difficulty of getting a tenancy can usually look back with justification to an education of high achievement. The substantial pupillage awards offered can seem a minimum base for an immediate sharp rise in earnings as a tenant. The reality is often different. The need is to plan for a long haul of perhaps three to five years. Only after that is it likely that there will be a substantial return on the years of investment in that academic and professional training. This can be a shock to those not prepared for it, not helped by inevitable comparison with peers in employment in the other branch of the profession, enjoying high salaries and a degree of stability. They engage with a workload presented to them. A barrister’s practice is not served up in that way. It has to be earned by building a good professional reputation, only achieved by sustained hard work. The successful are those determined to stick to it and who recognise and value the characteristics of independent practice at the Bar as a member of a set of chambers, with its responsibilities and opportunities and varied and intellectually stimulating work.
How do you like to spend your time away from chambers?
I love walking in London and wherever else I get the chance; cycling; and skiing. Nothing better than the combination of fresh air, exercise, superb scenery, good food, all in the company of good friends. Above all, I am fortunate to have a family, whose support has been invaluable throughout my career.
Mark West was interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Mathew Kesbey of Hewetson Shah LLP