How is your chambers faring in this tough economic climate?

Clients are going through a difficult period. It is a time of reassessment of the value of Legal Services and ThirtyNine is considering its strategic position in relation to the market overall.

We are currently faring well. We have a diverse spread of work through our main areas: the Public Law group continues to face a constant demand from Central and Local Government and the Private Sector. The Costs team provide a range of assistance on funding issues, solicitors’ costs and issues relating to the overall cost of litigation. The Regulatory and Disciplinary group is facing a growing level of instructions relating to the regulation of professions and professional conduct. In the Environmental area the work is broadening and growing as the environment becomes a crucial issue for society as a whole. The Commercial group is performing very well in a very active market. 

The Common Law group’s work continues to increase especially personal injury and clinical negligence. In support of our domestic practice we will shortly be opening a regional chambers in Manchester.

Your international strategy has been in place for a while. What key foreign markets are you targeting?

The international practice of chambers is developing very well. Particular markets that we have targeted include Asia, Caribbean, South Africa, Middle East and the US. We have been building our profile and have established a bedrock of clients in each jurisdiction. We have been particularly proactive in the Middle East and one of our members recently represented a major Middle Eastern client in the first substantive construction case to be heard before the new DIFC Court. 

Business development opportunities are encouraged with overseas trips by members and senior management. The building of relationships with overseas clients is of primary importance and in support of that chambers will be opening an office in Dubai during 2009. 

What areas are you noticing an upturn in work?

We are pleased that all of our core areas are noticing an upturn in instructions. Particular growth has been in: Public Law, Insurance, Construction, Regulatory and Professional Discipline and Costs.

What is the new structure of your clerks’ room?

Our vision was to create a strategic concept which treated chambers as a business. Michael Meeson, as Chambers Director, was to principally take the responsibility for managing chambers but additionally to ensure chambers flourished financially and was marketed effectively. We have made some crucial decisions over recent years. David Barnes was appointed as the first Director of Clerking for Chambers in 2006. His role was to lead the business development and to develop the practices of the individual members of chambers. Additionally, the role was to lead the clerks’ room and to make it the most effective at the Bar. After 23 years at Atkin Chambers, he saw a modern progressive set making big strides in the market place and recognised the opportunity of developing it yet further. His role is less involved with day to day clerking traditionally associated with the Senior Clerk. At least half his time is devoted to client relationship management and ensuring that the barristers are delivering the highest levels of service. The Director of Chambers and the Director of Clerking operate as a team leading marketing and business development. Each practice area has its own Practice Head overseen by the Senior Clerk. 

Direct Access Work – are you increasing your focus in this?

In-house lawyers are increasingly being driven by in-house clients to make the most effective use of their external legal providers. Consistency of service and cost management are to name but two areas of concern for many. The market has therefore seen an increase in clients panelling solicitors and barristers. We will continue to build on established arrangements where we believe we can add value. 
We focus on providing a high level of service as we see this as key. Instilling trust, managing relationships and adding value means a client is unlikely to move elsewhere. The in-house client wants to know the capabilities of chambers, the approach to service management and basis for charging. Transparency is paramount to the long term stability of the relationship. We believe that we offer that transparency to all those that instruct chambers.

Legal Services Reform – what is the position of chambers?

We are looking at the opportunities offered by the new possible structures and have engaged specialist professionals to advise us. Historically, we have worked with firms on joint-tenders for certain types of work, especially where the said firm lacks expertise in a particular area. This will increase as firms reduce the number of chambers they use. ThirtyNine will continue to build on existing client/solicitor relationships and will, where possible, take full advantage of the opportunities available.

Michael Meeson and David Barnes were interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Anil Shah, LPA Legal