Silk, Littleton Chambers
Littleton’s 52 barristers specialise in employment law and commercial litigation with additional expertise in commercial fraud, banking litigation, disciplinary and regulatory law, professional negligence, sports law and mediation.
What do you credit your success to?
Undoubtedly it would be having an extremely supportive family, a husband who understands the demands and pressures of the Bar and hard work. I have found that working with and against other barristers has been invaluable in understanding what works well and what perhaps doesn’t.
I suppose, as well, that I am of a generation of practitioners for whom business is not a dirty word and have been able to adjust and enhance my commercial approach throughout my career whilst practising in what has always been – and should remain – a profession, with all the values which that carries with it. This has strengthened my client relationships and assisted the development of my practice.
What is the worst piece of advice you have received as a barrister?
Don’t come to the Bar! I was called in 1992 and was told then that the Bar had no future. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now. Like all things, the Bar changes and practitioners need to adapt to meet new challenges and environments. I believe that there remains a future for independent specialist advocates in specialist areas of practice.
How have you found the transition into Silk and what ambitions do you now have?
As a senior junior I was involved in specialist work and was often against silks, so there was a natural progression. I also took a commercial approach to fees so that clients understood that a couple of initials after my name would not equate with a sudden gear change in my charge out rate. I have been fortunate in having loyal solicitors and clients and supportive colleagues and clerks. As to my ambitions now, I want to continue developing my practice at the Bar and who knows after that? Finding time to do more sailing and travelling would be nice!
What have been the best moments in your professional life?
On a personal level, call to the Bar (1992)and taking Silk (2010). Professionally, nothing beats the satisfaction of a successful cross-examination in a difficult or sensitive case or the feeling that you’ve made a difference to the outcome of a case which could have gone either way but in which your client succeeded.
What fascinates me about my fields of practice is the number of people I meet of all backgrounds and the ability to parachute into areas of business into which I would never otherwise have gained an insight. In the last few weeks alone, I have dealt with cases involving gross misconduct by a senior employee working in military defence systems, an application for judicial review of disciplinary proceedings within an NHS trust (following allegations that a nurse had been involved in a conspiracy to import drugs and weapons), senior teachers seeking to lift a suspension by injunction, sex discrimination allegations against a City banking group, age
discrimination by a university against a senior academic and alleged negligence by a barrister in the conduct of employment tribunal proceedings. The variety of that diet and the burgeoning domestic and European case law means that my work is always interesting and stimulating. That is a very fortunate position to be in.
Who were your most memorable clients (and why did they make such an impression)?
One of my most memorable clients was a farmer who was applying to succeed to the tenancy of a farm on the death of his father, in the face of opposition from the landlord. I was three years’ call and this was my first (and only) sortie into the Agricultural Lands Tribunal. My client and his wife were real characters and the failure of the application would have deprived them of their home and livelihood. I arrived on the first morning of the hearing to discover that my opponent was the author of the leading practitioner text. We were ultimately successful and I have received a birthday card from my client every year since then.
Another memorable individual is a gentleman who has worked in NHS payroll departments for over 35 years. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the NHS and its systems, dating back to the foundation of the NHS, and boundless enthusiasm for equal pay law! In ongoing mass equal pay litigation in which I have been involved for the last 11 years, he has been an invaluable resource and a fund of fascinating stories.
Guy Hewetson of Hewetson Shah interviewed Naomi Ellenbogen QC