Raising the bar

‘Innovation and global opportunity’ – this year’s Bar Conference theme – should prompt barristers in every field to reassess the way they work, explains Gerard McDermott QC

When asked by the Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, to chair this year’s Bar and Young Bar Conference I enquired whether I could make at least part of it international in flavour. 

The intention was not just to focus on those areas traditionally seen as ‘international’, but rather to emphasise the opportunities internationally in many fields and give some insight into how common problems are addressed in other jurisdictions.

Working with the Young Barristers Committee, particularly the Chair and Vice Chair, Louisa Nye and Duncan McCombe, we hope that with the specialist Bar associations (SBAs), Circuits and others we have put together a programme that not only seeks to update practitioners in their traditional areas, but on different ways of working, marketing and developing a career at the Bar. Sir Ernest Ryder, Senior President of Tribunals, and Steven Thiru, President of the Malaysian Bar, will give keynote speeches.

Litigation, trial prep and evidence: lessons from USA

From my early days in practice as a common lawyer in Manchester, I have always taken an interest in international opportunities – particularly in the US. Watching how professionals overseas deal with litigation, I am struck that the issues are generally very similar but the approach to them may be different. We have therefore worked with the Commercial Bar Association (COMBAR) and the Personal Injuries Bar Association (PIBA) to develop programmes with the American Bar Association. COMBAR will present a programme with commercial litigators exploring, on a comparative basis, our differing approaches to commercial litigation including the management of class actions and trial preparation. PIBA will look at what we can learn from US trial lawyers – particularly the use of demonstrative evidence (animations, reconstructions and graphic aids) at trial. While many of the tools have been developed for use in jury trials, come along and see how we might use them to explain complex processes more effectively to trial judges – in every field of practice, not just personal injury.

New structures: opportunities and risks

But this is not a conference aimed just at international opportunities. The way the Bar works is changing and the opportunities for different styles of practice have been enlarged. They are not for everyone and for many, perhaps most, the traditional chambers model remains attractive. The Bar Standards Board will explain more about the opportunities offered by the use of entities and alternative business structures in the delivery of services to clients.

Young Bar forum

The young Bar will have a dedicated open forum, with the opportunity to ask leading practitioners and others about the future direction of the profession and other key issues affecting the more junior practitioners as a whole and we have worked to try and make the conference relevant for every barrister whatever the stage of their career. There are also a large number of sessions with a particular focus on the young Bar.

Diverse programme: from Brexit, FGM to wellbeing

Naturally we have a plenary session dedicated to Brexit and the issues raised for the Bar and its clients (see p 34 this issue). The Bar Human Rights Committee will remind us of the important issues surrounding female genital mutilation (FGM) and the work that they and others have been doing in this area. As many of us try and juggle the work-life balance you will see that we have a dedicated programme on the importance of wellbeing at the Bar.

We hope we have put together a diverse and interesting day across most fields of practice. It will not only provide opportunities for CPD in the traditional sense, but also provide an opportunity for every barrister in every field to look at the way they work and see some suggestions for developing their practice or the way in which they approach their jobs.

We look forward to welcoming you on 15 October.

Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference: Saturday 15 October, London

Contributor Gerard McDermott QC is Chairman of the Bar and Young Bar Conference 2016

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Gerard McDermott QC

Gerard is Chairman of the Bar & Young Bar Conference 2016. His main areas of practice are personal injury and employment law, although he maintains a diverse practice across the common law and commercial fields.