You have been a joint head of chambers in two stints for more than a decade. To what do you credit your success?
Recognition that a set of chambers is a simple concept straightforwardly operated; it is a shared base for individuals to pursue independent careers. Chambers should not try to do more; as soon as you do, you are not truly providing for independent practitioners but imposing costs on them. Further, chambers should provide teams across practice areas to help clients and give strength in depth. Chambers should always balance its books; it should never have to force loans, lump sum payments or bank guarantees from members.
Your chambers has substantially increased its membership over the last 12 months; at the same time it has rebranded its website. What does the future hold for your chambers?
A future consistent with the future of the independent Bar. If, as I hope, there is always going to be a need for independent barristers, speaking for others and advising others, there is always going to be a place for a set of barristers that enables its members to perform their role, especially when it is recognised that the role should be viewed as international rather than parochial. Over the past 12 months we have greatly expanded our international reach without incurring costs other than costs for our base. Arbitration does not recognise artificial boundaries, the world of commerce trades across boundaries and institutions elsewhere recognise that barristers, whether or not their home jurisdiction is England and Wales, can have value. Thus, today we have two members in Paris, next month a member goes to Dallas, last year I and two other members, Sappho Dias and Lee Parkhill, were working either for or in Trinidad and Tobago. Members have an international outlook – for example Martin Heydon SC is a senior Silk at the Dublin Bar. The breadth of his work calls for a London base and he is now a member of the English Bar as well. We have multiple connections recorded on our modernized website. We have extended our ability to arbitrate and appear in arbitrations: if I just take the first letter of the alphabet, this is a worldwide exercise covering Australia as well as Africa, Austria and Antigua. The new website has been designed with its users in mind whether they are local or distant. One other future aspect can be mentioned. It is important not to be hidebound about recruitment. There is a considerable talent in those who have had careers with law firms but who wish to practise independently at the Bar. Thus, Stephen Brown, a senior partner in Jones Day, joined us to practise independently. He brings with him a huge understanding of international dispute resolution and arbitrations. The Bar of the future has to recognise the breadth of activity undertaken; recognising that and allowing independent practitioners with a breadth of outlook to flourish will mean that chambers will flourish.
You have acted in all the major election cases in the last 20 years, been named environmental/planning Silk of the year, and have acted for many years for a number of local authorities: a wide breadth of work. How have you seen the nature of your work develop?
The breadth of work increases rather than diminishes. One should not be surprised at a case or an area of work leading to another. It is very important to be conscious that all cases can, and generally should be, traced back to first principles; in doing so there will always be an advantage in what one can bring from other areas of work. A case I did recently about a vote at Lord’s involved election law, human rights law, contract law and the law of meetings. Ultimately, the judge found that an average MCC member, given his inclination to wear a multi-coloured blazer, was unlikely to be overborne by any form of advice as to how he should vote.
What is the best professional advice you’ve been given?
Two things, both from Tony Scrivener QC. It was not possible to do a case with Tony without learning a great deal. First of all, when a fellow barrister comes and asks about something put your pencil down and listen. Thus, don’t be offputting, be collegiate. That is very much a feature at 4-5. Secondly, I remember his telling a client that he was being paid not for what he said but for what he didn’t say. Put another way, brevity has more persuasiveness than long-windedness.
What are the challenges and opportunities for the Public Law Bar?
The challenges are the same as the opportunities. One must recognise what people are prepared to argue about in the context of public law. One should not bank on individual cases having only limited consequences but rather those matters having broader effects. Further, one should recognise that regulation of the commercial world is important.
How do you relax?
I try and play rackets. I say try because it is thought to be the fastest ball game in the world. It is played with a hard ball in an enclosed space so you have to have your wits about you. It certainly means it is not possible to play and simultaneously think about the law, so it is perfect relaxation.
Timothy Straker QC was interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Mathew Kesbey of Hewetson Shah LLP