Top tips and guidance for developing your practice: Mark Hatcher reports

Institute of Barristers’ Clerks and Young Barristers’ Committee

  • Moderator Sam Roake, Charter Chambers
  • Speakers Tony Burgess, Deputy Senior Clerk at Brick Court Chambers; Katie Cromwell, Clerk at Essex Court Chambers; Katherine Duncan, Garden Court Chambers; Annabel Thomas, Partner at Mishcon de Reya

This session, jointly organised by the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks and the Young Barristers’ Committee, did just what it said on the tin. For anyone starting out in practice, it was gold dust.

For Katherine Duncan, a family practitioner of three years’ Call, a dose of self-reflection helps. Where are you now, how did you get there and where do you want to go? Go out with your clerk for a glass of wine from time to time informally to address these questions, honestly. Diversify your revenue streams: develop some private work alongside publicly funded and direct access work. It can improve cash flow.

Annabel Thomas, a litigation partner, urged everyone to keep their chambers’ profile up to date. Don’t be shy – come and tell us what you are doing, she implored. Be flexible about the way you work (embrace Skype). Provide detail about time narratives (not just ‘10 hours perusing papers’) and be realistic about your time estimates.

Katie Cromwell, a clerk, focused on public access work. Far from alienating solicitors this can actually help you to develop stronger relationships if you can spot referral opportunities in both directions. Beware of taking a 5.30 call on a Friday afternoon. Invariably it’s a vexatious litigant, she cautioned. For Tony Burgess, a deputy senior clerk, getting to know your clerk is vital. Not necessarily spending every weekend fishing together but investing time in getting to know each other. Establish how your clerk can best give you feedback. Have regular practice reviews, at least annually. Get to know the clerking team as a whole so they can cross-sell you.

What really turns a clerk off about a young barrister? Answers varied: Saying ‘yes’ to everything. Two months into your tenancy, saying what you believe your market value is. Always respond to an inquiry even if only to say you will get back. Don’t disappear into your room; check in with the clerking team.

It may all sound rather basic but there was a lot here that young practitioners can so easily neglect at their cost. Honesty, trust and good communication are at the heart of developing a practice at the Bar. Spending a day in the clerks’ room is a good place from which to start. ●

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Mark Hatcher

Mark Hatcher is Special Adviser to the Chairman of the Bar. After working at the Law Commission and in the House of Lords, he became Head of Global Public Affairs at PwC. He is a Bencher of Middle Temple, as well as being a priest. He is Reader of the Temple.