You are one of the few female Heads of Chambers at the Bar and recently elected Chair of the Property Bar Association. To what do you credit your success?
My family, my pupil masters, incredibly supportive members of chambers and clerks throughout my years in practice, and loyal professional clients who were prepared to give me my first instructions and remain my clients now. My father left school at the age of 14 in order to work to support his family and became a very successful businessman. Largely, I think, because he loved people, was generous and always wanted to help. His clients became his friends. My mother won a scholarship and qualified as the first female Asian doctor in East Africa at a time when she was told that women couldn’t be doctors. I grew up surrounded by love and support and witnessed every day the values and hard work that made them both successful in their own fields. My husband is a barrister and it undoubtedly helps that he has an understanding of the pressure and requirements of practice.
My pupil masters Nigel Davis, Guy Newey and Chris Nugee taught me an enormous amount. My first pupil master suggested that I pick up the phone to my instructing solicitors whenever I received a new set of instructions. That was good advice and meant that I started building relationships from the very beginning. I landed on my feet when I joined these chambers: all that mattered was whether one could do the job or not. I was given opportunities and introductions and I have been lucky enough to be able to build very strong relationships with my professional clients.
A great deal of my work still comes from people who instructed me in my first years of practice and many of them have become close friends. In chambers I have been, and am, surrounded by people who are without question fantastic at their jobs, and who are also fun, approachable, supportive and who will rally round when required. My chambers is not trammeled by convention, we are all simply interested in being the best we can.
Your chambers is the only Commercial/Chancery set with three offices in London, Leeds and Newcastle. What commercial advantages does this offer and conversely what challenges does that bring?
We have three long-established offices by strategic design. Long before I joined chambers, others here saw the benefit of having people who are properly based in other important centres outside London.
These are not just post boxes. The initial challenge was that we used to have a rota with people going up to Leeds to man the office for a period of time and only one member of chambers in Newcastle.
We have progressed to having strong teams permanently based in each of the three offices, who are nevertheless an inseparable part of one chambers. Of course we all travel, but we have the advantage that we also always have people on the ground there. Members in all three offices are highly ranked in the directories, nationally and regionally. We are immersed in the Chancery/Commercial markets in all our centres. It is a privilege to be in Leeds and Newcastle.
How much emphasis do you and your members give to promoting your chambers internationally?
This is a work in progress for us. We have identified a number of opportunities and are in the process of developing these. At this stage it would be premature to say too much about them. I am delighted that Andrew Kinnison will be joining us. Andrew practised in Hong Kong for many years and has a strong international practice which will complement our existing strengths in this area.
Congratulations on winning Client Service Set of the Year. What significance does that have for your business?
Client service is our primary focus in everything we do. It is therefore a very welcome recognition of the set as a whole and the efforts that we have all made to try to ensure that collectively we provide the highest level of service. We are not “ivory tower” barristers dispensing advice from on high, we recognise that we are a service industry and actually want to be part of the team. It makes us more effective and makes life more enjoyable.
We are approachable, unstuffy and absolutely focussed on what our clients need and want. We ask them what they want, we listen and we then do it.
What do you feel the future holds for the Chancery/Commercial Bar?
My view is that there will always be a need for truly specialist, independent, trusted advisers and advocates. The way in which we deliver our services may alter and I would anticipate that there may be more special relationships or closer links with particular solicitors, accountants, surveyors and in-house counsel. We are seeing an increase in direct professional access, where the initial advice may be provided on a direct instruction and one then has the opportunity to participate in choosing the right team for the client when the matter becomes litigious.
Within the areas of specialism of your set, what advice would you give to the junior Bar?
Help your professional client, lay client and the court – put yourself in their shoes. If the judge asks you a question, answer it, don’t assume he or she is trying to tell you something or has decided the matter already.
How do you relax?
Bourbon! Good food with friends and family, dancing and Psycle.
Zia Bhaloo QC was interviewed by Mathew Kesbey and Guy Hewetson of Hewetson Shah LLP.