Friday, September 14, 2007

Writing About Barristers' Clerks

Last month I published an article on barristers' clerks in Counsel Magazine (a magazine for barristers, clerks and more). One clerk I know said, "Now wait for the letters." I was thinking no one will be that interested to write.

Wrong! Let me quote a couple of reactions:

Dear Editor,

I was intrigued by the cover of this month ’s COUNSEL magazine – always essential reading.

Above the headline “The Barrister’s Clerk” there was a picture of an elderly gentleman in stripes a nd black jacket brushing down the suit of a rather suave-looking younger man who appeared to be wearing a cravat.

What I couldn’t ascertain was which of them was meant to be the clerk. Can anyone explain?

Kind regards, Philip Turton, Ropewalk Chambers, Chambers of RF Owen QC

I didn't choose the picture....but he's right, it's ambiguous

Dear Editor,

It is remarkably easy for me to slide into an indignant rant having just endured the extraordinarily ill-informed wafflings in Professor John Flood’s article on barristers’ clerks (“The Fall & Rise of Barristers’ Clerks”, August 2007). While there are snippets of superficial, factual accuracy and some interesting insights based on them, the Professor has chosen to base his essay on folklore and hearsay. In the process he has drastically over-simplified the complex and mutually beneficial working relationship that exists between two groups of dedicated professionals.

The Professor misses the point entirely while arguing his “hierarchy theories”. In support of his argument he quotes an offensive, age-old adage passed down from clerk to clerk and often attributed to many of the infamous clerks of yesteryear. It is not the clerk; it is the clients who set the pace. Clerks who appear to order their principals around are only doing so in the best interests of the clients, and if the clients are happy then it’s usually good for the barrister – and therefore good for the clerk.

The clerk is employed by the barrister, not as some sort of servile quasi-butler/minder, but as an aide, an agent and an adviser. He removes the burden of administration from the barrister so that the lawyer can concentrate on the law. The clerk earns his fee (and however it is paid, Professor Flood has got HM Revenue & Customs’ stance on those earnings completely wrong) for providing this unique service.

Contrary to his contentions, quite a lot has been written about clerks over the years; the Institute of Barristers Clerks hasn’t just introduced training for clerks; it isn’t a struggle for clerks to be heard and understood by committees; in the 1990s it wasn’t a collectively conscious decision by barristers to run their practices more professionally and there had been nothing amateurish hitherto about the organisation of the Bar – to suggest otherwise is offensive
and utterly incorrect.

Yours sincerely, Keith Plowman, Senior Clerk, Ten Old Square

I am really curious to see if Mr Plowman will agree to be interviewed...

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