Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Busy Times Ahead...

I went to the Institute of Barristers' Clerks annual conference last Saturday. This is a precursor to my writing project over the summer, which is to complete my new book on barristers' clerks.

Barristers' clerks were my first ever research project, so I've been grateful to them for setting me on the research path. (More references to them here1, here2, here3 & here4).

For me one of the most interesting sessions was a Question and Answer session--The Generation Game: Clerking Past, Present & Future--where a senior clerk, a first junior, and a beginning clerk were interviewed about being a clerk and the changes they had seen.

David Goddard, the senior clerk, and Michelle Doyle and Reiss Nott (members of the IBC Junior Clerks Committee) spoke of how varied the job was , how unusual it was, and what it could offer.

Three things struck me about the conversation. One was that despite all the technological changes that had occurred (mobiles, computers, online diaries), the essence of the job hadn't really changed. The relationship between clerk and barrister is close. How one defines close I leave your imagination. This comment, however, came from the senior clerk and the most junior one.

The second point was the change in interaction between clerks. When I did my research most communication between clerks was either by phone or face to face. Now it's by email. According to all three it is now harder to get junior clerks to talk to each other face to face. They've become so accustomed to electronic communication that they find it hard to talk.

The third was the degree of specialization that has overtaken the Bar and so clerking. As David said, it was easy for a clerk to move from a criminal set of chambers to a civil set when he started, but now it's virtually impossible. Reiss, who is in a civil set, said he wouldn't know where to begin in a criminal chambers.

The first book was a slim volume. I think the second is going to be somewhat thicker.

While the materials are being collated I've decided to convert another piece of work into an article. Avis Whyte and I were asked to research direct access by clients to barristers for the Bar Council. The report is available on SSRN.

Given the Bar is going to be hit by the Clementi changes just as much as anyone else, I think this will be timely.

It's going to be a busy summer. Thank god it's raining right now....


Informed¦Insider said...

It's all about communication across a range media. 25 years ago if you turned up and were good with a computer that marked you out because everyone else was good with face to face communication but no so familiar with new fangled computers. These days everyone is good with a computer but not so good face to face, blame technology. Ask anyone under 25 to get on IM web cam then they don't mind they grew up with it but ask them to make a formal phone call and I find they are not so keen. So if you can face to face it now confidently that will mark you out because that's just as important now (arguably more important) in this industry than it ever was.

Informed¦Insider said...

There has been a re-shaping of clerks' intermediary role which has narrowed opportunities to move sets. Traditionally you were the go-between doing everything, answering the phone, opening the post, agreeing fees, billing fees, collecting fees, marketing, doing PAYE and petty cash, assembling bundles, etc. With that sort of exposure you could move anywhere and take on any function, but as chambers have specialised and got bigger you tend to find clerks only performing once function so that makes it difficult to move from being a fees clerk to a diary clerk., etc, as you understand only one dimension of the business. Add to that moving from one specialism to another then it's not impossible but increasingly unlikely to move sets.

John Flood said...

Thank you, Informed¦Insider. You've clarified these points beautifully.

It was a good day and I was sorry not to see you there.