You are a senior clerk at one of the country’s leading commercial sets of chambers. What do you credit your success to?
I work with barristers all of whom practise to rigorous professional standards and it is vital that I gain their confidence and trust. It is also vital that I can speak and deal with solicitors and clients in ways that both promote business partnership and provide a courteous, professional and effective service. I think I perform this dual role to everyone’s satisfaction. Of course, being lucky enough to have high quality barristers in large enough numbers, both in the past and now, makes achieving success much easier, as does being part of a team of long-serving, able colleagues.
What do you see as key growth areas for the Commercial Bar?
The two areas where I see growth for the Commercial Bar are in disputes arising out of international business and (almost certainly) in direct instructions. The Bar is very much set up for giving a client an initial independent opinion as to where they stand, and at a financially
competitive cost. We could see a modification of the referral model, with barristers recommending solicitors to clients on particular cases rather than the other way round. The Commercial Bar provides an excellent service for a wide range of commercial disputes, the
majority of which have an international element to them. As transactions become more inter-connected, the Commercial Bar should be able to adapt to handle them, in particular more complex financial and insurance products. The boundaries between traditional practice areas are becoming blurred, requiring individual barristers to manage multiple practice areas. The increasing number of shipbuilding disputes has required barristers to enhance their skills in
both shipping and construction law; banking and insurance are becoming intertwined with different reinsurance models being implemented. The growth in international energy transactions offers further opportunities. The Commercial Bar has been successful in providing services to an international clientele; the number of countries and range of industries globally continues to widen. Finally, there is the expansion of international arbitration services in other jurisdictions. While London arbitration remains a focal centre for international arbitration, other arbitration centres are emerging and the Commercial Bar has shown that it is a resource available to their users.
How often do you travel abroad, and is it important for a clerk to do so?
The answer is probably not as much as we should. Bearing in mind the core practice areas of the Commercial Bar and the areas for potential growth, it is becoming increasingly important for both barristers and clerks to travel to create and enhance professional relationships. Of course clerks should travel. They are able to talk about aspects of chambers that barristers are not able to talk about in the same way, such as fee structures, identifying strengths within chambers, and putting together counsel teams. Relationships must be built between the provider of instructions and the initial contact in a chambers so that trust is gained and then maintained.
If the Government continues to dismantle our judicial system and thus its global reputation through cuts to legal aid, what will the impact be on the Commercial Bar?
I am not sure that I agree that the cuts to legal aid will have an impact on the work carried out by the Commercial Bar, certainly not initially. The Commercial Bar must however continue to monitor such changes, including the new Jackson costs regime, with a view to ensuring that
the services provided remain financially competitive and meet the needs and expectations of its sophisticated users. A Russian business man entering into business with another Russian business man, carrying out business in Russia, will continue to agree to an exclusive jurisdiction clause naming the English Courts as long as the quality of the Commercial Judges remains at its current level. The massive contribution to GDP gained out of litigation involving foreign litigants will surely make any government think twice before jeopardising it.
What are the most challenging aspects in your role as senior clerk?
Managing people has always been an import and challenging role. You have to have empathy for both your paymasters, the individual barrister and the ultimate client. It is important to resolve issues that can arise during complex, high value, fast moving cases. It is sometimes necessary to absorb and help shoulder the frustrations when tempers flare. It is important to acknowledge when something has gone wrong and be able to fix the problem. On more mundane matters the new requirement of commercial terms which have to be negotiated for every instruction and understanding and complying with the new BSB Handbook are providing a short-term and logistical challenge for the Commercial Bar.
What advice would you give to a junior clerk reading this?
It is a great profession, but future success very much depends on yet higher degrees of professionalism and adaptation to new ways of carrying on business.
How do you relax?
Golf and shooting – both to a moderate standard.
Greg Leyden was interviewed by Guy Hewetson of Hewetson Shah