What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?
There are three that spring to mind. Firstly, being engaged by a top tier international law firm to act as a linkman between the Polish client and the firm in one of the largest, high profile pieces of litigation in the UK. Secondly, becoming a non-executive director of a music company that listed on the London Stock Exchange this year. Finally, being instructed by a solicitor to advise on a Trust’s charitable status. I managed to persuade the charity commissioners on the validity of an educational Trust which resulted in over £500k being made available to educate Polish students in UK universities. That was perhaps the most satisfying thing I have done.
What do you credit your success to?
I attribute my success to following my intuition. Of course there have been opportunities to change my professional allegiance, but deep down I knew that it was not for me. I have never pursued a path that I felt was wrong for me. Sometimes one has to take a “leap of faith”. Having good relationships with people and being able to count on their support makes the decision easier.
You are part of a new wave of chambers looking to consolidate the diversification of their practice. What are the trends you are noticing?
Thomas Bingham Chambers is an expanding progressive common law set which has brought together under one roof the combined civil, criminal and regulatory expertise of 33 Bedford Row and Old Bailey Chambers. We are acutely aware that size does matter and this is certainly a trend at the Bar, which we intend to follow but not through sacrificing quality for quantity. All chambers need specialists and diversification to accommodate the needs of an ever growing yet discerning client base. There is a market appetite for individuals who practise on a direct public access basis and who are also able, on occasions, to service foreign clients. We believe these are key growth areas for the Bar.
You are one of a few Polishspeaking barristers at the Bar. How have you managed to turn that to your advantage?
My Polish background has certainly contributed to my understanding of European matters. When in pupillage in 1989 I was advised by a senior judge to “Look east young man”. I did just that and completed two stints in Poland working for nearly 10 years on major infrastructure and privatisation projects. It was an amazing experience especially for a junior lawyer. Poland’s accession to the EU has further shown that I made the correct decision at that time. More surprisingly, Polish individuals and businesses have become a significant feature of the UK economy and I have found myself servicing both Polish and English clients based either here or in Poland.
You’ve experienced a variety of different management styles in the chambers you’ve worked in. How important is it for chambers to have a commercial and select management committee?
I began my career in a small civil set just outside the Temple. It was run in a very specific way, which catered well for the number and profiles of people involved. Thomas Bingham Chambers is a much larger set with a variety of practitioners and personalities.The management committee is small and effective and has enabled growth from 20 to 47 this year on the back of a merger. A commercially minded management committee is an integral part of our chambers governance. With an increasing number of barristers it could be difficult sometimes to reach a swift consensus on strategic issues. Our committee achieves this purpose. It also underpins the sound financial management of chambers. We focus on growth in terms of professional expertise and financial stability.
Outside of the Bar you are involved in the music industry. Do both roles complement each other?
I am a non-executive director of a music company based at Pinewood Studios. In April we listed on the AIM market. The music industry is a very commercial and competitive environment in which to work. My role and exposure to the issues presented in business and the regulatory safeguards in place helps me to understand not just what commercial clients expect but how to help chambers move forward as a business. We are often reminded that barristers should be more commercially minded. I feel that I am following that advice.
Why did you become a barrister?
I became a barrister because I wanted independence. I also thought that as a barrister I could make a difference to the lives of individuals in need. Having worked in the profession for over 20 years, I still find that aspect of the job hugely rewarding.
What do you do to relax?
I am a firm believer that we need to take mental breaks to remind ourselves how to enjoy life. As a family we travel a lot to the USA and every trip throws up new experiences. I am still amazed by the diversity of the landscapes and the people. We also ski although I am forever left behind by my children. To keep fit I swim almost every day. To keep fit mentally I play cards.
Roman Poplawski was interviewed by Guy Hewetson of Hewetson Shah