Clerks “must play bigger role in fair work allocation”

Fitzgerald: Everyone needs a chance to be visible

Barristers’ clerks must step up and ensure that both work coming in and marketing efforts by chambers are done with an eye to equality in the way they are distributed, a seminar heard this week.

Senior clerks were on the panel at the event on the fair distribution of work, hosted by Lincoln’s Inn on Wednesday evening.

In answer to a question on implications of barristers finding work based on relationships built up in court and through networking – dubbed ‘self clerking’– they said it was to be welcomed, but acknowledged it could advantage some members at the expense of others.

Catherine Merry, the civil assistant practice manager at Birmingham family law set St Ives Chambers, said it was “wonderful” barristers were building relationships, but added: “The slight pitfall there is that not everyone, particularly in the post-Covid environment, has the opportunity to be present at court making those connections.”

She went on: “People have different obligations in their life, so they may not be available for networking events or speaking engagements or whatever it happens to be… That’s why effective clerking is more important than ever.”

She said if a solicitor told her ‘Miss X really impressed me in court, I’d really like to instruct them in this case’, it would be “great if they were available” but, if not, it was vital to make sure there was “a more detailed conversation about other options”.

Fiona Fitzgerald, chief executive of Lincoln’s Inn commercial set Radcliffe Chambers, who was a law firm partner and was formerly chair of the Association of Women Solicitors, agreed: “It’s important the clerks [are involved] as well, so they can make sure that the compliance side of it is done directly.”

She added that it was also crucial that the allocation of marketing opportunities was done equitably to ensure that everyone had a chance to be visible.

“Sometimes a law firm might ask for a team to go and see them or to have drinks. Making sure that we have a [diverse] cross-section of people who go out is very important. We’ve got to get the whole process right.”

Elaine Banton, a barrister at 7 Bedford Row and co-chair of the Bar Council’s equality, diversity and social mobility committee, said there was a “culture of procuring self-generated work” at the Bar, which tended to favour some more than others and had to be closely monitored.

“I do think we need to be conscious of this and monitor marketing opportunities as well so that we can see who’s getting introductions, who is writing articles, who is speaking to solicitors.

“So it’s not always about going to the pub for a drink after work, because not everyone can do that all the time.”

She added that chambers should recognise how critical mentoring could be, particularly for junior lawyers, and they should proactively encourage it. “We need to be more creative about how we help and assist starters to reach their full potential.”

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