You can't manage with a glorified clerk

Directors and chief executives are good for chambers' business. Sharon Wallach sees a trend waiting to happen

The chairman of the Bar must be pleased to hear that a Gray's Inn set of chambers agrees with his view that the first step to successful business practice is good management. Explaining his proposals for reform earlier this year, Peter Goldsmith Q C saidthat sound management standards in chambers "will help to get work, to keep work and to give chambers a real competitive edge".

The commercial set at 3/4 South Square is following that path with its announcement that a senior litigation lawyer from Clifford Chance is to join the chambers as chief executive. David Hatchard will take up his post on 20 March.

Employing a chief executive or director of chambers is seen by some as a trend waiting in the wings, although so far only a handful of chambers have ventured down that path. When they have, it has often been when a senior clerk's role has evolved and expanded. Christopher Brougham QC, the head of the South Square chambers' executive committee, explains how his set has dealt with progress.

"Six or so years ago the only person who dealt with administration was the senior clerk," Mr Brougham says. The problems were twofold: the clerk was not trained in administration, and because he did all the traditional clerk's work as well, he did not have the time to do everything. At the same time, the chambers were moving, lock, stock and barrel, from the Temple to Gray's Inn. "It was a good moment in history to look at the way chambers were administered," Mr Brougham says.

They took what was at the time a radical step for barristers, and employed an administrator who had no history in the law to deal with all financial aspects of chambers.

The difficulty, Mr Brougham says, lay in overcoming resistance to traditional arrangements. "She cleared up the precise problem of overdue fees, she set up a database. But she was a pioneer with a difficult task. It was hard for her to slot in hierarchically in chambers, and herauthority was not taken as seriously as it could have been."

That problem was overcome, and with a system in place, the financial work of chambers was undertaken by a new administrator. Then the time had come to realise a long-desired goal.

The chambers wanted a chief executive with "overall internal command of the engine room" who would be answerable to the executive committee, of which he would be a full member.

"There is also an external function, which we call loosely the marketing of chambers," Mr Brougham says. "This means trying to understand what kind of service our clients really want from the Bar, and how to deliver it. David Hatchard can communicate with other solicitors to ascertain what chambers can offer them. It is the way the Bar as a whole ought to be going."

Aside from offering advice when needed, the post of chief executive is no longer a clerking job. Following Tony Allen's retirement after more than 40 years, the chambers is appointing two senior clerks, both young but highly experienced men, who will fulfil the traditional clerking role. Mr Hatchard's switch of career is double-edged; from solicitors' branch of the profession to Bar and from practising lawyer to manager. "Challenge sums up the reasons for my move," he says. "I have known chambers for a long time, I've seen the leaders coming through and have instructed a good number from chambers over the years, I have an overview of chambers that impressed me."

He is not a stranger to management. At Clifford Chance, he was involved in training and was a director of the pension fund company.

In marketing, however, he has less experience, although he believes that his vast acquaintance of solicitors and other professionals will fill any gaps. The chambers agreed, and opted for this experience rather than a marketing professional with no knowledge of law and lawyers.

Mr Hatchard sees his job, which will include media relations, as keeping all time-consuming matters away from the barristers. He will supervise training, particularly for the younger members of chambers. "I will go to court, see how the youngsters are performing," he says. Mr Brougham believes that Peter Goldsmith's initiative on chambers management training is a good idea. "When I first joined chambers, the barristers were all very much individuals," he says. "When we decided to move five years ago, wehad to consider corporate spirit for the first time."

The tenants made what he calls "a pact of loyalty", agreeing that they would all remain in chambers for at least five years. The next step was to expand, in terms of both numbers and expertise; next came the acquisition of further premises and the modernisation of equipment.

They also believe in investing for the future by paying pupils a living wage. "We have a budget for four pupils a year at £20,000 each," Mr Brougham says. "So we get a very high level of applicant. If the Bar wants to attract the best people, it has to pay."

David Hatchard believes in a strong future for the Bar. "It may change but it will always be needed," he says. "Not all solicitors are wedded to the idea of solicitor advocates, so I believe that barristers and solicitors will still live happily together."

For his own new chambers, he says: "My aims are that the set maintains professionals and competitiveness, is well organised and responsive to the needs of solicitors and clients, and becomes as well known for all of its commercial law work as it is already for company, insolvency and financial work."

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