This year’s conference was held under the banner of “Support and Development in a changing market” and took place at the rather ritzy Kimpton Fitzroy Hotel, on Russell Square.

Opening addresses

Chaired by the ever-younger looking Nicholas Hill, Senior Clerk at 3 New Square, the day got under way with a very positive welcome address, before Lucy Barbet, Joint Senior Clerk, 11 Kings Bench Walk and IBC Chair, added her own welcome and broad update.

IBC Chair

Lucy offered real insight in to the positive and ongoing work undertaken by the IBC and its Committees, from COCO (Clerks in Open Conversation), who provide a voice and platform for the junior ranks to the excellent work by the Crime Committee, in particular Martin Secret (9 Bedford Row) and Mark Essex (6 College Hill) and also the contribution to the Crown Court Users Group, Chaired by panellist McGowan J, which had seen very positive results directly as a result of IBC involvement.

Lucy updated delegates on the IBC’s ever growing and improving education programme, her want to improve equality, diversity and inclusion and also the work being done to provide access to careers in Chambers through the ‘Prospects’ initiative, which works with those in areas close to the City of London but who may never have the opportunity to work there – excellent stuff.

Lucy also raised the idea of ‘equitable briefing’ designed to ensure fair allocation of work to all – something which also featured in other panel sessions and is a clearly a hot topic.

Lucy’s general message was one of positivity and of being “kind” to one another – a ‘chorus of clerks’ responded with warm applause.

Keynote speech

This was delivered by Amanda Pinto QC, 33 Chancery Lane, a leading specialist crime Silk and Vice-Chair of the Bar. Amanda’s speech was also full of positivity as she set out her main aims for 2020, including greater access to justice for all, greater access to the profession (regardless of economic or socio-status) and better access (for the Bar) to International markets – another topic raised throughout the day and by GRL Legal in our later session.

Amanda also made a strong case for the fair allocation of work and the importance of business development training for the Bar, which had received excellent feedback; business development and marketing skills for the Bar was also discussed later in the day as something those providing the Bar training course should put more focus on – a point widely accepted.

Guest speaker

Andrew Hochhauser QC, leading Commercial and Employment Silk at Essex Court Chambers.  Andrew quickly got to work in outlining the importance of the relationship between clerks and barristers, describing it as “extraordinary, special… and an exceptional one”.

There was wholesale agreement across the room as Andrew outlined what he saw as the key elements of an effective clerk/barrister double act, with clerks acting as “agents, confidents, councillors, drinking partners and supporters”. Andrew went on to talk about and name the great clerks he had worked with and how important those relationships had been and continue to be in his success.

Andrew wasn’t short of advice either, suggesting those present “make the most of their talents, have fun and add another brick in the wall” – the final point referring to leaving the world in a better place than you found it.

With the audience enthralled, Andrew also looked at key issues on the future of the Bar, lawyer’ carbon foot prints, the rise of AI, digital technology and smarter working – suggesting those present might embrace change and win the confidence of clients. Andrew finished strongly with a re-run of his “first case”, involving the High Court and a very inappropriately dressed client – brilliant stuff.

Open Forum

Nicholas Hill put questions to a formidable panel of Mrs Justice McGowan, Amanda Pinto QC, Andrew Hochhauser QC, Katie Myles (Team Leader at Essex Ct Chambers), Athena Markides (Crown Office Chambers and Chair Young Barristers’ Committee) and Rakesh Bhasin, Partner at Edwards Duthie Shamash.

There was informative and interesting discussion, asking “what it is that the Bar seeks from Clerks” which cited “openness in communication” as widely endorsed, specifically from Solicitor and Partner Rakesh Bhasin. “Fairness” and “appropriate preparation time” (they should be so lucky!) were also high up the list.

The session dealt in more detail with ‘equitable allocation of work’ and unconscious bias and although it was widely agreed this was a difficult issue, steps, including documenting why work was being allocated, should be put in place; although there was firm agreement that there are several key factors that are also at play here – Solicitor/client preference, Silks choosing their own juniors – trusted relationships already in place and too precious to risk and interestingly, the significant role played by the legal directories.

The morning ended with a short speech from Advocate’s CEO Mary Dobson, Amanda Pinto QC and David Goddard, Senior Clerk, 4 Stone Buildings – with each highlighting the many reasons and benefits to the Bar and our society of Pro-Bono work – the room was in absolute agreeance.

Afternoon sessions

The afternoon started with a choice of three sessions which ran concurrently, “Is the Criminal Justice system broken?”, “LinkedIn and Personal Branding” and GRL’s session on “Improving your career in a changing market”; it was a real shame not to able to attend the other two.

I was very ably assisted by my star-studded panel of Jacki Ginty, Deputy Senior Clerk at leading commercial set, 1 Essex Court, David Scothern, Chambers Director – 5 St Andrew’s Hill, Jason Housden, Practice Director at Matrix Chambers and Paul Reece – GRL Director and all round legend.

The slides from the event are available here and the session was well attended – with panel led discussion on effective business development, training and development, market changes and some  top tips – If you would like to discuss anything raised, then do get in touch.

The take-away messages were of positivity, rapid market change – to be embraced, effective personal and professional development and an increasingly demanding Bar and an equally demanding applicant pool (including those in the audience!)

After Tea

Following tea, there were three sessions “Practice Development Meetings” – delivered by Don Turner and Bill Connor, PME Training and ABC Chambers Solutions, respectively.

The session looked closely at career development and becoming an effective partner in the development of individual’s practices.  Feedback was excellent and GRL actively endorses undertaking specific training in this area, contact Bill or Don for further details.

Two, “Litigation Funding and Life Beyond the Clerk’s Room” session was given by the excellent Chris Patterson – Investment Manager, Augusta and formerly a clerk at Keating Chambers.  Chris detailed the overlap between funders, barristers and clerks and covered the idea of alternative careers for clerks, outlining his own transition.

The final workshop “Legal Aid Agency”, provided vital tips on using CCMS and feedback was very positive.

Final remarks

The conference was closed by conference chair Nicholas Hill, with record numbers in attendance, significant regional representation and a very positive atmosphere all set in a stunning venue, this was an excellent conference and one which will be a very tough act to follow.

Thanks to the IBC for our invitation to speak and we look forward to continuing our relationship with the Institute.