There’s an increasing flow of talented people away from senior clerking and practice management positions in leading barristers’ chambers and into business development and leadership roles with international expert witness, consultancy, and advisory firms. While this isn’t completely new, hat tip to Messrs Child and Willicombe, the recent completion of three significant moves and with several others close is clear evidence of this not just being a passing fad – as this article was being finished, an individual from a mid-level clerking role has followed suit.

The Attraction 

It’s quite simple, the markets where many of these businesses operate are booming, with advisory services and expert witnesses in particularly high demand.  To maximise opportunities, these firms require people capable of selling into the professional services sector where a clear understanding of the subtleties of building and retaining professional relationships, often with senior commercial lawyers, is critical.

Step forward the clerks and practice managers, where the transition from selling the services of barristers and teams is a relatively smooth one.  Potential suiters see the immediate value of deep market knowledge, pre-existing and often substantial personal contacts, a proven ability to generate and close work streams and all whilst pivoting effortlessly between senior sector professionals.

Beyond the Financials

It’s not just the base salaries, bonuses, benefits, and tax-free options (for those switching into the appropriate jurisdictions) which are tempting, it’s more.  There are also opportunities for partnership, equity, share options, and full or part ownership of businesses. The prospect of delivering a highly focused role in a commercial environment where contributions are acknowledged and rewarded appropriately, becomes very tempting.

In Response

Simply throwing more money around is of course an option, but with deep pockets, worldwide reach and business models providing greater flexibility, these firms have a very strong hand.

There is of course a potential saturation point and it could be argued that the construction market may already be there.  But as both the established firms and those entering these markets seek new business and revenues, the possibility of a broader and more serious challenge for the Bar arises.

The Bar needs to consider new and alternative approaches, and what might these be? – fixed term contracts linked to significant bonuses, already being done. Creating businesses through alternative models (the Bar’s licenced ABS anyone) providing a platform for greater innovation, collaboration and more diverse ownership – great idea.  Adapting Chambers’ current structures rather than simply applying a “one size fits all” approach – long overdue.  Creation of specialist and more focused staffing roles in line with the market – very sensible.   Ongoing review of roles/titles/salaries/packages – an absolute must. Employers need to be aware of the importance placed on opportunity, flexibility and real career progression and development.

Eyes to the Future

Whilst the Bar can be commended for the opportunities it has helped to provide, it must also recognise that its long held and previously almost exclusive rights have changed.  It could be claimed that market forces will simply balance this out, with good people falling in behind, but that’s not a sensible strategy and is also out of tune with the market. It’s time for the Bar to take up the challenge, create change through greater recognition of the quality within, or face losing out for reasons largely within its control.

Nick Rees is MD of GRL Legal – – partnering the Bar and professional services businesses with recruitment and consultancy projects.