Combar confronts new climate

The Commercial Bar Association is gearing up for a new legal climate. Ravinder Chahal reports on its efforts. Ravinder Chahal is a freelance journalist.

The Commercial Bar Association (Combar) was formed in 1989 in order to represent the interests of barristers who practice in the fields of international and commercial law.

Judging by the many specialisms of its 890 barrister members, which range from the traditional areas of banking, corporate, shipping and mergers and acquisitions, through to the insurance industry, oil and gas and corporate insolvency, it is safe to say that Combar covers a lot of ground.

Chairman Ian Glick QC, of 1 Essex Court, says this is because the association represents 'barristers who serve the City of London' in all its forms.

Like all the other specialist bar committees, Combar is preparing for the potential problems that lie in store if government plans to broaden the scope of conditional fee arrangements become a reality in the coming year.

Glick says a good proportion of his members will be 'significantly affected' if such changes occur simply because of the number of cash claims involved in commercial work.

A Combar sub-committee is already hard at work trying to predict the issues and problems that may arise. To this end, it is focusing on its insolvency experts for whom conditional fee arrangements are already an option. Glick says that by taking these measures, the association hopes to be ready to 'advise members on the terms that they offer and help them identify the issues that need to be addressed when setting conditional fee arrangements'.

Combar is also gearing up for other challenges such as direct instruction to the Bar from in-house teams. Glick says this is an area of growing interest which the association is keen to follow. Direct instruction can be particularly cost-efficient, he says, when barristers are used in an advisory capacity. Combar is planning to produce literature later this year to help members capitalise on the opportunities in this burgeoning market.

The association also tries to support its barristers with the requirements of continuing professional education. As well as a programme of lectures throughout the year, there is also an emphasis on wider education in commercial issues and practice in the City itself.

Glick says most barristers learn the ropes over the years and develop a 'very good understanding of what happens in the City'. However, he recognises the need for more structured experience and training, if only to reassure clients.

Last year, a pilot scheme was launched to give young barristers an insider's view of banking operations, with week-long placements in various organisations. The scheme is being expanded in its second year because, as Glick explains, it not only helps the barristers involved but also 'demonstrates to the City of London that we do not live in ivory towers'.

On the international front, Combar plans further links with practitioners in Europe and the Far East. Its traditional relationship with North America is reinforced by an annual meeting of lawyers from Canada, the US and the UK. This year it is being held in Venice at the end of May. It will feature talks and mock trials on the subjects of cross-border commercial litigation, damages in commercial cases and litigation ethics.

Having taken on the role of chairman last July, Glick says he has a couple of ambitions he would like to achieve before before he hands over the reins to his successor.

He says he would like to see 'an even greater recognition of London as a commercial litigation and arbitration centre serving both the City and international commerce'. He would also like to see more recognition for commercial solicitors and barristers, who he says are an important part of the package that the City represents, making 'significant contributions to our invisible exports'.

Although Glick has yet to make up his mind whether to follow their lead, he knows that the previous two presidents both held on to the job for two terms. This means that if he wants to he can have another 18 months at the helm before stepping down, which should give him plenty of time to start spreading the word.