Opinion

Anthony Elleray QC, barrister, Exchange Chambers

Chancery and mercantile barristers in the North have a number of reasons to be confident about the future. For starters, the local courts mean business. Roger Kaye QC has been appointed as a new full-time chancery/ mercantile judge in Leeds and the arrival of the replacement chancery judge for Manchester and Liverpool is imminent. A new civil centre in Liverpool will soon open, while the new civil centre in Manchester arises day by day near the River Irwell and will provide a floor of courts for chancery and mercantile judges.

The need for specialised judges in the North, comprising the new Vice-Chancellor of the County Palatine of Lancaster Justice Patten and full-time deputies in the chancery field, as well as the mercantile judges, is clearly recognised. There is also real hope in Manchester that there will be full-time ‘masters’ – ie district judges appointed to work exclusively in those two fields.

The developments reflect an anticipation of work with ‘real prospects’ for such courts. That is not despite the Civil Procedure Rules’ (CPR) objectives of front-loading costs for clients at the pre-action protocol stage and the encouragement of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and mediation. It is the recognition that, in the specialist fields, there are ‘real prospect’ cases.

Indeed, a local Manchester pilot of pre-trial review applications before the intended trial judge is designed to confirm that the cases which can have summary or alternative resolution will have done so, ensuring every trial has purpose. Further applications have to be heard in urgent cases that cannot await the protocol process. An appropriately timed application remains, in many cases, the sensible course commercially, and if approached advisedly on both sides it can lead to the most constructive practical outcome.

While virtual electronic communication, now shored by video-conferencing, has changed the means of communication, the trust of many clients in their lawyers often requires real relationships. That continues to underpin the need for local specialists as well as underpinning the substantial offices of local commercial solicitors.

The diary of the local barrister now comprises substantial commitments to matters that historically would not have been recognised as the practice of law.

The giving and receiving of continuing professional development (CDP) point seminars attended by other professions and academics may have been a first departure. Specialists now run locally a number of annual seminars on different subjects and the opportunity is there to learn and to raise the profile of attendees, speakers and facilitators.

A second serious development has been training in mediation skills and accreditation as mediators within chambers. Disputes of modest size or in the hands of some mediators may not need lawyers. But in specialist areas, they may benefit from specialist advice as to alternative outcomes and the commercial consequences underpinning them.

There is also now training in interpersonal skills through public relations and marketing employees. Those further commitments make sense if it is understood that they are in fact complementary to the relevant legal specialism. What is surprising to some is that the further commitments are in fact enjoyable and add confidence to the underlying purpose of providing specialist advice and advocacy, in both virtual and real forms.

There are now considerably more than 100 members of the Northern Chancery Bar Association. Some overlap with membership of the Northern Circuit Commercial Bar Association. However, within both associations members inevitably specialise in particular fields. But they all have much to look forward to, including, in any reordering of the professional world post-Clementi, a reconsideration of the means of delivering legal professional services.