Perhaps it is because the set sits outside the Inns of Court or maybe because of the non-commercial nature of the work its members are involved in, but Doughty Street Chambers has an atmosphere that is decidedly more relaxed than many of its commercial peers.
That said, the set’s barristers are involved in some of the most important and serious work at the bar - that of protecting civil liberties and freedom of speech.
It is little wonder, then, that Doughty Street attracts more than 500 applications for pupillage every year, despite offering an award of £25,000 - less than half that offered by One Essex Court. The set only takes on three pupils every year and will not guarantee a seat for those qualifying - another thing that differentiates it from the commercial sets, which have a tendency to offer a seat for life.
Established with a commercial management structure that included a chief executive position in 1990, Doughty Street aims to be a forward looking set whose members must subscribe to its culture and ethos. This is defined by chief executive Robin Jackson as having a commitment to civil rights and a desire to fight for justice while striving to achieve excellence in the field.
“You can only achieve that by having a set that’s run professionally and has
an outward approach that involves adaptability” he says. Therefore, barristers should think of themselves as being part of a team rather than being a collection of individuals and should market themselves as both individuals and as teams.
As such, in 2007 the set installed a new a management structure that was designed to enable barristers to make decisions about how their groups should grow and give management responsibility to enforce their plans.
At the head of chambers is Edward Fitzgerald QC and Geoffrey Robertson QC, who are responsible for promoting the set. Their deputies, Gavin Millar QC and Heather Williams QC, are responsible for internal management, with Millar chairing a development committee and Williams a barristers’ forum.
According to practice director Martin Griffiths the set is simply following the footpath that has been trodden by law firms for more than a decade. “Barristers should help their practice develop and help define what that might mean,” he says.
In August the set announced it was opening in Manchester with four barristers who had defected from Garden Court North Chambers (27 August 2009).
This was swiftly followed with the opening of a Bristol base with the hire of Old Square Chambers barrister Daniel Bennett (2 September 2009).
“The key aspect is that these aren’t just annexes,” Jackson says. Members
in those offices will are members of Doughty Street Chambers and have exactly the same status as those in London.”
The aim now is to grow those offices to the point where they generate their own work. Jackson explains: “It’s not just a matter of numbers, but about developing teams sensibly so they have the right critical mass, so they have the right structure to service the work they bring in.”
Doughty Street aims to occupy a niche area that will survive increased competition at the bar. By enabling members to work together and have an open dialogue with non-legal management, it has managed to sustain the ethos it was established with.
The atmosphere within chambers may appear to be laid back, but, for those involved in the set, it is anything but.