Staying a while
14 October 2009 | By Katy Dowell
While many chambers are on the hunt for new chief executives, one set is refusing to change it strategic direction, preferring instead to build on the successes of the past.
When Blackstone Chambers’ Ian Mill QC and Thomas Beazley QC this month came to the end of their five-year tenure as head of chambers, their colleagues were keen to see them continue.
“Part of the reason we were asked to carry on is that chambers has developed in a particular way,” Mill explains (Beazley is in Saudi Arabia on business).
Blackstone’s members, as well as its management, would like development to continue so, says Mill, “we’ve agreed to stay another two years”.
Mill thinks it’s right for Beazley and him to emulate their predecessors Charles Flint QC and Presily Baxendale QC, who stayed at the helm for seven years after being asked to continue beyond the five-year term.
Under the guidance of Mill and Beazley, Blackstone has grown from 63 tenants five years ago to 78 tenants today. At the 2008-09 year-end the set recorded a 10 per cent rise in turnover to £33m (25 September 2009).
But the set has grown to such an extent that there are concerns that management will slip off the radar while tenants get on with the job.
“Tom and I are concerned that things might get lost sight of,” Mill says, pondering the thought before explaining his perspective. “There’s a risk when members of chambers get very, very busy that they don’t have enough time to be thoughtful and appreciative of clients and colleagues.
“We need to remind everybody from time to time to keep an eye on things.”
This is the kind of gentle reminder Blackstone Chambers tenants need and want. And Mills and Beazley are managers who are willing to offer guidance although they will not swim against the tide, or indeed follow in the direction of others, unnecessarily.
Blackstone Chambers has barristers operating all over the world. Mill himself recently spent three months in Hong Kong.
Litigation practices are keen to emphasize the importance of having an international network, but does this extend to the bar?
“I’ve been thinking about this,” Mill says before senior clerk Gary Oliver chips in to say any new office move would be client led and that Blackstone’s barristers are happy to be dispatched overseas when the need arises.
“If there’s a perceived need for something to change or develop we would expect it to come back to us via the practice groups,” Mill says in measured tones, adding that consideration would be given to such an expansion if a viable strategy could be devised, but “that has not occurred to date and there are no plans at all.”
Time is needed to nurture such a strategy and that is something Blackstone is short of.
As for following the trends of the bar, a number of sets have increased their pupillage awards to attract better lawyers, but Blackstone will not be following. Money is not a key-motivating factor for its barristers, says Mill.
“It’s not important to be paying more than anyone else,” he asserts. “We want the people who want to come to our chambers, not those who want to come because of the financial rewards available.”
That said, Blackstone does offer an attractive proposition for young barristers. It tends to take on all that have done pupillages. It doesn’t offer a guaranteed income, but there are loans available.
Pupils are encouraged to practice a broad spectrum and all are encouraged to take up secondments - recently these have been in the in-house departments of energy regulator Ofgem, telecommunications watchdog Ofcom and the FSA.
Then there is the prospect of a job for life - only one barrister has left chambers: Michael Belloff QC, who left in the mid-1980s, but soon returned.
Many law firms have moved to address their models during the downturn to maximise profitability. When the boom was on there wasn’t time to do such things. But at Blackstone change can wait. Mill is content to carry on as usual and continue to build on the successes of the past.