The call of the West Country

With the revival in the South West's legal market, perhaps the phrase 'Go West, young lawyer' will be heard more often in London chambers.

There has been a notable expansion in many of the chambers on the circuit, such as All Saint's Chambers in Bristol, which now has 12 more barristers in chambers than last year, bringing the total to 36.

The new recruits have joined from a range of chambers within the circuit – including four from St John's Chambers – as well as from outside. The other larger sets in Bristol have also been expanding, although not to such an extent. They include St John's Chambers, Old Square Chambers, and Assize Chambers. The smaller sets outside the large centres on the circuit, including 33 Southernhay East and Walnut House in Exeter, have also been recruiting.

Bevan Ashford litigation partner Charles Metherell claims one reason for this is that if solicitors cannot find a local barrister with the required strength and depth in, for example, financial services, then they will inevitably head to London to instruct counsel. But he adds that the main firms in the region have noticed that “the chambers are becoming more aware that they can no longer offer a 'generalist' service, and are also more receptive to the leading firms and what is required by them”.

Leader of the circuit Nigel Pascoe QC agrees that, following criticism for a lack of sufficient specialists, chambers are gearing up and recruiting to meet this increased demand in certain areas of practice.

And circuit junior Nigel Lickley says that changes are being made across the board from the pupillage stage, with the appointment of Imogen Robins to the new post of pupil liaison officer. More generally, there is an initiative on graduated fees and the involvement of Dr Chalkley from Southampton University, who is now also being consulted by the Bar Council.

In common with others, the western circuit is now taking responsibility for training members and is preparing a panel of approved trainers. The first advocacy training session took place earlier this year at Winchester Crown Court, and another is planned for March 1997, which will be held at the other end of the circuit, either Plymouth or Bristol.

Advocacy training officer Paul Garlick QC says that the feedback so far has been very positive, and explains that there have also been two courses to “train the trainers first”. He adds: “There are now about 12 fully-qualified trainers on the circuit, but we need to double that so that there are qualified trainers in all parts of the circuit, in particular in the three main centres: Winchester, Bristol, and Plymouth and Exeter.”

Although the issues affecting barristers in any part of the circuit are those which affect the profession in general, the fact that pupils can feel quite isolated in the western circuit is one problem which pupil liaison officer Robins will be trying to address.

“One of my jobs is to introduce pupils to the work of the circuit, and to let them see that their views and concerns are being noted,” Robins explains. “It is also important that pupils have an opportunity to meet everyone on the circuit, from the leader to other pupils and judges – partly to engender a sense of belonging. If there are problems during pupillage, the pupil liaison officer should be someone who is considered sympathetic and impartial.”

With changes happening on the local circuit, the observation that the Bar is “keen to rectify” a wide range of matters from training through to physical factors such as “smartening up the local Bar across the board” is clearly pertinent. But, as both the litigation solicitors and the barristers themselves admit, “it will take time”.