Nearly 40 senior clerks wined and dined at The Ivy while discussing the challenges facing the profession’s commercial development.
It came just days after Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger gave a strong speech warning that the changing regulatory environment could bring about unintended consequences.
How the profession would be shaped following the implementation of the Legal Services Act (LSA), he warned, was uncertain. “For solicitors, the traditional partnership may well become just one of many business models competing in a crowded market,” he said. “So too for barristers, the traditional chambers model may become just one of many competing business models.”
One clerk said Neuberger’s speech was “mildly critical” of the impending regulatory changes, adding: “He’s just like the rest of us – they [the judiciary] don’t know what’s going to happen, they don’t know what the solicitors are trying to do, the regulators don’t know and nor do the representative bodies. It’s all a bit of a mess.”
Doughty Street Chambers practice manager Robin Jackson believes each set should evaluate its options. “Each set of chambers must surely investigate now where they stand, and how chambers as a whole and, if applicable, their separate practice teams might take advantage of what is, or is about to become, possible,” he said.
Outer Temple Chambers, for example, last week announced its plans to establish an international procurement practice. While some at the larger sets may not be in favour of such a proposition, others believe the set has grasped the opportunity to get ahead.
But Fountain Court director of clerking Alex Taylor said the bar’s magic circle was “quite protected” from the LSA. Fountain Court took Doughty Street’s advice and, like many other sets, established a group to examine opportunities. The group, he said, has little work to do, although it keeps all developments under constant review.
“I want to know what the solicitors are doing,” he added hastily, pointing to the fact that many at the bar are worried that solicitors will start taking stronger steps into the world of advocacy.
They are also concerned about the perception that the bar is starting to compete for work with solicitors, but that it is handicapped by an unfair regulatory regime.
Taylor said: “It’s a real conundrum and it’s possibly obscuring the impact of what might happen with [the] Jackson [report on civil litigation costs], which will probably have a bigger impact more immediately.”
Conversations about reform ground to a halt when BlackBerry-filled pockets started buzzing with messages about the latest round of silks.
Then discussions turned to the QC appointment panel, with one clerk complaining: “Why can’t they just say when they’re going to announce it rather than letting us know the day before?”
The long-term future of the bar may be under threat, but in the short term it is the Jackson report that is keeping people talking.
Right now, however, the most pressing matter is making sure that junior barristers who have achieved QC status get the right frock from Ede & Ravenscroft in time for