Rise of the superclerks

Hang onto your CEOs: quality law firm execs are a highly poachable commodity

Barristers may still find words such as ‘brand’ and ‘business’ a little hard to stomach and the shifting around of clerks in top spots could support that.

This month has seen the exit of Devereux Chambers’ first chief executive Beverly Landais, who is taking up a senior business development role at financial advice giant Saunderson House, and the departure of Wilberforce Chambers’ senior clerk and chief executive Declan Redmond.

Redmond has gone to Keating Chambers to replace former senior clerk Nick Child, who moved to Navigant Consulting as managing director and head of global market development in the company’s global construction practice.

So why the itchy feet? In the old days clerks might have stuck around for a lifetime, but movement has picked up dramatically in recent years and the profile of a senior clerk is now radically different.

Landais is a good example. She oversaw a time of sweeping change at Devereux, rebranding the set and assisting with an internal restructuring. She was appointed amid a flurry of chief executive hires to other chambers.

The bar is more commercially driven than ever, with many chambers introducing big reforms as the legal market becomes more competitive. In the corporate world it is usual for a CEO to move on when a project is complete, and this seems to be becoming more common at the bar.

But life is not always easy for innovative clerks. According to Quadrant Chambers chief exec Tim Gerrard, who has also been overseeing change at his set, for newcomers the rarified world of the bar can be a shock. 

“No matter how steeped you are in the world of professional services, nothing prepares you for chambers, which is such a different governing environment,” he says, adding, “Barristers know they need somebody to run the business but don’t understand what it’s going to be like, so there’s a bit of a shock on both sides.”

Chief executives who successfully grapple with the challenges are eminently poachable by organisations beyond the bar, as we are seeing.