Bar squeezes senior clerks

Senior clerks are facing concerted pressure to reduce their earnings as chambers look to cut overheads.

Salaries will typically account for about 50 per cent of a chambers’ total expenditure, with senior clerks at the five leading commercial sets earning between £100,000 and £350,000 a year.

David Grief, senior clerk at Essex Court, is one of the bar’s top earners, but like most clerks he is paid a retainer plus a percentage.

Clerks used to simply take a percentage cut of their chambers’ income, which could be as much as 10 per cent, but in the modern era this has dropped to as little as three to five per cent.

Robert Ralphs and Paul Shrubsall, senior clerks at One Essex Court, are among the few to still be paid on a purely percentage basis. However, they too have had to adapt, and it is understood that Ralphs regularly renegotiates his cut downwards as chambers turnover has increased.

As a result, his income is thought to have decreased to around £320,000, with Shrubsall’s also dropping from a high of £350,000.

The bar has seen many clerks leaving chambers, often as a result of pressure to reduce their earnings. Bringing in chambers directors from outside the clerking fraternity has also increased the pressure, because they can be employed at a substantially reduced rate.

For example, Ric Martin, the recently departed chambers director at Fountain Court, is thought to have earned only £75,000.

(See feature, p16.)