End of an era as Ralphs retires

Farewell then to one of the most celebrated men at the bar. His name is not Sumption, Grabiner or Pollock, but after 50 years in practice his name is equally respected.

Robert Ralphs, senior clerk at One Essex Court since 1974, when Lord Grabiner QC was a mere mortal and the set, with just one QC, generated £135,000 a year, is to retire. Today the set is among the elite commercial chambers, boasting 18 QCs and revenues of more than £27m. Celebrated for his honesty, charm and perhaps most importantly that he never double books his barristers, Ralphs is a man universally respected at the bar.

“He’s a brick,” said Grabiner, adding with typical modesty, “who has contributed greatly to making One Essex Court the best chambers in the world.”

The reins at One Essex will pass to fellow senior clerk Paul Shrubsall, but having been in the business since before his fifteenth birthday, Ralphs can’t leave it all behind just yet and will continue to work on a consultancy basis.

Doubtless there will be many, barristers and clients alike, who will be hoping that Ralphs doesn’t now devote his attention to writing his memoirs.

Management disaster

Following the terrorist attacks in London, law firms will be reviewing their disaster management procedures. But while security is most likely to be on firms’ minds, internal communication looks set to dominate Herbert Smith’s agenda. At 3.50pm on the day of the bombings, the firm’s interim chief operating officer Iain Rothnie circulated an email to update staff on the situation. At the bottom of the message Rothnie told staff that if they had difficulty travelling into the office on Friday (8 July) they had the option to stay at home. However, in contrast to the stance taken by the firm’s rivals, Rothnie told staff that if they stayed at home they would have to take the day as holiday or unpaid leave. A firm spokesperson said: “The tone was rather unfortunate.”

Although Rothnie’s email sounds like a genuine oversight, staff at Howard Kennedy are struggling to find an explanation for an email sent by director of practice management Charlotte Bishop last Wednesday. In the email, which the firm says was sent because of concerns over staff safety, Bishop said it was inappropriate for staff to leave the building to observe Thursday’s two minute silence outside. Unsurprisingly, staff walked outside en masse in defiance.

Bar Council brings in Beloff over legal aid fees

As the threat of a criminal bar strike looms ever closer, Blackstone Chambers’ Michael Beloff QC is understood to have been instructed to advise the Bar Council in relation to the Government’s continued stalling over legal aid fees.

Criminal practitioners are currently poised to lay down their wigs in protest from 5 September, when the new legal term begins. Sources say defence and prosecution counsel, as well as recorders, will all take part in the strike.

Although the Bar Council cannot show outright support for a strike, the use of Beloff indicates just how seriously it is taking the issue. In an open letter to the bar last week, bar chair Guy Mansfield QC criticised the Government’s delay in reviewing and raising the fees paid for short criminal cases and called for urgent action.

The message to the Lord Chancellor is clear. Raise fee levels or risk a meltdown in the criminal justice system.

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