Apologies for banging on about this, but what is it about chief executives that so fascinates the bar? Three months ago there seemed to be a consensus that the bar's flirtation with the role simply had not worked, with most sets reverting to a traditional clerking structure.
Then, all of a sudden, a second batch of chief executives arrives – again recruited from outside the profession – leaving many at the bar a little perplexed. Why? Criticism of chief executives stems from the view that they can add value only in the short term. They are brought in to straighten out accounting procedures, IT, marketing and the clerks and then… well, that's just it, what then? Even in a badly-run set such tasks can take only two years at most, while bringing in business, managing the barristers, collecting fees and maintaining a diversity of clients is what a good senior clerk does best year in, year out.
There is perhaps a role in the mega sets and those practising a mixture of civil and criminal law. At Birmingham's St Philips Chambers, for example, Clive Witcomb's departure means that the two senior clerks who were at the helm at the time of the set's creation have now both departed. Meanwhile, Paul Wilson, the set's second chief executive, is approaching the end of his first year in office. No apparent problem with longevity there. And it is this kind of set that is most likely to be first to take advantage of any fundamental change to practice rules, and consequently it is where a chief executive might find themself gainfully employed. Could a traditional senior clerk implement and manage a multidisciplinary partnership between a chambers, an estate agents and a bunch of surveyors?
An alternative would be to encourage merger, another trend that has faded of late, and one which generates a whole host of integration issues for a chief executive to deal with.
So what would be the ideal merger for an incoming chief? Forget the obvious intellectual property and tax bolt-on to a leading commercial set. My own suggestion – although I think the clerks might also be vying for the top job – would be Fountain Court and 3/4 South Square. Just imagine it: a 91-tenant commercial set with 25 silks and a combined turnover of more than £30m. Aside from the obvious economies of scale, just look at the synergies between a banking powerhouse and the premier insolvency set, particularly in the current economic climate. Managing that would really be a job to get your teeth into.