The Lawyer management: Hailsham Chambers’ Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith joined Hailsham Chambers in 1975 and was made senior clerk in 1982.

Stephen Smith

What’s on your to-do list?

Managing client relationships, ensuring excellent service and maintaining high levels of morale and effective teamwork throughout chambers are at the top of my to-dos. I’ve never quite managed to get to the next item on the list.

What are the main challenges in your role?

Managing growth is a challenge – in particular, striking a balance between being able to consistently meet demand for counsel and ensuring that members of chambers have a sufficient caseload. 

Recruitment is also critical. Chambers is known to offer high-quality barristers at every level and this is the result of us recruiting some of the best individuals. 

How have changes in the legal market had an impact on your role?

I became Hailsham’s senior clerk in 1982 and while the fundamental purpose of my role hasn’t changed – to ensure the right people provide a high standard of advice and advocacy – the modernisation of the bar has meant that these days I’m much more involved with the regulatory compliance, IT and marketing sides of things.

If you weren’t doing this, what else would you be doing?

I started my career at Hailsham Chambers. At that time the only other ambition I had was to play professional football. Nowadays, if I wasn’t doing what I do, I’d probably be travelling the world visiting sites of archaeological interest.

What was the most pressing item you faced last year?

In a tough economic climate it became important to ensure that the fee estimates provided were as accurate as possible. Fixed-fee work has become commonplace in some areas, so the clerking team has had to work more closely with clients to understand their requirements and to keep them updated of changes as cases proceed.

What’s your biggest career lesson and why?

To trust the team around you. When I became senior clerk I realised that I couldn’t do everything myself. However, I was extremely lucky to have Michael Kilbey as my first junior clerk and I continue to rely on his loyalty and dedication to chambers. 

How do you think the bar can improve diversity in the profession?

Dispel the perception that barristers need to come from a particular social or academic background. Highly intelligent individuals who are good with people and motivated can develop successful careers in a competitive and demanding profession.

What’s your favourite time of day?

I like the bustle of the clerks’ room in the morning as barristers prepare to go to court and to see clients and as visitors arrive for meetings in chambers. However, my favourite time is late afternoon, when everything is poised ready for the next day and everything is in its place.

How do you improve client service?

Flexibility is key. Each client has particular needs. I encourage the team to listen and do what they can to accommodate them.

What are the biggest misconceptions about the bar?

That barristers’ hourly rates are astronomical. I’m often surprised when I take my car in for a service or call a plumber and see the charges. I like to think that the bar, as an accessible referral service for clients, offers excellent value for money.

Firm facts

Silk: 10

Juniors: 38

Clerks and staff: 11

Pupils: 2

How do you relax?

“I generally relax when I manage to get out of the City for an evening,” says Smith, when asked about how he winds down. 

“With my children now mostly making their own ways in life, my wife and I are able to indulge in a number of our shared passions. These include our enjoyment of music, ranging from going to the opera to listening to live bands of any description.

“Also, we can occasionally be
found taking long walks in Suffolk. Where possible, we combine these with our love
of good food and fine wine.

 “At home I satisfy my natural curiosity by studying Egyptology and astronomy, and fuel my
desire for excitement by taking
a keen interest in performance cars and motor racing.”

IT systems 

Case management system: Lex Chambers Management