Clerk's retirement signals new era

Chris Fogarty reports

Wilberforce Chambers is to follow the growing trend of appointing a chambers director when it loses its senior clerk next year.

The impending retirement of Wilberforce Chambers' senior clerk Roy Beazley after nearly 40 years in the job has seen the prominent commercial chancery set radically revamp its management structure.

Beazley, who joined the fledgling set of six barristers as a junior clerk in 1960, will retire in March next year.

The search for his replacement has now begun with the set offering a six-figure salary for a chambers director who will manage the 33 barristers.

Wilberforce's decision to appoint a chambers director to replace its senior clerk as the head of its administrative structure, once again highlights a slow changing of the guard at the Bar.

Anthony Taussig, chair of the chambers management committee, who joined Wilberforce in 1966, said Beazley had played a key part in building up its reputation for excellence.

But he said he believed the set would now have to go outside the clerking room for its continued success.

"While the traditional system may work in a static environment there are continual problems if you are growing," he said.

The aim, according to Taussig, is not to downgrade the clerking room but rather to free it to concentrate on its traditional strengths while allowing a specialist administrator to direct the set's future.

Yet it was Beazley who originally charted Wilberforce's future when, after nine years of working in chambers, he became senior clerk in 1969.

At that stage, according to Beazley, the set's policy of doing large volumes of high-turnover work left solicitors and clients unhappy because barristers were constantly busy and their briefs often took a long time to be returned.

Beazley decided change was needed. "The idea always was to make time and space to let the barristers do the job properly."

The plan was also to attract the best barristers, although in the late 1960s and early 1970s enticing silks or juniors to switch sets was not the done thing.

One head of chambers threatened to blackball Wilberforce Chambers at the Bar after Beazley headhunted one of his tenants.

"Today people are less willing to accept that they have to be loyal to one set and stay there," he said.

But after 38 years of sticking with Wilberforce, Beazley will retire three months short of his 58th birthday. His immediate plans are to spend time with his young family in south Kent.

The chambers hired management consultants BDO Stoy Hayward to look at how the set was run and who should run it following Beazley's departure.

Beazley is perhaps too diplomatic to comment directly on the appointment, on the consultants' advice, of chambers administrator Louise Seaton, formerly publicity head at New Court chambers. Nor will he comment on the decision to appoint a chambers director, although he firmly believes that talented and able clerks will remain a key part of a successful chambers.

Leading family set One Garden Court is offering a £60,000 salary for a chambers chief executive. The set confirmed to The Lawyer last month that it was seeking a chief executive, but it is adamant that senior clerk Peter Hoskins and practice manager Howard Rayner will retain their positions. But in adverts for the job last week, the 40-barrister set said the successful chief executive would have overall control of clerking and administration.