One of the common complaints about the Inns has been that, with buildings dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, they are ill-equipped to function as modern offices. But one, Lincoln's Inn, will be rectifying that problem during the long vacation this year with its £100,000 investment in a data network system around the Inn to connect all the tenants within the Inn and also to external user groups.
The policy within Lincoln's Inn of redeveloping and modernising its buildings within the restrictions applying to listed buildings – with an investment amounting to £17 million in the last five years – has already
attracted the former set of Michael Fysh QC which is now housed at 8 New Square.
And following the refurbishment of 3 New Square in Lincoln's Inn earlier this year, David Young QC's chambers moved in from 6 Pump Court in Temple.
Young comments that the switch from one Inn to another was not a defection, but simply a practical necessity, as there was no likelihood of being able to consolidate its existing practice within Temple.
Most chambers in Inner and Middle Temple are subdivided, and his set was no exception.
He says: “It was being squeezed for room in Pump Court with no real prospect of consolidating the chambers to the level that was wanted.”
Lincoln's Inn is also undertaking a refurbishment of Hale Court, the former offices of Charles Russell which will result in 20,000 sq ft of new premises, and will conceivably house the largest set in England and Wales.
But that is the exception rather than the rule. No room at the Inns continues to be the common complaint for most barristers' sets, who have had to resort to working from a number of annexes within an Inn, or taking the plunge and breaking out of the Inn to consolidate the set.
One clerk of a chambers commented that having to take a client out of one part of a chambers to another building for a conference in the pouring rain was “clearly unsatisfactory, as well as slightly embarrassing”.
But for the Inns, which are already having to convert attics and basements in a bid to accommodate expanding chambers or law firm tenants, there is little prospect of room for expansion.
It is estimated that there are now over 20 sets established in the 'no-man's land' outside the Inns, including Bedford Row which houses the chambers of Evan Stone QC, Allan Levy QC, Roderick I'Anson Banks and David Barnard.
The move for Evan Stone's Chambers at 29 Bedford Row has been considered such a success, with facilities which include a bar, that it will be expanding its premises by 50 per cent by taking on 31 Bedford Row.
Other sets which have made the move are Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC's set to 4 Breams Buildings.
Senior clerk at 4 Breams Buildings Stephen Graham says he finds it difficult to conceive how the set existed before its move – the set occupies the whole building with the barristers having a room of their own, as well as proper conference facilities. He considers the move “an absolute and undiluted success”.
The consensus of the sets that have moved out of the Inns is that the main attractions are the amount of space available under one roof, as well as the quality of the facilities, with the opportunity to just move in and plug into the latest technology.
The three sets at 20, 36 and 39 Essex Street moved out from the Inns, and one of the most recent was the setting up of Barnards Inn Chambers in 1993. Head of chambers Timothy Bowles says the reasons for the move from Lincoln's Inn were linked: “Our primary reason was that you get a much better class of accommodation outside of the Inns, and we wanted to set up with the right kind of business and efficient atmosphere. And financially, the better quality of accommodation at a significantly lower rate is a double benefit. We are certainly not regretting it.”
Moves have also been made to modernise Gray's Inn, with the recent
refurbishment of Verulam Chambers.
The demand still exists in all of the Inns, with the obvious problems of catering for both barristers chambers and law firms who want to consolidate, or want units of the right size.
But having an address within the precincts of the Inns, despite the acknowledged advantages of premises outside, is still seen as the equivalent of a 'des res'.
Indeed, one of the administrators of the Inns was surprised by the recent level of interest shown in a “small and brie-shaped” room, in which many barristers wanted to set up their chambers. Unfortunately, due to the lack of facilities, the room has had to remain unoccupied.