The recent Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC) conference placed education at the top of the agenda as clerks look to increase professionalism.
The conference, held at the Royal College of Surgeons, voted in favour of clerks having to undertake continuing professional development (CPD).
More than three-quarters of the 200-strong delegation of clerks felt that CPD was needed to ensure a high standard across the whole of the bar.
The support for CPD courses may have been strong, but there were reservations as to how it could work practically.
Many clerks raised concerns that most chambers run with minimum staffing levels, so would be extremely overstretched if clerks had to travel to seminars.
IBC chairman Declan Redmond, senior clerk at Wilberforce Chambers, said that any form of CPD was currently being reviewed.
“As an institute we’re looking at various options, including lecture days and long-distance learning, and we hope that we’ll have something to put to the membership within the year,” he said.
Vice-president of the Bar Council Tim Dutton QC said the council would back a CPD standard for clerks.
“For the bar to have true professionalism, there have to be high standards across the board, be it the barristers or the clerks,” Dutton said at the conference.
However, there was little support for an idea that continues to be mooted throughout the bar – chambers employing junior barristers for their first two years of tenancy.
Less than 10 per cent of clerks support such a move. Most, however, acknowledged that the rise of solicitor-advocates and increasing competition at the junior bar had made it “difficult to swim”.
It was felt that a compromise was needed. One practice manager suggested that “the first year of tenancy should be expense-free and then survival will depend on success”.
Another, however, said that, as most chambers already had problems funding pupils, it seemed unrealistic that they could fund another year or two.
Tom Little, former chair of the Young Bar Association and a barrister at 9 Gough Square, said he would not support employed barristers, although he felt concessions needed to be made for those with £30,000-£40,000 of debt.