Democracy rules

The management of a barristers' chambers goes beyond simply keeping the diaries, negotiating and collecting fees, and drumming up new business.

At Barnards Inn Chambers, we have put in place formal structures and strategies to deal with client care, marketing, recruitment, accommodation, accounts and budgeting, and personnel.

All members of the set meet monthly with the administrative team to discuss these issues. The team consists of a chambers administrator (senior clerk), junior clerk and director of chambers. For a chambers of 10 barristers this may seem a bit top-heavy, but for a relatively new set competing in a leaner and meaner market such a team is essential.

An important feature of good management is to assign roles and responsibilities to people according to their abilities and to maintain a flexible attitude.

While we pride ourselves on our democratic approach to the running of the business, it is unrealistic to expect each and every issue to go to the set for a vote. Even in a small set like ours, once general principles and guidelines are agreed, certain tasks such as recruitment, accommodation and publicity are delegated to individuals or committees to ensure that they are carried out promptly and efficiently.

The key to good management is to keep members of the organisation informed and to give them a sense of ownership in the organisation.

Monthly meetings are held, at which the head of chambers, the director of chambers and the chambers' administrator report on current issues. The accounts are presented, which include each barrister's earnings and receipts for the month.

In addition, each member is presented with projected annual figures for chambers based on that month's accounts. The meeting is a time for members to air their views in an atmosphere of mutual trust and co-operation.

As an American, raised with the notion that consumer is king, I am conditioned to expect and demand good service. The management team at this set operates on the assumption that the users of our services demand exactly the same.

Gone are the days when barristers can sit back on their laurels and wait complacently for the next piece of work to drop into their laps. They need to, and should, sing for their supper and it is the lay client who is playing the tune.

A successfully managed barristers' chambers is one that maintains high professional standards, looks after its staff and its clients well and is sensitive and responsive to the marketplace.

It is not always easy, and it requires a lot of time and, invariably, money.

But an investment in good management can only pay dividends in the end.