Survival tactics

Management consultants often recommend that businesses should diversify to survive,

and this may be relevant advice for barristers in their working practices.

Although parts of the Bar thrive on their particular specialisms, there are certain chambers which have diversified geographically and set up annexes or associated chambers elsewhere in the country.

Individual barristers can also have either more or less formal arrangements with different

sets nationally, depending on their practice.

For example, 4 Breams Buildings in London, headed by Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC's chambers, has an association with 40 King Street in Manchester. The link was put on a more formal basis following the two sets' connection which has lasted over 25 years.

Other sets have gone the whole hog and set up annexes or satellite chambers in the regions. David Owen Thomas QC's chambers at 2 King's Bench Walk has an annexe in Plymouth, and 13 King's Bench Walk is connected with chambers in Oxford.

One unusual set is Byrom Chambers with chambers in both London and Manchester and which, for historical reasons, has all its silks based in Manchester and the juniors based in London. All the silks are are on the Northern Circuit, and all of the clerking is run from Manchester.

Such sets are often loath to call the London chambers the 'head office'. Guy Boney QC's chambers, for example, with a presence in Winchester and London, splits its barristers almost equally between the two offices and sees itself as one chambers practising fully from two locations.

The management and administration is also run from both offices, with the senior clerk dividing his time between the two. The view is that the service provided at Winchester “equals that in London”, with the added convenience of having a local presence. Last year the chambers also set up Temple Chambers jointly with Guild Hall Chambers in Bristol to establish a presence in Swindon.

But 3 Paper Buildings, headed by Maurice Kay QC, does use its London chambers as its centre of operations – again, mainly for historical reasons – for its offices in Bournemouth, Winchester and Oxford.

The consensus of clerks and barristers in such sets is that solicitors generally require a more hands-on approach.

According to them: “The days of solicitors having to 'go up' to London are numbered, if not already gone. Solicitors are now in a position to demand a service closer to home.”

Also, with the trend for chambers to number 30 members, rather than the 10 to 20 of the 1960s and 1970s, housing them all in one chambers is not always feasible or practical. Even chambers of over 50 members are becoming more common.

As one senior clerk commented: “The way the legal system is evolving, with larger numbers to provide a better service, there has to be definitive maximum where a set is not controllable.

“A chambers of around 50 members is manageable. But to keep everything up to date takes a great deal of administration and management from both barristers and clerks. It is very interesting but it also causes its own problems.”

He added that being on location “eases the burden for solicitors and clients because they have that special expertise on their doorstep”.