Wednesday, January 30th, 2019
Why did you become a clerk?
39 years ago the way into clerking was very different to today. My Dad was a Detective Inspector at Scotland Yard and one of his fellow officer’s sons was already a clerk in chambers. There was a job offered word of mouth for a Junior Clerk and it was decided I was going to be the one applying for it. Dad took me to 8 New Square the following day to introduce me to Robin Soule the Senior Clerk and, after Robin just chatting to my Dad for half an hour, finally spoke to me and told me I was starting Monday at £50 a week.
Why did you stick at it?
We worked like Trojans as junior clerks but we also played hard too. All of us junior clerks at the different chambers being in it together got us through those early years of pushing the trollies and friendships were made that have stood the test of time. The other reason being that this was something I was really good at. Being a people person by nature and combining that with common sense, empathy, good intuition and a sense of humour, I by chance had the unique skill set every clerk needs.
There was a short film made about you recently to accompany a nomination for a Lifetime Contribution Award to Legal Services. How did you find the experience of people talking about you on screen?
I found the idea of a film being made about me slightly uncomfortable as I am usually the one standing in the shadows, but when I saw the film, it wasn’t just about me, but acknowledged what all clerks do for their Barristers and indeed the whole Justice System. I’m not expecting to win any awards, but as my Mum tactfully said to me, “It will be nice to show at your memorial service one day”. If you have a spare 7 minutes 36 seconds and are unlikely to come to my memorial service, you can find it on this link: https://youtu.be/IqMXi1E-ATk
For as long as we’ve known you, you’ve been a champion of the Bar Pro Bono Unit, recently rebranded to Advocate www.weareadvocate.org.uk, where you are a trustee. How is the charity coping in the current climate of government cuts to legal aid, and save legal expertise, how is it best to get involved?
I have been honoured to be a trustee for Advocate, and also Bar in the Community for a number of years now. Having always preached to members of the Bar about paying it forward, I decided my best way of doing this was to get more involved with the legal charities and do whatever I could with my limited skill set to help.
The encouragement and enthusiasm I have had from our inspirational Chairman, Sir Robin Knowles, has made helping move Advocate forward such a pleasure. Equally, the hard work and determination of our management team of Jess and Mary and all the staff team just make you want to do your best for them, and of course all the people we try to help. As to the continuing cuts to legal aid, my admiration for the many members of the Bar who are taking these cuts to their earnings year after year but still volunteer and continue to step up to the plate and take on our cases for no fee at every level of seniority, are all Bar champions. Equally the Judiciary, Inns of Court, Professional Bar Associations, Bar Council and of course the many chambers champions do amazing work. I also cannot stress enough how much help clerks and chambers staff bring to Advocate by encouraging their members to get involved in covering cases and running fundraising events for us. Without their constant support, we would not be able to make Advocate succeed in helping so many people. Anyone looking to get involved in anyway please contact Advocate and we will be delighted to hear from you. As Jess always reminds me “It’s Advocate as in donate”, so if all you have time to do is help us with a donation, that’s brilliant too.
Have you read the Secret Barrister’s book and how fair a picture do you feel it portrays of the current criminal justice system?
I must confess I came to the party slightly late and was given a copy for Christmas. What an amazing book. I have been a Senior Clerk at the specialist Bar for the past 21 years, but having started my career clerking members of the Criminal Bar and running round the Crown Courts, I feel I can still relate to the issues raised in the book. We all need to lobby and fight for change to keep our justice system alive and working properly. A quick plug for one of the other great legal reads of last year is the “The Independent Bar: Insights into a Unique Business Model” which is published by Globe Law and Business and available in all good bookshops and Amazon. I was invited to produce a chapter on Pro Bono and CSR and some far more talented clerks and associated friends than myself produced other chapters for this the first published book for anyone involved in the care and management of barrister’s practices and running a set of chambers.
What are your two favourite anecdotes from your career so far at the Bar?
The golden rule is never, ever tell anecdotes about your present set, so let’s talk about the good old bad old days. When I started at 8 New Square, in 1980, Robin the Senior Clerk liked to entertain the clients over from Hong Kong by taking them to London’s most fashionable nightclubs.
Robin was a most generous host and insisted on this occasion that this 18 year old junior clerk should be his wingman. By the time I left the nightclub at 3.30am the following morning, tired and emotional, I walked to chambers and begged the night porter to let me in to get a few hours sleep in chambers. My bed for the night would be Sir Graham Eyre’s beautiful long conference table with his Silk gown wrapped around me as my blanket and his red bag as my pillow. Next morning I woke up, stretched, took a deep breath and sensed I was not alone in the room. I turned and just behind me, head down working very quietly on his closing speech, was Sir Graham. This called for me to brazen it out. “Morning Sir”, I said as confidently as I could muster, thinking this was game over for me. Sir Graham just looked up, rose to his feet, gave me a smile and said “you’ve obviously been out with Robin last night learning clerking. I’ll go and make you a cup of coffee.”. Many years later when I first became a Senior Clerk in my present set, Sir Graham walked into my new chambers on my very first day saying he wanted to meet with the newest Senior Clerk in Gray’s Inn. A sadly missed Governor who passed far too early.
Anthony Scrivener QC was another amazing man to clerk. His talent was exceptional and as a junior clerk he scared the bejesus out of you, but once you commanded his trust and respect, he treated you as his one of his own.
When he passed away, every one of us who had clerked him cried like babies. He must have fired me at least a dozen times and reinstated me an hour later over the years I clerked him. He appeared in every type of case for every type of client imaginable and was the first member of the Bar to command a million-pound brief fee. Spend just five minutes on Google to understand what a true legend of the Bar he really was. He and I both shared a passion for cars. If he wasn’t a member of the Bar, Scriv was good enough to be a racing driver. He had so many beautiful and unusual cars over the years but the one I loved the most was his beautiful green Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 litre Saloon he called Fred.
Fred was as large as a house boat but he drove that car faster than anyone thought possible and kept getting pulled over for speeding. Nine times out of ten he would sweet talk his way out of it but one day I noticed a club tie appear wrapped round his car headrest. I asked what it was all about and he told me at a recent trial he had explained to the Police Officer witnesses he was always getting stopped for speeding. At the end of the trial the Police Officers presented him with honorary membership of the International Police Federation complete with club tie, car bumper stickers and a lapel badge. He never got any more tickets after that, nor did he drive any slower.
How fairly is the Bar depicted in the media?
Like all professions, it gets its share of fake news and the term fat cat lawyers gets dragged out far too often, when we all know the reality of the current situation is most of the Bar are having a really tough time financially, whilst still doing their very best for their clients every day. I find myself wincing at some of the comments said on social media about the Bar as I tend to only use it to show off my holiday pictures and moan to South Eastern Rail about the state of the trains.
What would you say to your younger self?
I would say don’t take on other people’s unreasonable, emotional burdens. You can only do your very best in this job and if you know you have done everything possible for your barrister or colleague in the clerks room to make that person’s life easier/better, and that is still not enough for them, you need to understand it is probably not down to you. You will find in life a very small number of people have baggage they carry with them that effects their outlook on life, and rather than them facing and dealing with their problems, they will try and get you to carry them instead. Thankfully, it has not happened to me that often but it took me a while to recognise the signs when it has. These kind of issues are now being picked up by wellbeing training and support for clerks that gives you the tools you need to support yourself in these situations. Make good use of them is my advice.
You’re at the top of your game – what would you say to any ambitious clerk?
I’d say look at the long game. If you want to be doing this a long time then make good friends early on in the job that you can grow up with and will support you in the years to come. Learn your craft, not only through the management training courses available, but more importantly watching and being around the people who are so obviously good at clerking and what they do and see how they do it. Be confident without being cocky and always make a decision, it may not be the right one, but at least you’ve made it and try and always help your fellow clerk. Invest time in your Barristers and do whatever you can to make their life easier and their practices successful. Most of all enjoy every day of it, as take my word, this is the best job in the world.