60 Seconds with Tom Gibbons - Team Leader at South Square

Nov 9th, 2023 by Hewetson & Co

Why did you become a clerk?

Like a lot of other clerks will probably tell you, with varying degrees of truth, once I realised that playing football (insert other dream job as applicable) was not a viable option for me, I was unsure of what I wanted to do when I left school and a good friend of mine was involved in clerking and recommended it to me, that was about 17 years ago!

What attributes do you find it now takes to be successful as an experienced clerk?

It goes without saying that you have to be organised and on the ball at all times; I think that is a pre-requisite and a foundation for having any semblance of success. As you become more experienced, in my opinion, you need to understand how to deal with people above all else. Although the job has evolved, I think this element has always been imperative. You are ultimately dealing with both barristers and solicitors who are in high pressure roles and you have to understand in different moments when to encourage, when to cajole, when to play devil’s advocate and when to keep your opinion to yourself. You also have to be able to build relationships with other clerks in your own chambers and externally. There are hundreds of these interactions over the course of weeks and months and a successful clerk is able to navigate these interactions with an external calmness and effectiveness.

How often are you out of chambers meeting clients? And how important is that to your role?

I have recently joined South Square and I am out a lot, a good few times a week at various coffees, seminars, drinks etc. It is slightly in overdrive at the moment as we have been undertaking a real BD push, but even before at my previous set of chambers, I was also out a lot. I think it is important, not only for developing relationships but you also find out a huge amount on the market, various trends etc. I find that the more clients you meet it develops a bit of a snowball effect - the more you do, the more knowledge you gain, the more you have to say and contribute to discussions. This means you tend to enjoy these interactions more, and as a result, the more you want to undertake.

What do you enjoy most in your work?

It is always enjoyable when you can go to a meeting or another BD engagement and you either come away with a piece of work or you make an introduction that results in the building of a relationship for chambers or an individual barrister. It is always a great feeling to see something tangible come from the effort of organising and attending these meetings/events, you feel as though you are adding real value.

Do you feel clerks at the Bar are viewed as business partners, and if not, in your view, how would members benefit more if they did?

I think it depends on your clerking position and your chambers ethos. I would argue that a lot of APM’s may not feel that way but most SPM’s/Team Leaders would. I think that is just the nature of some of the tasks that need to be undertaken and the hierarchical nature of the clerks’ room. In terms of the benefit for barristers, there are a number of studies that show workers who feel valued and appreciated are more productive and I would say that feeling as though you are viewed as a business partner is only going to increase your self-worth, your own value to chambers and you are much more likely to go above and beyond as a result.

What could commercial clerks learn from others clerking in different areas of law, and vice versa?

I think it’s all the same job, but each chambers has a slightly different way in which they deal with things, different processes because of the slightly different pressures they face. I can only talk from personal experience, but I think a grounding in a common law set where you have to deal with volumes of new and different enquiries, constant phone calls and emails, having to triage and understand what the most urgent job is, will stand you in good stead for working in any other set of chambers. As one of my old colleagues and good friend would say; ‘you’ve got to have good peripheral vision!’.

How meaningful have practice development meetings been in your career?

They certainly give a much greater insight into the psyche of a particular barrister, which I think has been invaluable when a huge part the role as you develop is dealing with different characters with different priorities at different stages in their respective careers. Some meetings are more meaningful than others but seeing the development of a barristers practice as a result of these discussions and the SMART objectives/actions put in place following those discussions makes for a meaningful experience, it improves that collegiality between clerks and barristers and is important in fostering good working relationships.

What advice would you give to a junior or mid-level clerk who is keen to progress?

‘Have an opinion’… within reason and I’m obviously not talking about giving your opinion on the case itself or some general political view you may hold. I think it is probably one of the best pieces of advice one of my old colleagues gave to me. When you are junior/mid-level clerk it can sometimes seem quite daunting to either speak up or disagree with a request by a barrister or a senior colleague to undertake a particular task or do something in a certain way - but give your opinion if you disagree with a course of action you have been asked to take or if you feel there is a better way to approach a task and explain why you feel that from your experience and offer up an alternative solution. Once you start to do this your stock increases. You become more valued in chambers and as your question referenced earlier, you become more of a business partner as opposed to just being the person who deals with general administration. I would also say get involved in everything that you can, attend any marketing event that is available to you to build your network of contacts, ask to help or be involved in a thorny brief fee negotiation, anything to increase your knowledge, it’s the best way to learn and develop.

Name three things about yourself, two true and one false?

I was in a television advert for Snickers.

I was asked to audition for the second season of Love Island.

I have run the length of the Grand Union Canal.

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