A barrister's clerk is responsible for running the administration and business activities of a barrister's chambers. The role is integral to the success of a set of chambers, both as a legal practice and as a business.
Barristers' clerks must be familiar with court procedures and etiquette and they also develop an expertise in the type of law undertaken by their chambers.
This demanding but rewarding role requires a combination of commercial acumen, legal knowledge and strong interpersonal skills. The term 'clerk' is historical and does not accurately reflect the level of responsibility, coordination of workload, marketing and financial management undertaken. As a result, clerks in some chambers may have other job titles, such as practice assistant or assistant practice manager.
The role is very varied and can range from basic clerical work to complicated fee negotiation. Key areas of activity cover:
- diary and practice management - all activities relating to the barrister getting to and from court;
- fees management - ensuring barristers’ fees are created for the work they do and are collected;
- business development and marketing - carried out by clerks to maintain the supply of work;
- compliance matters - clerks need to be aware of the standards that chambers have to adhere to and appropriate accreditation.
For a junior barrister's clerk in particular
- finding statutory and case law materials;
- carrying books, papers and robes to court;
- delivering urgent documents to other chambers;
- making travel and accommodation arrangements for barristers when necessary;
- general administrative duties.
Other typical activities vary according to the level at which you are working, but may involve:
- discussing with a client the most appropriate barrister to take the case in terms of specialisation, particular abilities, experience and availability (being aware of any potential conflict of interest where barristers from the same chambers are representing opposing parties);
- negotiating the fees to be charged with the instructing solicitor;
- planning the timetable of a case in detail, taking into account factors such as preparation time, conferences (i.e. meetings with instructing solicitors and clients) and estimated number of days in court;
- arranging meetings on behalf of the barrister with the instructing solicitor and client to discuss the case;
- informing the client's solicitor of progress and, in case of a delay, renegotiating the agreed timetable of work as required;
- planning the workload of each barrister to avoid clashes of court times;
- proactively seeking work for the chambers by keeping in touch with solicitors and undertaking other marketing activities, such as holding seminars and hosting events;
- referring cases to more appropriate chambers when a lack of specialist expertise could jeopardise the outcome of the case;
- keeping up to date with specific areas of law and the specialisms of the barristers within the chambers;
- running business activities and the administrative systems of chambers to meet quality standards;
- researching information using the internet and paper-based sources;
- using court listings and computer-based diary systems to plan workloads;
- keeping accounts and arranging the collection of case fees;
- discussing with junior barristers the areas of law in which they wish to develop expertise and allocating relevant cases to them.