The role of a modern day Bar Clerk

As a Barristers Clerk you will provide essential administrative and business support to your members or barristers. Your role is integral to the success of a set of chambers, both as individual legal practices and as an overall business.  

As you will have probably already witnessed, there is often a ‘buzz’ in chambers and work may be pressured. 

One of the great challenges can be working with barristers who may be elated from winning, frustrated at losing or feeling under pressure during a case. You will need to be able to handle and support their emotions and not feel intimidated or overawed. 

One thing you will quickly learn from talking to other clerks at the same point in their careers, is that it can seem that no two sets of Chambers operate in exactly the same way. There are numerous reasons for this, including: different legal disciplines often demand different levels of support and require different methods of working; many sets have a “house style” or culture that has endured for many years – some are more formal than others, some are run in a more business-like fashion etc.; the individual members may want a high level of support, or prefer to largely look after their own case load and promote themselves.  

Even within the same set there can be differences between the way that the team helps to manage a members practice, and you will see that successful clerks need to be a “chameleon”, changing the way they deal with and manage different individuals. Although it will be a little while before you are involved in man-management and practice management, it is similar at a starter level too and you will quickly need to learn the skill of being a chameleon. In the space of 15 minutes you could be required to deal with a courier, a High Court Judge, the window cleaner, a brusque high profile solicitor, a silk from another set and a nervous, anxious lay client. All will need to be handled differently – albeit that you should interact with all of them with the same level of respect and politeness.  

You will see that in some sets even a junior member will want to be addressed as Mr or Miss, while in others (or even in the same set) a senior silk will encourage you to call them “John” instead of “Mr Brown”.  

It can be difficult to judge at first, so we would recommend erring on the side of caution. 

An old adage that is often passed down from clerk to clerk concerns the instructions from a Senior Clerk to a new starter who has asked how to address the different people they come across. 

If you hear me calling them “Bob”, you call them Mr Jones 

If I call them Mr Jones, you call them Sir 

If I call them “Sir”, you don’t talk to them! 

A bit old hat now as in the majority of Chambers, members are no longer addressed as “Sir” or “Ma’am”, but worth repeating here.