What is a Barristers' Chambers?
There are approximately 15,000 practising barristers in England and Wales, who operate from over 400 Barristers’ Chambers spread across the country, with over 200 sets of Chambers located in London.
Barristers are trained advocates, who appear in the civil and criminal Courts, and receive their instructions mainly from Solicitors, who prepare a case for the Barrister to argue before the Court or Tribunal. The Barristers’ Clerk is the agent who manages the work of the Barristers within a set of Chambers.
A Barristers’ Chambers is a collection of like-minded individual barristers who all practice from the same address, sharing the same administrative services. The barristers are all self-employed, and remain so throughout their careers.
In most Chambers, the “clerking” staff are headed by the Head or Senior Clerk, who together with assistants or “Junior” Clerks, and other support staff manage all aspects of the barristers' professional lives, including arranging when Court cases are heard, and negotiating fees for the work done by the barristers. Another member of staff in a Chambers is the "Fees" clerk who calculates or enters up the Barristers’ Fees and deals with invoicing and credit control.
The Chambers Administrator deals with the general office management and supervises the other support staff, including the Receptionist/Telephonist, Librarian and any Secretarial staff.
What is a Barristers' Clerk?
A Barrister's Clerk is the person who is responsible for every aspect of the barrister’s professional (and sometimes personal!) life. Clerks have to be adaptable and flexible and be prepared to share in the ups and downs of the barristers' careers. Clerks are a combination of agent, negotiator, confidante and friend. They have to have the instincts of a used car salesman, theatrical agent and, probably more importantly .......nanny!
Barristers’ clerks manage the Chambers diary, ensuring the barristers’ are kept fully employed at all times, and have to record, negotiate, and calculate fees for the work done by the barristers. They often develop the business of Chambers through marketing activities, and in some cases supervise the administration and property maintenance too.
Successful clerks are good communicators, able to juggle many things at the same time, have very good memories and are constantly planning, often many months and years ahead, to ensure that a barrister’s career path is maintained.
Guidance for Applicants for Junior Clerk Positions
If you wish to become a Junior Barristers' Clerk, then ideally you will have finished your secondary education and be ready, willing and able to start an interesting, varied and progressive career. Most Chambers require a minimum of 6 GSCE's at A-C Grade, including Maths and English and A’levels or equivalent. You do not need a degree education but bundles of common sense will assist!
You will need to be in good health, and physically fit - able to lift and carry heavy books and papers. You will also need to have a good sense of humour and be able to communicate well with people at all levels. You will have to be self motivated, with good initiative and capable of managing your time well. There will be very little chance to relax – so be prepared for hard work!
Clerking is a progressive career, and your hard work and experience will be well rewarded. The salary for beginners is from around £17,500/£18,000 pa. However, the more senior clerking staff earn substantial salaries, according to age and experience.
Administration Posts in Chambers
As mentioned above, administrative staff in a barristers’ chambers are required for the nonclerking responsibilities which include finances, marketing, property/facilities management, secretarial support & reception functions. Candidates should ideally therefore have a proven track record in such work already though some Chambers will offer training to starter employees. Legal Secretarial skills are not necessarily required but can be an advantage.
For posts that deal with Chambers finances, a knowledge of SAGE software is very useful SAGE is one of the most popular book-keeping systems used in Chambers as it can be integrated with other Chambers diary and fee management systems.