You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy – Institute of Barristers’ Clerks Conference 2014

Getting up at 5-00am on a Saturday morning to make my way to Leeds didn’t seem like too much of a problem. I had however forgotten the 3 or 4 large single malts I had decided to sink the night before. I was therefore a little groggy as I got to the train station however it appears I was not the only one overindulging as there was a chap sat sipping on a can of Special Brew waiting for the train to Skegness.

I was on my way to the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks annual conference to appear on a panel for an open forum Q & A session. Rather embarrassingly in my 23 years of clerking this was my first conference. In my early years up north the IBC conference was very London-centric. We would have been mocked for being whippet fancying, clog wearing, Northern monkeys and we would have sneered at their Chaz & Dave, £10 a pint, Southern wankery. More recently the IBC conference clashed with my wedding anniversary and me and Mrs NAB had a fondness for taking our big Summer holiday to coincide. I was however finally going to see what all the fuss was about and I was more than a little excited at the prospect.

I arrived to be greeted by the conference chairman the senior clerk of 37 Park Square, Leigh Royall, who I know from way back in my early days. Leigh kindly pointed me in the direction of the mountains of bacon rolls and vats of tea and coffee which went some way to dispersing my slightly woolly headedness. I wandered round the various event sponsors stalls and chatted to a few old friends, some of whom I had not seen for many years. Then without any direction from the organisers some strange hive mentality seized us all and we shuffled towards the first session of the day.

Leigh got us underway with his welcome speech which was witty, warm and blissfully short. Up next was the IBC Chair, Brian Lee of 20 Essex Street, who I had seen last at last years Annual Bar Conference. Stuff got a bit more serious now and Brian whipped through some of the problems that the modern barristers’ clerk has to face. Alistair MacDonald QC the vice chairman of the Bar took over the reins and brought more meat to some of the bones outlined by Brian Lee. For those who were in any doubt ours is a profession under massive strains brought about in no small amount by governmental “austerity” cuts and a rapidly changing market place.

Then it was time for the main event, the open forum! Well it was as far as I was concerned as I was on the panel. I was in fine company; Alistair Macdonald QC has stayed on to lend his view, Annabel Thomas from Enyo Law brought the view of the solicitors profession, Taryn Lee QC brought her fabulous shoes and dazzling smile (she knows a bit about family law too) and acting as moderator was Jayne Drake the senior clerk of St. Paul’s Chambers. Jayne wasted no time in introducing the panel to the rather hungover looking delegates. All was going as expected until she outed me! My secret identity had been stripped away and I felt naked and ashamed. Actually most people knew who I was so it wasn’t really a proper unmasking but it was fun watching Jayne squirm as she hadn’t run it past me first.

The first few questions passed me by and then Jayne pushed a question about the plight of the junior Bar my way. I’m a bit like Pringles, once I pop I just can’t stop. I rabbited on for a fair old while about self promotion, social media, public access and different ways to use vinegar to remove stains and odours. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, I was on my soap box and they were going to have to drag me off stage to shut me up. Thankfully for all assembled I ran out of steam.

In the short break for coffee I found myself in several fascinating conversations about the use of social media as a marketing tool. I was swapping war stories with the great and the not so good and having a jolly nice time. Why on earth had I waited 23 years!

With my contribution to the event as a speaker over I could settle in and relax to enjoy the rest of the conference. The next session gave us a delightfully entertaining speech from Robert Webb QC. There were too many highlights to mention them all but two classics stood out for me:

“brief fees marked on back sheets gave subtle bragging rights in the robing room”
“barristers, if you can’t market yourself then basically you’re a prat”

This speech brought back many happy memories of the way life used to be for barristers and clerks and gave me a lovely warm feeling all over. There was just time before lunch for a brief presentation on BARCO by Paul Mosson. It was very interesting if not quite as entertaining as Robert Webb QC. The escrow facilities offered by BARCO are drawing considerable interest from solicitors and this is a service which will be used by many as it’s benefits become more widely known.

Lunch brought a chance to get to press some more flesh and chat to clerks from Bristol, Hull, Northampton, Leeds, Manchester and that London. Everyone was keen to share ideas and stories and there was a wonderful buzz to the whole affair. The food was bloody good.

With barely time to draw breath we were into the afternoon workshops. I decided to sit in on Marketing your Chambers for the first session. This was led by Catherine Bailey from Bar Marketing and Hayley Eustace of the Legal 500. Both speakers were knowledgeable and enthusiastic and offered gems of useful information. There was another brief break for afternoon tea before we plunged into the final workshop. This time I wanted to see what the young ‘uns were up to so I decided on the Evolution of the Junior Clerk.

A quartet of sharp suited, tieless, fresh faced clerks faced a keen audience. Leigh Royall quipped later that it was good that One Direction could make the conference and I concurred with his pithy assessment. They all looked so young! Never judge a book by it’s cover. These lads were bright and sharp as a tack, even after a very late one enjoying the many pleasures of Leeds by night. Andrew Barnes of Wilberforce Chambers preached the importance of preparation and courtesy when dealing with fixing cases, Dan Sullivan of Tanfield Chambers waxed lyrical about the importance of networking and business development, Sam Collins of St. Philip’s tackled the thorny issues of fee negotiations and managing barrister’s expectations and Marc Goddard of Stour Chambers gave a more senior view of what makes a good junior clerk.

The future is bright if it’s in the hands of savvy, eloquent junior clerks such as these. To paraphrase Wellington I don’t know what other senior clerks think of them but by God they frighten me. Our conference chair closed proceedings and off we all dashed to the pub.

Things started slowly. A chat, a pint, a joke. Some bloke in a cat costume. Another pint, more jokes, more chatter. Then I was thrust into the company of the young ‘uns. A flock of quick talking, hard drinking baby clerks surrounded me and ushered me towards some sort of carousel of multi-coloured shots. Of course I had to participate, I was notabarrister. This sort of thing should be right up my alley. The fact that these lads were half my age and possessed of livers which had not had as many years of abuse did not cross my mind.

“You’re out now”
“You can stay with us, we’ve got an apartment”
“Nah you can’t get the train, you’re out now”
“Down that, you’re out now”

It appeared that my plan to get the train back was rapidly changing as I was now “out”.

Several pints and a couple of bars later and things had got a little blurry. I seemed to have lost my Fagin like following of young cockney urchins and with it my bed for the night. Sauntering into the next bar brought me back into contact with familiar faces. My bedless plight was quickly resolved again as another helpful sole pledged their floor or sofa. The alcohol evaporated from my glass as there was no conceivable way I was still drinking that quickly. Minutes passed in seconds and suddenly I was surrounded by unfamiliar faces.

It was 1 am, I was in a three piece suit, in the middle of Leeds, more than a little merry, I had lost all my mates and I had nowhere to sleep. Oh dear, thought I with a giggle.

As if by magic the BarSquared lads appeared. They steered me through the next few bars where we managed to catch up with the remaining hard drinking clerks. At some point we may have been asked to leave somewhere for dancing on the tables. I can neither confirm nor deny this but it wouldn’t surprise me. Following a hastily consumed burger I collapsed on a hotel room floor where I slept the sleep of the extremely inebriated.

The following day was painful but it hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for this truly fantastic chance to spend some time with a congenial and hospital horde of barristers’ clerks. IBC 2015 can’t come soon enough.

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About notabarrister

Barrister's clerk of many years. Keen watcher of all things post LSA. Can't play golf very well. Likes beer and pies. Follow me on Twitter if you fancy @notabarrister
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