Solicitors at the Bar – making a successful transition

October 1, 2019

This article was originally published in September 2019 edition of The Legal 500 fivehundred magazine – Issue 09 (Making a successful transition)

By Bill Braithwaite QC

For many years there has been talk about the amalgamation of the solicitors’ and barristers’ professions; a fused profession, a one-stop shop, and so on. It seems to have gone quiet at the moment, but maybe that’s because it’s happening stealthily! Some of our most successful barristers (over 10%) are former solicitors, and it’s fascinating to see how they use a wide range of skills to achieve their success.

Of course, there are reservations. Not all of our solicitor acquisitions have enjoyed the change as much as they hoped, because it really is a transformation of working practices for most solicitors. Barristers are self-employed, with all the risks and benefits attached, and we eat what we kill. Although our Chambers, which is one of the largest in the country, is very corporate, and is managed to help all our members to achieve maximum success, it remains the case that, the harder you work, the more commitment you show, and the more you provide a top class service, the better you will do.

For us, there are many benefits in taking on solicitors who have a real and mature aspiration to come to the Bar. First, it may give us a better than average chance of recruiting a barrister who will be a great success. Secondly, it brings a wider pool of knowledge and experience into our area of work. Because we are a service business, we constantly ask; what do our solicitor clients want from us, and what do they value. Former solicitors will have some insight into that vital question.

When we discuss with solicitor applicants their desire to join us, the first thing we want to establish is that they really do understand the difference between being an employed solicitor and a self-employed barrister. Also that, whatever their seniority, they will inevitably be starting from the bottom and working their way up (we give them the choice of appearing on our list by date of admission, to reflect their seniority as a solicitor, or date of call – which may reduce their financial commitment to Chambers in the early days).

With all new recruits, solicitor or barrister, we establish at the outset a clear plan of management, including lists of solicitors whom they would like us to help them to contact and encourage. Of course, that has to be done by the recruit, as well as by Chambers, and so building worthwhile relationships (internally as well as externally) is hugely important. We review all our barristers at regular intervals, agreed in advance, and we use that as an opportunity to share views both ways; are they achieving what they and we want, and are we living up to their expectations.

Generally, we find that solicitor recruits appreciate the fact that we’re run as a business, like most solicitor firms, and that we have a business governance structure. Also, we have a huge advantage in this area of recruitment in that our Chambers Director is a former partner in a significant commercial firm of solicitors.