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Barristers' and Advocates' Clerks in England and Wales

published May 25, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
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Barristers' clerks in England and Wales constitute a small profession which is almost unknown outside the legal world. They are responsible for the administration of barristers' chambers and for the professional lives of the barristers they serve. The tide 'clerk' is now a misnomer, since it does not adequately describe the managerial nature of the role. Possibly 'Chambers Manager' would today be a more accurate tide for a clerk to chambers.

Each set of chambers has its own individual administrative organization but they all follow a broadly similar pattern. There is a senior clerk, known as the 'clerk to chambers' who is assisted by the first junior clerk, who acts as his deputy, and by other junior clerks and typists who are employed by the head of chambers, a senior barrister.

Most barristers' clerks start work in a set of chambers straight from school, as this is very much a profession where you start at the bottom and learn on the job as you move up. Although the pay is not at first exceptional, the profession provides opportunities for those who prove themselves able to make the grade to obtain considerable financial rewards and job satisfaction. A few applicants may have contacts in the field, but the majority will have heard of the job for the first time through local careers offices.

The basic educational requirements for a prospective clerk are four GCSEs at grades A to C, two of which must be English and mathematics. Equivalent qualifications may be accepted.

The job of a barrister's clerk

The barristers' clerk has to organize the barristers' day. This includes: accepting instructions from solicitors; ensuring that written advice given by barristers is typed and returned to instructing solicitors; arranging conferences for solicitors and their clients with counsel and making sure that any papers the barrister will have to see before advising arc received in time for them to be read; checking the lists produced by the various courts to see whether the barristers in their chambers are involved in any cases listed for hearing, and then notifying the barristers and in certain cases the solicitors concerned. An important aspect of the work is that the clerk should establish trust and goodwill with court officials and the job requires a very high standard of integrity.

Sometimes a barrister will be briefed to appear in two cases that clash and, when that happens, the clerk tries to ensure, if the solicitors so require, that another barrister in the chambers can appear instead. A clerks day is dictated to a large degree by the fact that the courts do not publish lists of the cases to be heard on one day until late afternoon of the previous day, and so it is only towards the end of a day that the clerks can find out where the barristers in their chambers will be appearing the next day and sort out any problems arising. Clerks also have to be available at lunch-times so that the barristers who are at court can ring in, either to take messages or to check their appointments. Thus, to succeed as a barristers' clerk you will have to be able to cope with demands being made on you by solicitors and time limits, as well as by the barristers themselves. Whatever the problems, clerks have to remain courteous - they arc the public relations officers for the chambers, and the extent to which solicitors consider they get a good service from the chambers (which depends largely on their relationship with the clerk) may well affect the amount of work they send. To do this job you must be able to work under pressure and be prepared to work long hours and accept responsibility, but the quality most necessary, according to the Institute of Barristers' Clerks, is common sense.


Along with accompanying barristers to court and carrying their books and robes from one court to another, you will be expected to run errands, collecting and delivering papers, answering phones and making tea. For the first couple of years you must expect to be something of a general dogs body, but as you gain experience and learn about the organization of the office and the legal system, you will be given specific areas of responsibility to relieve the more senior clerks. You will take over the responsibility of checking the court lists; you will start to accept instructions from solicitors and negotiate fees on behalf of the barristers; you may, as a more experienced junior clerk in chambers, have the job of writing up the diary showing where each barrister is to be on the following day.

A junior clerk may have to move from one set of chambers to another to gain promotion and experience. When you become a senior clerk your responsibilities will grow. A senior clerk will be responsible for all members of chambers, while often nurturing the new entrants until they have established a practice of their own. In addition, the senior clerk is also the office manager, welfare officer and father-confessor rolled into one, to both staff and barristers alike. He or she has to make sure, for example, that the building is kept in good repair and that there are adequate funds for the bills to be paid.

Case Study:

John is a senior clerk in chambers.

"The job has changed greatly since I started as a second junior in the Temple 30 years ago, to what is now in most cases the equivalent of a senior manager if not director in a multi-million pound business. I started my own career in an average sized set of common law chambers in the Temple, moving on after almost four years in that post to take a first junior clerk's position in divorce and probate specialist chambers. After a year in those chambers I was offered and took a junior clerk's position in a London-based circuit chambers operating on the North Eastern Circuit which meant moving to Leeds and working out of the various barristers' clerks' rooms that were within the court buildings of the Assize and Sessions towns throughout the circuit and of course from home. As most of our chambers' work came from local solicitors, we decided to open branch chambers in Leeds to provide a permanent postal address, manned telephone and to offer our clients better facilities for conferences and the like. I moved over ten years ago to take over as senior clerk to my present chambers."

As can be seen from this case study, a career can be forged outside London but the opportunities for movement from job to job are limited by the small number of chambers in any provincial centre and a willingness to move home with all that entails may be required for advancement.

Clerks in Scotland

In Scotland, advocates do not join together in chambers as they do in England and Wales, but work from the Advocates' Library instead. The Bar in Scotland is divided into ten 'stables', each of which is served by an advocates' clerk and a deputy clerk employed by Faculty Services Ltd. The ten clerks as a group are directly supported by ten deputies, who are backed up by clerical and secretarial staff. Faculty Services Ltd employs accounting staff who deal with the issue and collection of the advocates' fees. There is also a typing pool available to deal with the output of the advocates, though a number of them also employ personal secretaries.

The number of advocates' clerks is too small to warrant a formal training program and training is provided in-service. There are no formal educational standards that have to be established to apply for the job of a clerk, though clearly this is a matter which is taken into consideration when applications are under review.

The number of vacancies for clerks arc relatively few since the clerks constitute a very settled workforce and recruitment has only been necessary to cater for the increasing number of practicing advocates.

The job of advocates' clerk is very similar to that of the barristers' clerk in England and Wales. The clerk is an intermediary between instructing solicitors and counsel, and his or her responsibility is to ensure that the advocates within the stable receive an appropriate flow of work, and to advise solicitors which counsel are suitable and available for any particular case.

It should be added, however, that solicitors often send instructions direct to advocates without using the clerk as an intermediary. As in the case of barristers in England and Wales, advocates in Scotland contribute a proportion of their gross earnings towards the payment of their clerks but in Scotland the advocates pay Faculty Services Ltd which then pays the employed clerks. Advocates' clerks enjoy a progressive salary scale which is reviewed annually.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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