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UK Bar: Client Service at the Bar

The following sets are particularly commended for their provision of quality client service

 

Old Square Chambers

William Meade, a veteran of the set for nigh on 25 years and Old Square’s senior clerk for nearly ten years, presides over a clerks room which attracts a wealth of praise from instructing solicitors. One interviewee says: “They are some of the best clerks I have come across.” Another source adds that “the level of service is pretty phenomenal,” while other impressed commentators appreciate that the clerking team will “bend over backwards and help as much as possible.”

Meade himself is singled out for praise, with one interviewee describing him as an “outstanding head clerk.” The excellence of others in the set’s clerking team is demonstrated in commentary which refers to Nick Salt, the medical team co-ordinator, as someone who “always takes great care when asked to fit the right counsel for the case.” Paul Adams also receives praise for being “very helpful and very amenable.” In relation to billing, instructing solicitors are pleased that the set is “flexible and transparent with fees.” Finally, sources also draw attention to the benefits of the quality seminars run by members of Old Square.

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Maitland Chambers

Instructing solicitors appreciate the “good-old fashioned clerking” at Maitland, saying that the clerks’ approach “makes their barristers so much easier to instruct, because you know you will be looked after.” Sources appreciate the clerks’ knowledge of the practices and availability of the set’s barristers, with one saying: “They are always very receptive to requests to match the right person in terms of experience and cost with the particular case in question.” Another interviewee reports: “I pretty much took a recommendation from the senior clerk and he was spot-on.”

The man in question, John Wiggs, is highly praised by a number of other sources. “He is massively proactive and easy to talk to,” says an instructing solicitor, adding: “He is a perfect senior clerk.” In fact, “the chambers as a whole is a very slick operation,” says one interviewee. Aside from their timetabling skills and counsel recommendations, the clerks are also noted for their candid approach to fee negotiation. One solicitor says: “They are very friendly and accommodating and we have no difficulty in obtaining sensible fee estimates in advance of instruction. This means we can provide accurate fee estimates for our clients every time.”

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Serle Court

“They have the best clerks at the Bar,” says one solicitor of Serle Court, continuing: “They are responsive, helpful, charming, sensible on fees and willing to go the extra mile at court. They set the standard that others should follow.” The set’s “very efficient and responsive” clerks are a “very friendly bunch,” according to the solicitors who deal with them. The “forward thinking” culture in the clerks room goes some way to explaining the popularity of the set, as does the fact that the clerks are “very easy to deal with and less formal than some sets.” 

The clerks are known to “do an outstanding job in relation to court time scales” and to be “excellent in terms of fixing hearings.” In terms of counsel recommendations, commentators say: “If it comes to recommending someone that we might not have worked with, we can rely on the clerks to give us a suitable person.” Head clerk Steve Whitaker is well liked among instructing solicitors. “You can have a conversation with him, whether it is about the right person for the job or about fees,” explains one source, continuing: “He’s a person you can do business with.” The set’s senior clerk, Nick Hockney, is also singled out for praise for his “very businesslike” manner. One source enthusiastically sums up their thoughts on Serle’s client service, saying: “They are my favourite set for clerking. They make a real effort to get to know their solicitors.”

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4 New Square

“Nothing is ever too much trouble” for the clerks at 4 New Square, a 12-strong team led by senior clerk Lizzy Stewart, which is able to match the “serious depth of talent” found in the set’s roster of barristers. Instructing solicitors say that Stewart is “always excellent,” while deputy senior clerk Dennis Peck also comes in for praise, with one source describing him as “absolutely brilliant.”

In fact, clerks at all levels are commended by sources, with deputy senior clerk Alex Dolby, team clerk James Barrass and clerk Chris Ebdon together described as “some of the best clerks I have worked with” by an impressed solicitor. Sources appreciate that the team “is very obliging when dealing with urgent, emergency work and it always provides an excellent service, even at the last minute.” In addition, the team is seen to be “very approachable, which makes discussions about fees, timing and project management a lot easier.”

The thoughts of many are well summed up by one source: “As a whole, this is a very commercial and professional set. They are good and responsive in their clerking, and in providing sensible and clear costs estimates on all matters.” Interviewees go on to say that the set represents “good value for money due to the level of service furnished.” 

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Serjeants’ Inn Chambers

Serjeants’ Inn is well noted for its “efficient and approachable” clerking team, with particular praise reserved for their “very accommodating” approach to instructions. Sources describe the clerks as “prompt communicators” who are “unfailingly helpful,” and say they will “move heaven and earth” to help find the right barrister for a case, whilst also demonstrating flexibility on fee discussions and diary arrangements. 

The “marvellous” senior clerk Lee Johnson is especially well regarded for being “very approachable” and “exceptionally helpful,” with one source heralding him as “one of the best senior clerks of his generation.” Sources are also quick to praise the positive influence of Catherine Calder as director of client care, crediting her with “focusing the direction of the chambers and raising the profile of the strong clinical negligence team.”

On her watch the set has developed a bespoke client care team, something unique to the Bar. This team is able to offer clients advice regarding joint business development projects and business issues such as expansion and mergers. It further provides them with assistance when it comes to PR and media handling.

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9 Gough Square

“A professional, proud, reputable, dedicated and like-minded bunch” is how one interviewee describes the team at 9 Gough Square, who adds that “whether you’re dealing with a QC, a clerk or a receptionist, you find that their objectives and aims, and the impression they wish to convey, are consistent throughout. What they say they’ll do they do, and to an exceptionally high standard.”

This sense of a unified approach to client service is a common theme among impressed sources, one of whom characterises members of the set as “exceptional in their modern approach to working as part of a wider team.” Much of this may be credited to the “efficient, accommodating and expeditious” clerking team, which is headed by Michael Goodridge. Goodridge’s leadership is widely lauded, with instructing solicitors describing him as “the best civil clerk around” and “an exceptionally astute business manager” who “has a unique understanding of the pressures that law firms face.” Others note: “He exudes charm and a real passion for his role and for the chambers,” and also attest that “if you have a problem, he is the man to fix it.”

Other members of the clerking team also receive praise, including senior family clerk Jaime Brooks who is described as “totally reliable, really efficient and just a pleasure to deal with.” As a whole, sources consider the clerks “friendly, approachable and happy to assist,” and note that “the whole set is run like a well oiled machine.”

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7BR

The clerks at 7BR are described by impressed commentators as “switched-on” and “personable and helpful.” One source said: “They are the best clerking team that I have come across,” and was particularly complimentary of the way the clerks “work very hard to match up suitable cases with members of the team.”

Senior clerk Paul Eeles is considered “absolutely fantastic” and praised for being “responsive and efficient” as well as “a strong leader.” His flexibility is very highly commended, with one source saying: “If you say something needs to happen by a certain time, he will do his utmost to enable that – he is sympathetic and understanding but also incredibly organised.”

Further to this, sources speak highly of the “very useful” training sessions offered by the set, saying: “They are always very good value and informative – they have some really good-quality speakers.” Overall, the set is said to offer an “exceptional” and “seamless” service, and to have clerks who are “always friendly and willing to help.” 

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Selborne Chambers

Sources commend the clerks at Selborne Chambers as “pragmatic” and “very helpful indeed,” adding: “They’re approachable, effective and if we need something really quickly they’re onto it.” There is noted consensus among many interviewees that the set provides a modern, innovative service, with one saying: “The set makes an effort to be accessible and outgoing and not stuffy, and that’s reflected in the clerks as well.”

Further commentary highlights the team as “particularly good and flexible with fees.” Particular praise is reserved for senior clerk Paul Bunting, who “is excellent – friendly, responsive and pragmatic” as well as “very easy to deal with and very easy to be frank with.”  Responsiveness is seen as a key aspect of the team’s success, and commentators note that “the clerks will come back to you in no time at all.” They also state that the atmosphere in chambers is “warm and inviting.”

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3 Verulam Buildings

Client service at 3VB is amongst the very best and the clerking team, headed by senior practice manager Stephen Penson, is highly rated by interviewees. Sources say: “They’ve got a good, very efficient set of clerks that are very easy to work with.” “The clerks are fantastic, proactive, and have a real can-do attitude to everything they are presented with.” Commentators characterise the support team as one which is business-minded and focused on getting the job done: “All involved are responsive and take on any comments you may have regarding how service may be improved.” They are “very commercial and willing to meet clients’ expectations in terms of rates.”

Stephen Penson himself is noted for being “especially very good,” whilst James Ingham and Richard Ansell also come in for praise. Ingham is said to be a “go-to clerk,” whilst Ansell “stands out as a safe pair of hands.” All in all, the team “provides exceptional support to the set’s barristers and to instructing solicitors” and, according to sources, “it’s very noticeable how much faster and more commercial they are compared with other sets.”

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Crown Office Chambers

Crown Office Chambers has become synonymous with good client service, with one source saying that “the set’s clerks room is one of its biggest assets.” Interviewees were flush with praise for the group due to its “impeccable professional yet friendly service” and the fact that the clerks “always acknowledge correspondence immediately – if you ever have any queries these are usually dealt with the same day.” Their approach to looking after clients is summed up by one solicitor who noted that “they go the extra mile to do things and have a stand out clerking service.”

Senior managing clerk Andy Flanagan is praised for being “extremely approachable, very pragmatic and very user-friendly.” His team includes senior commercial, construction & energy clerk Chris Sunderland who is said to be “absolutely superb” and “really likeable, incredibly thorough and professional,” and senior criminal regulatory & environmental clerk Toby Sparrow who is “very professional, very responsive and very proactive in dealing with matters.” Also part of the team, senior insurance & professional liability clerk Steve Purse is “an excellent person to get the job done – he always finds a solution whether the problem relates to staffing, costs or an urgent need to contact a barrister in court.”

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XXIV Old Buildings

XXIV Old Buildings is well known for being a practical-minded and commercial set, with a sound approach to fees. Sources say: “The clerking at XXIV is very good both in its responsiveness and in its realistic and sensible approach to fees.” It has “a charming bunch of individuals who completely understand the need for commerciality – they give and stick to estimates and are willing to think again when things don’t match up.”

Strength in depth is a noted virtue in the clerks room and it is well known that “the clerking team has lots of good practice managers all of whom are exemplary.” Of particular note are chambers director Sue Medder who is “brilliant to deal with,” “understands what clients need and is good at finding the right person for the right job,” and senior practice manager James Ladbrook who is “brilliant, always available and very hands-on.” 

As a whole, the clerking team and support staff excel when it comes to looking after clients because they are “super-efficient” and “nothing is too much trouble for them.”

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Devereux Chambers

Devereux has a developing reputation for its clients service and is noted for being a “very user-friendly and modern set.” This is highlighted by one interviewee who said: “There is nothing stuffy about this chambers; the individuals here are approachable and flexible, and everyone from the clerks to the counsel are really geared up to look after clients.”

This concern for the client extends to the provision of year-round seminars in chambers for solicitors and a commitment to regularly visiting clients’ offices to present talks particular to their requirements. Chambers director Vince Plant is called “incredibly industrious and very client-friendly” whilst Chris Downes and Glenn Billenness are “fantastic clerks.” Devereux are probably best summed up by one impressed interviewee who called them “a fine set of chambers with helpful, approachable clerks.”

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4 Pump Court

4 Pump Court is known to instructing solicitors as a modern, user-oriented set which provides “an efficient and reliable service, provided by both clerks and counsel.” Some even go so far as to characterise the clerks room as “the best in the London market, standing head and shoulders above any other set.” Under the supervision of joint senior clerks Stewart Gibbs and Carl Wall, 4 Pump Court’s clerks are “always responsive and helpful” and “always find a good match.”

Stewart Gibbs, in particular, “has a great knack for finding absolutely the right person at the right price, and understands the need to invest in long-term relationships with instructing solicitors.” Solicitors praise the client service from start to finish, saying: “All of the clerks are efficient in their communication and clear in their fee estimates, and understand the need to act in unison with instructing solicitors to provide a seamless client service.”

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12 King’s Bench Walk

“From the first point of contact, the service one receives at 12 King’s Bench Walk is excellent,” according to sources. “Nothing is too much trouble” for these “efficient, pleasant and approachable” clerks. One solicitor comments that the clerks stand out due to “their personality and character, which is matched with a savvy, commercial approach,” adding that “they genuinely care about suggested counsel being the correct choice for the client.” Oliver Parkhouse is the director of clerking and has responsibility for a team that includes Graham Johnson who “runs a tight ship” and “makes solicitors feel well looked after.”

Also on board is Tristan Whigham who comes in for particular praise from instructing parties as he is “extremely knowledgeable and helpful.” For him “nothing is too much trouble.” Solicitors also appreciate that the set’s members are “very experienced and capable, and show a willingness to help out whenever necessary.” The set’s seminars and courses are very well received by solicitors, who say that they are “always up to date, relevant and informative.”

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Guildhall Chambers

Sources are impressed with the service-oriented approach of this Bristol set, identifying it as “forward-thinking and interested in building relationships with local solicitors firms.” Solicitors say that the “simply excellent” clerks “move heaven and earth to sort things out for you” and “solve problems instead of creating hurdles.”

The set’s commitment to providing training and seminars is a point of particular praise, these events being – according to commentators – “well attended and useful.” The “efficient and incredibly user-friendly” clerking team is overseen by principal civil clerk Justin Emmett, and principal criminal, regulatory and sports law clerk Lucy Northeast.

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1 Hare Court

Tasked with handling sensitive matrimonial finance matters arising from divorce, the onus on a specialist family law set of this kind to provide superior and timely services to instructing solicitors and their clients is especially acute. Comments collected about various barristers at the set have an overriding theme: that if a case is going to be hard-fought and difficult, solicitors know they can find someone who is “strong and forthright,” who “has a firm hand in a kid glove,” and will combine realistic advice with an accomplished bedside manner.

This ethos of confidence-inspiring candour is shared by the clerks, led by Steve McCrone. One source says: “They’re probably my favourite clerks as I can have very frank discussions with them about everything. I find them very open to having these sorts of discussions.” Another source says: “They will give discrete recommendations if told of a particular characteristic the client will like or dislike.” Solicitors are particularly impressed with the seamlessness of the clerks’ services, remarking that “with 1HC you always get straight through to a clerk, or you get a call back within five minutes or so – they know where all their barristers are.”

A source sums up the prevailing view: “The clerking is absolutely excellent – incredibly professional as well as being highly personalised and informal. They’re not old fashioned and the service is quick, responsive, helpful and commercial.”

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29 Bedford Row

Renowned for complex matrimonial finance disputes and also fraught proceedings involving children, 29 Bedford Row’s members and clerks perhaps understand the need for polished and sensitive client service better than most law practices. Various comments about barristers speak to the combination of understanding and firmness needed in highly emotional situations.

A source says of one member, “she will listen to the client, and they will know she has listened to them.” Equally, “if the client is about to take a course of action that can harm them” their chosen barrister will be “quite straightforward with them.” Supporting the barristers and liaising with solicitors, the clerks “are extremely efficient and will always go the extra mile to assist.”

A source elaborates further: “Nothing is too much trouble for them – they actively support solicitors during the trial process, offering to run urgent copies over to court, providing car parking spaces for clients and securing rooms for early morning and late meetings.” “They do their absolute best to help minimise the stress.” The clerking team is led by James Shortall, widely admired by solicitors for his “efforts to get to know different firms and in turn to help us get to know the new and up-and-coming barristers at his set.”

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1 Crown Office Row

1 Crown Office Row is known for its strength in clinical negligence and regulatory matters, but houses barristers with a diverse range of expertise beyond these areas. As such the need for practice managers who are able to grasp the niceties of many different disciplines is absolute. The clerking team at 1 Crown Office Row, led by senior clerk Matthew Phipps, has this down to an art, prompting one source to say the team is “very efficient and has a very good understanding of the expertise of different barristers.”

Another source goes further: “They are in the premiership of clerking teams – it’s magic and I would love to know how they do it – they really do go the extra mile.” Whatever the secret may be, the end result is “that they always deliver, they will always find you what they promise, and the advice is of such a high standard; it is a go-to chambers.” Responsiveness and accessibility is another hallmark of the client service on offer at the set. A solicitor says: “It’s a slick operation and the phone never rings more than three times before someone picks up and helps you,” adding: “They are the clerking team to emulate.”

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Matrix Chambers

Considered by many the ne plus ultra of public law and regulatory sets, Matrix has three practice management teams, each handling a range of disciplines, to provide the most tailored and efficient conduit for instructing solicitors to find the right counsel for the case at hand. Cliff Holland leads the team concerned with employment, discrimination and equality, media, information and sports; Paul Venables oversees arbitration, crime and regulatory, extradition, inquests and inquiries, police law and public international law; and Jason Housden looks after the attribution of community care, health and mental health, education, commercial, competition, telecoms, corporate compliance, EU law, human rights, immigration, public and environmental law.

A source says: “Matrix is a totally supportive set which works with you as a team to deal with the parts of the case that can cause angst, from original instruction through funding options to supporting solicitors and lay clients at court,” adding: “Nothing is too much trouble.” A more specific example is given by an immigration solicitor: “The practice teams are really good if you’re a claimant lawyer. I go back to Matrix because they get how public funding works. They’re so quick to help if you need to get bundles to court and they are incredibly supportive.” 

A common theme in solicitors’ comments on the clerks is that “you don’t have to chase them for fee notes and they’re constructive in their negotiations.” All in all, sources agree that Matrix is “a really nice chambers to deal with – the people in the clerks room are always very accommodating and willing to work to tight deadlines.”

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