A career as a barristers' clerk would suit you if you want to use your business, administrative and people skills to manage chambers
Working as a barristers' clerk, you are responsible for running the administration and business activities of barristers' chambers. Your role is integral to the success of a set of chambers, both as a legal practice and as a business.
You must be familiar with court procedures and etiquette and will develop an expertise in the type of law undertaken by your chambers.
This is a demanding but rewarding role, for which you need to possess a combination of commercial acumen, legal knowledge and strong interpersonal skills.
The term 'clerk' is historical and does not accurately reflect the level of responsibility, coordination of workload, marketing and financial management you will undertake. As a result, clerks in some chambers may have other job titles, such as practice assistant or assistant practice manager.
In Scotland, the equivalent role is advocates' clerk.
You should not view this job as a way to become a barrister, as chambers may struggle to offer a pupillage to someone who has been working for them as a clerk due to conflict of interest.
You'll need to:
- manage the diary and practice, including all activities relating to the barrister getting to and from court
- manage fees, ensuring barristers' fees are created for the work they do and are collected
- market and develop the business to maintain the supply of work
- be aware of compliance matters as these are the standards and accreditations to which chambers have to adhere.
If you are a junior barristers' clerk, you may also need to:
- find statutory and case law materials
- carry books, papers and robes to court
- deliver urgent documents to other chambers
- make travel and accommodation arrangements for barristers
- carry out general administrative duties.
Other tasks vary according to the level at which you are working, but may involve:
- discussing with a client the most appropriate barrister to take the case in terms of specialisation, particular abilities, experience and availability (being aware of any potential conflict of interest where barristers from the same chambers are representing opposing parties)
- negotiating the fees to be charged with the instructing solicitor
- planning the timetable of a case in detail, taking into account factors such as preparation time, conferences (i.e. meetings with instructing solicitors and clients) and estimated number of days in court
- arranging meetings on behalf of the barrister with the instructing solicitor and client to discuss the case
- informing the client's solicitor of progress and, in case of a delay, renegotiating the agreed timetable of work as required
- planning the workload of each barrister to avoid clashes of court times
- proactively seeking work for the chambers by keeping in touch with solicitors and undertaking other marketing activities, such as holding seminars and hosting events
- referring cases to more appropriate chambers when a lack of specialist expertise could jeopardise the outcome of the case
- maintaining awareness of cases that are likely to be coming to the chambers, especially major criminal cases, and contacting the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to check whether counsel has been arranged
- keeping up to date with specific areas of law and the specialisms of the barristers within the chambers
- running business activities and the administrative systems of chambers to meet quality standards
- keeping accounts and arranging the collection of case fees
- discussing with junior barristers the areas of law in which they wish to develop expertise and allocating relevant cases to them.
- Starting salaries generally begin at £15,000 to £20,000 at a junior level.
- With a few years' experience, junior clerks can progress to salaries of £24,000 to £35,000.
- Salaries for senior clerks vary from £40,000 to £80,000 and beyond, depending on the size and income of the chambers. A few senior clerks, negotiating fees for top barristers can earn six-figure salaries.
Some chambers offer a bonus payment that is directly related to the income of the barristers. Salaries are ultimately related to responsibility, ability and experience, with barristers' clerks in major chambers earning substantial salaries.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are typically standard office hours but you should be prepared to work long and irregular hours on occasions, in preparation for a major case and for business development events.
What to expect
- For junior clerks, the work involves going to court and to other barristers' chambers but, as you become more senior in the role, your work will become more office-based.
- Some barristers' chambers are housed in historic buildings with cramped conditions and difficult access.
- Most opportunities are in London, but there are major chambers in cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, generally based near the courts.
- There is generally a small team of around three to four barristers' clerks for every 15 to 20 barristers in a chamber. Clerks are often divided according to the types of legal cases handled by the chambers (e.g. criminal or family law).
- There is often a 'buzz' in chambers and work may be pressured. You will be working with barristers who may be elated from winning, frustrated at losing or feeling under pressure during a case. You will need to be able to handle and support their emotions and not feel intimidated or overawed.
- The dress code is smart and a jacket must be worn in court.
You do not need to have a degree to become a barristers' clerk. The majority of new entrants have GCSEs or A-levels, with the Institute of Barristers' Clerks recommending at least four GCSEs at grades A to C, including maths and English.
You will need to have:
- excellent face-to-face communication and interpersonal skills for dealing with clients, barristers, solicitors, court officials and judges
- an awareness of appropriate language and etiquette, particularly in court
- a good telephone manner and strong written communication skills
- excellent negotiation skills
- commercial awareness and sales skills, in order to maintain the supply of work
- attention to detail and accuracy
- computer literacy
- the ability to absorb a lot of information
- initiative, integrity and self-motivation
- organisational and planning ability, to handle several cases at different stages concurrently
- a reasonable knowledge of the different areas of law, in order to appreciate which barrister might be appropriate for a potential case
- the ability to work under pressure when a court deadline is approaching
- the capacity to work as part of a team with other barristers' clerks and barristers working on a case
- dedication to having a career as a barristers' clerk
- the physical ability to carry books, robes and documents to court.
You will be at an advantage if you have some previous relevant experience to show your suitability to the job. This may include any business, legal or accountancy work, as well as court administration.
Contact individual chambers for details of their own work experience schemes.
Barristers' clerks work for a set of barristers' chambers, most of which are located in London and other major cities, such as:
There are a few firms now offering online clerking services to barristers who work from home and these may be based anywhere in the country.
In Scotland, the equivalent position to a barristers' clerk is an advocates' clerk. Although the duties are broadly similar, the role does not involve proactively seeking work.
Details about advocates and chambers are available at the Faculty of Advocates.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Chambers People - a specialist recruitment agency.
- Institute of Barristers' Clerks (IBC) - you will need to be signed up as a member to access vacancies.
- Legal Hub - provides a directory of chambers for speculative approaches.
- Websites of individual chambers.
Your training is on the job, learning by working with an experienced clerk. Employing chambers will often provide practical training and may support further training through relevant organisations such as the IBC.
It's likely that you will be encouraged to work towards the BTEC Advanced Award in Chambers; Administration for Barristers' Clerks, developed by Central Law Training in consultation with the IBC. It is aimed at those with up to five years' experience and certifies your competence as a junior clerk.
While you do not need specific qualifications to get onto the course, you will need to have a senior clerk who is willing to mentor you throughout the programme.
The course consists of two half-day lectures and online learning via a dedicated website. You will work through the following four units:
- Unit 1 - Barristers' clerks - their work in context
- Unit 2 - Understanding the English legal system
- Unit 3 - Communication skills
- Unit 4 - Practical clerking.
Once you have completed the BTEC course successfully and you have five years' service in chambers, you can apply for qualified membership of the IBC.
Employing chambers may also use Chambers People, a specialist recruitment agency, to provide training sessions to their clerks.
With experience, you will develop knowledge and expertise in the specific areas of law undertaken by your chambers, for example:
- pensions law
As a barristers' clerk, it is important that you keep up to date with current legal issues, as well as market changes and administration issues. You will find membership of the IBC useful for networking and career development.
The majority of entrants start work as a junior clerk, typically followed by promotion to first-junior clerk. There are opportunities in larger chambers to work as a deputy-senior clerk prior to becoming senior clerk.
At a senior level, you may work as a fees clerk, with responsibility for negotiating, handling and collecting barristers' fees.
As well as senior clerk, progression may also lead to the post of practice manager/director, chambers manager or even chief executive, leading a team of barristers' clerks within the chambers.
The profession is made up of relatively small numbers so it may be necessary to move to different chambers for promotion. The best opportunities for progression and high earnings are in London, where there are more sets of chambers, but a successful career can be built elsewhere.
Senior positions are likely to be filled as the result of direct approaches from chambers. Those who reach the level of senior clerk generally stay with the same chambers for the rest of their career.
Being a barristers' clerk does not offer a shortened route to becoming a solicitor or barrister, although the experience and knowledge gained while working in a set of barristers' chambers would be very useful and relevant for a legal career.