A barristers' clerk is responsible for managing the practice and business activities of the barristers within a set of barristers' chambers. It is a demanding role, crucial to the smooth running and success of chambers
As a barristers' clerk you'll provide essential administrative and business support to your members or barristers. Your role is integral to the success of a set of chambers, both as individual legal practices and as an overall business.
The term 'clerk' is historical and does not accurately reflect the work undertaken or responsibilities held. Barristers' clerks are also referred to as practice assistants, outdoor office assistants or assistant practice managers depending on their level of responsibility. Starting as a 'junior clerk', progression can take you through the ranks to senior clerk, sometimes referred to as chambers director or senior practice manager.
In Scotland, the equivalent role is advocates' clerk.
While this is a demanding role, it is also a very rewarding one, for which you need to possess a combination of strong interpersonal skills, good commercial acumen, and ideally some understanding of legal systems.
Being a successful barristers' clerk is a profession in itself. You should not view this position as a stepping-stone to becoming a barrister. Chambers will look for individuals who demonstrate a true passion for the role and a commitment to it as their chosen career path.
Typical responsibilities vary according but essentially you will be managing the practice's diary. This involves:
- scheduling meetings
- arranging for files/papers to be taken to and from the relevant court
- negotiating fees on behalf of your barristers
- suggesting particular barristers for cases according to their set practice areas and experience
- fixing cases
- marketing and developing the business of members to maintain the supply of work
- maintaining excellent client relationships with solicitors and other professional clients
- being aware of compliance matters and ensuring systems are current and accurate.
If you're a junior clerk, you may also need to:
- transport files/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're 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 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
- 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
- holding practice development meetings with barristers to discuss and plan their workload, identify areas of law they wish to develop expertise in, and set and measure targets for future work.
- Starting salaries for junior clerks in London are generally around the London Living Wage.
- With a few years' experience, salaries can quickly rise to in excess of £27,000.
- Salaries for senior clerks vary widely and are dependent on the size and income of chambers and the area of law in which they practice. They can be anywhere from around £90,000 upwards, with many of today's senior clerks earning six-figure salaries.
Salaries outside of London are generally lower.
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 leading 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 on a rota basis for some sets and for long and irregular hours on occasion - for instance, in preparation of a major case and for business development events.
What to expect
- For junior clerks, the work may involve taking papers to and from court and to other chambers. Some barristers' chambers are housed in historic buildings.
- Most opportunities are in London but also other major cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. There are also jobs available at chambers located near regional local law courts.
- There is generally a small team of around three to four clerks (one senior clerk and two or three junior clerks) for every 15 to 20 barristers. Clerks are sometimes divided according to the types of cases handled by the chambers, or by seniority of members and whether they are juniors or QCs.
- There is often a 'buzz' in chambers and work may be pressured. You'll be working with barristers who may be elated from winning, frustrated at losing or feeling under pressure during a case. You'll need to be able to handle and support their emotions and not feel intimidated or overawed.
- The dress code is smart.
Although there are no set requirements in terms of qualifications to become a junior clerk, chambers will expect you to have GCSEs in maths and English at grade 4 or above (or equivalent) and will typically ask for further GCSEs, also at grade 4 or above (or equivalent).
Many barristers' clerks have higher qualifications such as A-levels or a degree. Some sets may prefer candidates with higher qualifications or qualifications in a law-based subject.
You might also be able to enter the profession by taking a higher apprenticeship in law and/or business administration.
Having relevant work experience, skills and personal qualities is particularly important.
Some chambers may recruit clerks with previous management or administrative experience.
You'll 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, 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
- dedication to having a career in the specific role as a barristers' clerk
- the capacity to work as part of a team with other barristers' clerks and barristers working on a case.
You'll 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.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
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:
- ABC Chambers Solutions - a specialist recruitment consultancy for all support roles within a barrister's chambers.
- Chambers People - a specialist recruitment agency.
- Institute of Barristers' Clerks (IBC) - entry-level jobs are available on the website, but you'll need to be signed up as a member to access higher-level clerk positions.
You can also check the websites of individual chambers.
Your training is largely done 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 and specialist recruitment agencies.
With experience, you will develop knowledge and expertise in the specific areas of law undertaken by your chambers, such as:
- pensions law
As a barristers' clerk it's important that you keep up to date with current legal issues, as well as market changes and administration issues. You'll find membership of the IBC useful for networking and career development.
The majority of entrants start work as a junior (or starter) clerk, full-time. Promotion is usually expected after 18 to 24 months, dependent on experience, either within chambers or with a move to a different set.
With more than five years' experience, a clerk will undertake greater responsibility in the practice management of chambers including fee negotiation, managing diaries and fixing cases, developing client relationships and marketing initiatives.
Some clerks can branch into fees clerk positions, with responsibility for handling and collecting barristers' fees on behalf of chambers.
As well as senior clerk, progression may also lead to the post of practice senior manager, chambers director or even chief executive, leading a team of barristers' clerks within chambers.
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.
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.