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Lifting the bar

Lifting the bar

By Carolyn Ford

Barristers Workplace 

Clerk-barrister-solicitor arrangements are changing gradually. There are multiple pathways to a barrister, but typically they are engaged by law firms via clerks. Melbourne has 12 barristers clerks (list owners and CEOs pictured) and each has a unique profile in terms of size and practice areas. Between them, they represent the 2000-odd barristers at the Victorian Bar. Explaining what a barristers’ clerk does, one-time solicitor Michael Green of Green’s List says: “Clerks are like show business or sporting agents, only they represent barristers. We are the interface between barristers and the rest of the profession. “It’s as simple as a solicitor picking up the phone and talking to a clerk, who will then consider their barristers’ expertise, price and style, and after asking clarifying questions about the matter and client, make a recommendation of the best match for their client. It’s an extremely useful resource to solicitors in assisting clients.” Barristers’ clerks are familiar with skills, expertise, experience and availability of the barristers on their list and liaise with solicitors and clients to match them with the best representation for each matter. Clerks organise barristers’ bookings and provide messaging, telephone and accounting services. They also take care of the administrative aspects of engaging counsel – fee negotiations and administration. As well, clerks provide events for instructing firms, education and skills development for their list members, information on court listings, delivery and collection of briefs, a phone message service, management of members’ accounts including receipt of trust monies and certifying bills of cost. Much as personal relationships play a big part in clerk-barrister-solicitor arrangements, the digital revolution has come to clerking as it has to other parts of the legal profession, with solicitors often doing their own online research for expert advocates. “In all walks of life, people’s first resource when they have a query is the internet. We are no different,” Mr Green says. “When we are on the phone to solicitors recommending a barrister, they are often online looking at who you have suggested. They see the face and can read their professional information.” Mr Green says there has been talk of making barristers’ diaries accessible to solicitors, who could check availability immediately, but he believed there were too many uncertainties, which a clerk would be aware of, to make an online diary a reliable resource. A potential resource for solicitors being trialled by one Melbourne list is a litigation analysis platform, a Trip Advisor-type program ranking barristers based on their court outcomes. Publicly available information – type of case, area of law, judgments, outcomes – is analysed and the barrister is given a star rating. That might be the direction engaging a barrister is going, but a court case isn’t a holiday and clerks emphasise the value of personal relationships and the curated service they provide in a “human profession”. “It’s often the intangibles,” says Jane King, a former solicitor with national law firms and now CEO of List G Barristers. “Just in terms of the time and stress clerks can save solicitors, clerks are an invaluable resource. A time-poor solicitor could make multiple calls to secure expertise and availability without success. In one call, the clerk will know who is appropriately qualified and available for the brief. “Unlike computer software, clerks have the ability to consider relationships and relevant information that is not publicly available. For example, which barrister might be a good fit with a solicitor, which senior and junior counsel teams work well together, what recent cases barristers have been involved in that are not yet reported and where confidential client conflicts may arise. Clerks can also discreetly discuss the various interpersonal sensitivities that are inevitable in a relationship based profession. John Dever at Dever’s List says his recommendations to solicitors are based predominantly on feedback from other solicitors and a barrister’s reputation. “Our interest is primarily in ensuring that the client and solicitor have been connected with a barrister that best suits the case and parties involved. “Clerks want to encourage the legal fraternity to communicate with them while offering online technologies to supplement that goal.”

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