fivehundred magazine > The Bar > To the future of clerking

To the future of clerking

In a recent speech given at Middle Temple, Three New Square senior clerk Nicholas Hill reflects on his three years as chair of the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks

By the time you read this, I will recently have completed my three year term as chair of the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC). It comes with a mixture of emotion. Any relief I may have at not having to give another after dinner speech is more than outweighed by the sense of sadness that my term has come to an end. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as chair; it has been a mixture of hard work on the various projects, reward at seeing projects come to fruition and developing friendships as I worked with clerking colleagues, old and new.

At the outset of my term, I had four aims of office, all of which had to do with improving communication: communication among clerks, between clerks and barristers, between our profession and wider society and, finally, recognising the need for all of us to keep in touch with our own thoughts and feelings.

Communication, education, and engagement

The starting point for improving communication among clerks was to engage better with IBC members, to update them and showcase all that we do. In November 2016, we launched our redesigned IBC image and website, which is now an up-to-date and user friendly resource. We have followed that up with social media accounts, regular bulletins, and a report at the end of each term, which is always a pleasure to put together and I’ve been consistently impressed by the weekly bulletin which shows the impressive range of events and offerings to the membership.

Education continues to be a focus, and we now have specific courses at ILM level 3 and level 5, and we are developing a degree programme and throughout the year we also offer various ‘hot topic’ seminars covering issues like GDPR, appraisals, and financial planning. The flagship education event each year is the IBC conference and I would encourage all clerks to attend this year’s conference in London.

My second aim as IBC chair was better engagement with the Bar Council, and this has been particularly successful. At the invitation of Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, I was co-opted to the Bar Council’s General Management Committee in 2016, and am delighted to have been invited to remain on that committee by all three subsequent Bar chairs. I feel the IBC and Bar Council secretariat have built a strong and fruitful relationship, liaising well on matters such as consultations and communication to members of the Bar through the IBC network.

Diversity and inclusivity

My third aim was to see the IBC develop its equality and diversity credentials. This has also been a real success but there is still work to be done to ensure the profession fully reflects the society within which it operates (see boxout). We’re now working with the Stephen Lawrence Trust to improve education in schools about the clerking profession and the opportunities it offers. I am delighted that six chambers have offered work experience to year 11-13 students who otherwise would not have such an opportunity.

Also of particular note in this vein is the work done by IBC vice-chair, Lucy Barbet, and her committee around the launch of COCo, which stands for Clerks in Open Conversation. COCo arranges informal gatherings for clerks, and especially female clerks, to meet colleagues and discuss relevant issues – including advice and guidance for junior clerks across the profession in matters such as parental leave, harassment, and bullying in the work place – with the aim of supporting them throughout their career and improving retention. In November, we launched the IBC mentoring system to pair younger clerks with experienced colleagues willing to coach them.

Each of these initiatives continues to grow in both activity and attendance by members; and each committee is committed to finding new ways to reach out, not only to all members of the current clerking community but also to all and any potential entrants to the profession.

Wellbeing at the Bar

My fourth aim as chair is the one I’m probably best known for, and indeed the one of which I am most proud. If you’ve come across my name before you will probably know how strongly I feel about improving the profession’s mental health and wellbeing. I believe that effective communication with others begins with a healthy understanding of oneself.

When I joined the Wellbeing at the Bar working group in 2014, there were just six of us, and mental health was something that was just not spoken about. Thanks to the work of that group that culture has changed out of all recognition. In the past five years, I have spoken numerous times at events in the wellbeing field, authored a wellbeing chapter in a book about management at the Bar and co-authored the Chancery Bar Association wellbeing policy, which is freely available to any set.

How well do you know your clerks?

  • The majority of clerks are aged between 25-34 (29%) and 35-44 (25%);
  • In the 25-34 group, 69 out of 115 are male;
  • In the 35-44 bracket, 34 out of 102 are female;
  • Male clerks make up 67% of the profession;
  • Out of 134 members who are senior clerks, 114 are male;
  • Out of 162 junior clerks, 62 are female;
  • One in ten IBC members have a disability;
  • The largest ethnic group is white British (89.9%), followed by Irish (1.5%), and Indian (1%);
  • An equal number of clerks are Christian as have no religious belief (46% each);
  • The next largest religious denominations are Hindu (1%), Muslim (0.76%), and Buddhist (0.76%);
  • Some 97% of clerks are heterosexual, compared to 3% who are LGBT;
  • 90% of clerks attended a state school and 70% did not attend university;
  • Of those who did attend higher education, 15% were the first members of their family to do so;
  • 17% of clerks are the primary care giver to a child under 18 years of age.