My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with the greatest pleasure that I welcome you, on behalf of the IBC, to our annual dinner.
I am delighted to see many familiar faces here, and to have made new acquaintances this evening. I should particularly like to welcome Richard Atkins, Chair of the Bar Council and Vanessa Davies, Director of the BSB and to thank them for their support of the institute.
To those of you who don’t know me, I am the joint Senior Clerk at 11KBW. I have been at 11KBW for 23 years this year (which surely should mean a bit of time off for good behavior) and prior to that I was at 1 Essex Court, the then Chambers of Sam Stamler QC, spending a year as a receptionist and then 5 years as a clerk.
It’s fair to say that when I started on reception at 1 Essex, I had no idea that I would end up as Chair of the IBC.
Lots has changed in the 29 years that I have been in the Temple, most of it good and, during my tenure as Chair, there are changes that I would like to make.
My aims are simple; to promote inclusivity; improve diversity; to encourage and, in some cases, re-establish communication between clerks and with the Bar; and to be visible as the leader of this profession.
Inclusivity covers many things; my programme to promote inclusivity has already started with the creation of a Crime Committee. I feel that criminal clerks have become completely disenfranchised from the IBC and I want to draw them back. They, after all, are the ones likely to benefit most from the help and comradeship of the Institute right now. I am delighted that Martin Secrett of 9 Bedford Row and Mark Essex of 6KBW College Hill succumbed to my sales pitch and agreed to lead the crime committee. We are hoping to engage with those in charge of Crown Court listing and get them in to speak to our members; we are looking at the issues surrounding graduated fees; we are discussing the damage that the DSC system is doing to the heart of criminal chambers to see what we might to combat this; and we will look to ensure that our Education programme covers topics specific and relevant to Criminal Clerks. I have also met with Mark Fenhalls QC, the leader of the South Eastern Circuit and he has been very informative and helpful. In a couple of weeks, I am off to sit in Martin Secrett’s clerks’ room for a couple of hours in the afternoon, to see what it’s really like trying to sort the diaries for the following day. I have been advised that, as a softy civil clerk, I should bring a hard hat.
I want to include our regional colleagues in the IBC as much as possible. Colleagues like Matt Gibbons of Deans Court Chambers and Leigh Royall of Spire Barristers provide invaluable support as members of the Management Committee, but I would like to see the IBC arrange more events in the regions both social and educational and (warning) I shall be speaking to senior clerks across the regions to see how we can make this work.
Ultimately, inclusivity for me means helping our members to realise that it matters not where we come from, what gender, ethnicity or religion we are, what our sexual preferences are, whether we have a disability, mental or physical – in my view these characteristics, in this profession, do not identify us. What binds us and defines us is that we are barristers’ clerks and, as such we are here to support and look out for each other.
Diversity within the profession needs serious improvement. It is well know that for years this has been a profession for fathers and son, populated by the male and pales. However, things are changing a bit, evidenced by the fact that I am here addressing you this evening as the Chair of the IBC. Gender diversity is better, although retention of females still needs more work, but we mostly still seem to be drawing from the same pool of candidates. The IBC now has an Access to Clerking Committee with the simple aim of widening the pool and spreading the word about this fabulous profession. So far, we have engaged with the Stephen Lawrence Trust, giving career talks in school in South East London; and with Prospects London Connections, which is part of The Shaw Trust. After speaking at a half term workshop, 5 of the 20 students that took part applied for and have been found work experience placements in chambers; this year, for the first time, we are going to have stand at Skills London, which is the City’s biggest jobs and careers event. Huge thanks are due to Sian Wilkins of Doughty Street and Sian Huckett from Fountain Court for all their hard work and for being involved with Access to Clerking from the beginning. Separately, the IBC was recently represented by Tom Parker of 15 New Bridge Street, who ran a stand at the Wood Green Crown Court Open Day, at the invitation of the presiding judge. If we can pique the interest of just one student at these events, then it will all be worthwhile.
Our E&D Committee has been rejuvenated and with the help of Sian Huckett, Alex Southern of Tanfield Chambers and Isabel Baylis of Matrix, we are working towards ensuring that all chambers promote best practice in this area. We will shortly be releasing a new diversity survey – please don’t ignore it! Your participation will help us to measure, in the future, if our efforts are effecting change. Further, I plan to ask the four main recruitment companies who specialise in chambers roles, for their diversity stats, with a view to ensuring that they too are drawing from the widest pool. I know that diversity in chambers’ staff recruitment is of great concern to the Bar Council and I want to be able to assure them that the IBC is working hard to achieve diversity in recruitment. Last but not least on diversity, this month you will notice that our logo on Twitter and Linkedin has been modified to include the rainbow flag, in recognition of LGBT Pride month (thank you to Steven Willey at Matrix for being our social media king).
I turn now to communication. Not communication by email, or social media but in person, face to face. COCo, or Clerks in Open Conversation is going some way towards helping with this aim. COCo grew from an idea that I had, where I wanted to be able to share my experiences as a clerk, as a female, as a female clerk, as a working mum, as an ultimately single working mum, but how to do that? I didn’t want an exclusively female group because I don’t think that setting us apart and talking amongst each other helps, rather it creates division. It’s not about being different, or better, it’s about being equal and, for that to happen, we all need to understand each other. COCo, or Clerks in Open Conversation hopes to encourage conversation amongst all of us. COCo is still in her infancy and the COCo committee is feeling it’s way in terms of the things that people want to talk about. Needless to say, the social events are pretty well attended and that is great as I see clerks talking to each other, meeting clerks from other sets, finding out that they have friends in comment etc, but we are also trying to bring difficult topics, such as recognising and reporting sexual harassment and bullying, into an open forum. My thanks to the all the COCo committee for your ongoing commitment.
Improved Communication between clerks and the Bar Council also falls within this “aim”. When I met with Richard a few weeks ago, I think we were pleasantly surprised to realise that, in principle, we had similar aims for the profession and wanted to promote “One Bar”.
In my opinion, the clerks are essential to the success of One Bar. We clerks are the ones at the coal face; we are the ones responsible, in some cases, for running multi-million pound businesses; we are the ones who solve problems, who arrange fees; who collect fees; who manage diaries, who allocate work, who strive to keep everyone of their members happy; who understand that whilst promoting a brand we have to manage the individual practitioner. We are negotiators, we are HR managers, we are rainmakers, we are careers advisers, we are counsellors and, if you ask nicely, we might even peel an orange.
I am so pleased to have been invited to sit on the Bar Council GMC and, although I am still finding my feet (seriously, it is quite overwhelming sitting at a table with 15 or so strange counsel, hoping that you don’t have to say anything because you know that the minute you try and do so only a squeak will come out – but ridiculous I know, especially as I have been working with barristers for so long, it’s just the unknown quantity…….) – although I am still finding my feet, I hope to become a valuable member of that committee. I am already tasked with my first assignment, if you will, which without giving anything away has opened up some previously untapped lines of communication in the RCJ.
Much of the value that we bring is as a result of the fabulous education programme that is run by the IBC. For this, I must thank the Education Committee, particularly Geoff Carr who, until very recently was the Chair. His dedication to the cause has been outstanding. You may not know that we run a very full education programme – not just practical seminars on listing, practice reviews, wellbeing etc, but also in a more academic vein. We offer a BTEC in Chambers Administration, a Level 3 and Level 5 ILM and (drum roll please) I am incredibly proud to announce that, thanks to the hard work of Geoff and his Committee, from October we are able to offer a Post Graduate Certificate in Professional Practice for Legal Services, in conjunction with the University of Kent. It will take the form of part time blended learning, created with busy clerks in mind. with evening workshops held in Chambers, online resources and home study supported by a mentor.
Those who complete the course successfully will be awarded a Postgraduate Certificate by the University of Kent.
I hope you will agree that this is a ground-breaking development by the IBC, which will further enhance the role of a clerk and will benefit Chambers in the process.
Thank you again Geoff and team for all your hard work in making this happen. I know that it was a lengthy and very time-consuming task. I would also like to wish good luck to David Bingham, who kindly volunteered himself to take over as the new Chair of the Education Committee.
Finally, in terms of visibility, I want our members to know who I am, what I am, my aims for the IBC, what I am doing on behalf of the IBC; I want our members to know that I am approachable, that despite being absolutely ancient, I am really not at all scary, and that I am a pretty normal person (I realise, of course, that “normal” is relative) For me, this is not just about having a title (fabulous though that is and, if you are in any doubt about how to address me, Madam will be fine!) – no, it’s about having the opportunity to give something back to this profession that I love, and to bring my experience to bear in making things better for our members and all those who will follow on. I even have my own twitter page @chair_ibc Posts are a bit sporadic at the moment, but I will get better.
You will be pleased to know that I am almost done. Timings aren’t too bad, I think, considering that Version 1 of this speech was over 40 minutes. You know me, never use 1 word, when 100 will do!
However, a speech isn’t a speech without a few thank yous and these are mine:
Thank you to Mark Hatcher, for saying Grace, and to Richard for agreeing to speak this evening.
Thank you to Simon Boutwood of Harcourt Buildings and Rosie Geddess our Administrator for the fantastic job they did in arranging this evening’s dinner. Thanks too to the Middle Temple staff for doing such a great job in keeping us fed and watered.
Thank you to Nick Hill, the previous Chair of the IBC. Nick, you have been magnificent in so many ways and you have really made the IBC a force to be reckoned with. I must make particular reference to the fantastic work that you did in relation to Wellbeing, along with Sam Mercer, Chair of E&D at the Bar Council. Thanks to you, Sam and her team, Wellbeing is now an important consideration in every day chambers’ life. I only hope, Nick, that I will be a worthy successor, but you are a flipping hard act to follow.
Thank you to James Goudie QC and John Cavanagh QC, my heads of chambers, for allowing me to accept the role as Chair of the IBC which inevitably cuts into Chambers’ time. I am not sure you will have noticed, but I am absolutely loving it! Thank you to 11KBW and particular those members and former members here this evening, for all their support over the last 23 years – I wouldn’t be here without you.
Thank you to Philip Monham, unfortunately not able to be here this evening (apparently some group called the Illegal Eagles are a greater pull than the IBC dinner) who has been the most loyal work colleague for the last 23 years; always ready to guide me through difficult situations; always there with a kind word and never a cross one; always in good humour; unfailingly courteous, and the maker of the best cup of tea in the Temple. A true gentleman.
Thank you to all my IBC committee members both on the Executive Committee and the Management Committee, for trusting me with this role. I won’t let you down.
Thank you to my dear friend and colleague Jackie Ginty of 1 Essex Court. We met back when I started in the Temple in 1990 when we were 21 – and poor Jackie hasn’t been able to shake me off since. Over all those years, Jackie has been a great support in times of need, my confidante, my voice of reason, basically my rock; and here we are, Jackie, still friends, still working together, but this time for the IBC.
Thank you to my beautiful daughter, who has never complained about having a working mum. I am so lucky to have you.
Last but not least, I would like to thank my dad, whom we sadly lost almost a year ago to the day. Dad was my dearest friend, my most ardent supporter; always on my side (even when I might have been a little tiny bit in the wrong). Without his hard work, gentle encouragement and unconditional love for me, my life might have been quite different. Dad, you are greatly missed but I hope that, wherever you are, tonight, you are proud of this Barbet.