Katie Cromwell, Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC) Representative Member of the Young Barristers’ Committee
Chambers: Keating Chambers
Role: Practice Manager
My alarm goes off at 5.30am because I have to be at a meeting of The Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC) at 8am, I was co-opted on to the IBC Committee 4 years ago as a graduate clerk, and subsequently joined the Education Committee. The education of clerks is important to me and I am always thinking about seminars I think might be valuable to both junior and more senior clerks. After the Management Committee meeting, those of us on the committee for the annual IBC Conference stay behind to discuss the conference content, sponsorship and the general logistics.
I arrive at chambers at around 10am, and having checked and prioritised emails on the train, deal with the ones that cannot wait. Being a clerk requires exceptional organisational skills because whilst there is an element of routine and planning to the job, a lot of what we do is reactionary and we can never be in control of how thick and fast emails and calls come in on a given day.
Today I have taken a call from a solicitor who needs urgent advice from a junior this afternoon in respect of enforcing an adjudication, July is a particularly difficult month for a clerk as barristers disappear on holiday or put down the shutters ahead of vacation, thankfully I find someone with the requisite availability, although slightly out of the price range of the solicitor. With some creative clerking, we settle on a fixed fee for the job and everyone is happy. Not all calls from solicitors are work related. Having spent several years building relationships, a solicitor I know well calls to ask if I can obtain a ticket to an industry event held by an organisation she does not happen to be a member of, I ask a favour from a barrister who is a member and call a very happy solicitor to confirm the ticket is on its way.
Whilst it is traditional for most clerks to dine “Al Desko”, proper lunch times are actively encouraged at my new set and so I catch up with a clerk from my old chambers. Maintaining a network of clerk contacts is vitally important, you never know when you might need a favour and since the world of clerking is small and tight knit, your peers are an invaluable source of advice, wisdom and of course, favours.
After lunch the Senior Practice Manager and I have a Practice Development Meeting with a Senior Silk. This particular Silk is well established and so the meeting is easy. We discuss the work done so far, the aged debt, as well as the various reports for marketing and distribution of work. We also discuss the work the Silk would like to obtain over the coming year and the steps we can all take to make that happen. Practice Development Meetings at Silk level take place around once a year.
The afternoon brings more dealing with emails and calls, placing cases and confirming that each barrister has all the information they need for the following day, as well as following up on enquiries that have not yet landed. In the evening, I will often have drinks with a client, or perhaps attend a seminar with one of my barristers. Depending on the client, these can sometimes be very late nights. I find that having a drink with a client cements relationships in a way that isn’t possible over the phone. Knowing your client’s personality and expectations is every bit as important as knowing your barristers.
If I am not conducting business development, I can usually be found on the netball court or catching up with friends. After nearly a decade of clerking, I am used to a fast-paced life and am not very good at sitting still, however, in the moments when I do, maybe at lunchtime in Fountain Court, I am always very grateful that I get to do this wonderful job which is every bit as rewarding as it is difficult.