Moving Chambers: London to the Regions?

Moving chambers is, without doubt, a big decision to make for any barrister. It takes time and determination to settle into a set, so when change comes calling – there are important considerations to be had to facilitate a successful application and a smooth transition.

Perhaps the major consideration is: where will you go? Your own circumstances may mean you have little choice, for instance, changes in family circumstances or relationship ties mean you will have to look at a narrow geographical area. On the other hand, if you have simply decided you need a change – the world at the Bar is your oyster. And this may mean looking beyond London to what the regional Bar has to offer.

London is, of course, universally accepted as the home of the Bar and, as such, will be a magnet for many seeking to move chambers. This huge, bustling metropolis might be perfectly suited to barristers for whom a hugely diverse cultural and social environment is as equally important as their work - but the London Bar is not, by any stretch, the exclusive means by which to forge a successful career at the Bar.

Sets at the regional Bar offer distinct and important advantages with the lower cost of living, tighter communities, and particularly strong relationships with local solicitors’ firms.

The Bar in the Regions

Whilst London is undoubtedly a huge draw to members of the Bar seeking upward progression, the Regional Bar - with its many outstanding Chambers - is not to be sniffed at. You do not have to be at the London Bar to have a successful career. Any view to the contrary is an outdated and inaccurate misconception; you only have to look at the Legal 500 and Chambers directories to see the robust evidence of the expertise of the regional Bar, the supersets and outstanding barristers. And remember that more than half of barristers’ chambers in England and Wales are outside of London.

An important procedural development towards the end of last year has helped cement the standing of the Bar in the regions. The Civil Procedure Rules Committee decided that the new part of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) dealing with the launch of the Business and Property Courts (BCP) - now operational - makes clear that no case is too big to be tried outside of London.

Following the February 2018 launch of the BPC in Liverpool, the Liverpool Law Society responded: “Having businesses able to enforce their rights and have decisions made locally ensures that justice can be carried out at a proportionate cost in a way that is visible to those involved. The Liverpool City Region and surrounding area is home to many large local and international businesses, with complex and technical legal needs. It is of huge benefit to users of the court and to practitioners that cases can be heard locally so that they are supported equally in the resolution of their disputes, regardless of location.

“The perception that any issues can only be dealt with in London is one that needs to be altered. Flexible cross deployment of judges to ensure that specialist High Court Judges are available to hear cases in Liverpool when needed will go a long way to changing that perception. There is a further benefit to practitioners and those in the business of law to the B&PCs being located in Liverpool. It means that those practising in the region can continue to service their clients effectively, allowing them to attract and retain legal talent that may otherwise be drawn elsewhere. This is not only key in the administration of justice, but in the economic growth and stability of the region.”[1]

There are numerous robust sets across the regions, though their very nature means that the sets vary from city to town to city. Whether Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield. Many “in the know” say that the contrast between sets in London and the provinces is immense, while others say there is not such a clear line to be drawn between them. The evidence suggests the latter is nearer to mark.

Many are committed to and investing in expansion programmes across the circuits north of Watford. There is also evidence of collaboration between regional sets in the context of the use of alternative business structures. In its research[2] exploring how the delivery of legal services is evolving at the Bar, the BSB cites an example of when several northern organisations tried to adapt to ProcureCo, which led to collaborations between sets of barristers.

Increasing collaborations and associations for training purposes means barristers benefit from excellent training, and shared experiences – and even more fun with - other sets in the same Circuit. Two years ago, for instance, a number of barristers’ chambers in Leeds formed the North Eastern Circuit Commercial Bar Association for the specific purpose of promoting the benefits of retaining commercial legal work in the region.

All of the Circuits run advocacy and ethics courses for new practitioners, and a number of CPD courses. There is no reason why you may not enjoy faster career profession in the provinces. However, do note that if you are seeking to continue in an area of specialty – or if you are thinking about specialising in a particularly niche area – regional sets are far less likely to facilitate this.

Barristers’ earnings and the cost of living are necessarily important factors for most. Whilst earnings may be significantly lower in the regions compared to London, this is relative to the lower cost of living (particularly the cost of property and rent). And if you do want a decent life outside of work, the regional cities undoubtedly have their cultural hotspots if you look.

Wherever you eventually decide to apply, you will need to demonstrate your firm commitment to that set if you are to succeed in your application. A regional set is no exception.

Find out more about chambers on the relevant circuit websites:

Northern Circuit
North Eastern Circuit
South Eastern Circuit
Wales and Chester Circuit
Western Circuit
Midland Circuit (website under construction)

[1] www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/the-business-and-property-courts-in-liverpool.pdf
[2] www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/media/1832273/delivery_models_report_-_final_draft_approved.pdf

 

 

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