Turning over a New Leaf in the New Year

The new year means new beginnings for many professionals. It’s also a time of year prompting many a self-employed lawyer to rethink their professional life and take stock. If you are considering moving chambers, whether locally or further afield, the prospect can be very daunting. We highlight some of the key factors barristers need to think about.

Switching sets
Once very unusual, moving to another set in a lateral move is now commonplace but it does come with potential problems. You could find the terms of your tenancy include somewhat onerous terms relating to the termination of your membership, such as payments on leaving chambers, fee collection, data protection issues, and disputes. However, though your chambers have their own interests to protect, barristers are required to conduct the affairs of their chambers in a manner which is fair and equitable for all members of chambers.

So if you’re thinking about a lateral move because you’ve had a great offer of a tenancy elsewhere, or your existing chambers has changed its focus, or you want more experience in another area of practice, you need to understand the risks of making such a move.

With that in mind, if you state your intention to leave, you may need to negotiate further terms or variations of existing conditions, to ensure a smooth departure, though this will depend on any existing interests in your set. It will also depend on how your flexible your chambers are. You may for instance, be able to agree a payment to chambers in lieu of notice to enable you to leave promptly without working the required notice period. But this could prove expensive with payments running potentially into thousands of pounds to cover the cost to chambers of the loss of your income. You may also need to deal with the issue of unpaid fees and invoices from clients and solicitors.

At the same time, check the terms of your new set (if you have an offer), because you need to know if you will could be exposed to a double charge in relation to your fees. If that’s a risk, speak with your existing chambers to see if you can negotiate a settlement. Also check the terms of your new tenancy for anything that could make a future move similarly tricky - and negotiate if possible.

If you are thinking of moving chambers, you will benefit from reading the informal guidance from the Ethics Committee of the BSB, Barristers leaving chambers – obligations on chambers and departing barristers, which addresses many of the practical issues that will crop up. It also highlights your professional obligations and responsibilities, and those of your existing chambers. The bottom line is, you have your own interests to protect, and though chambers also have their interests to protect – they do understand the difficulties that arise for barristers who decide to switch chambers.

Moving further afield
Switching chambers in your immediate locality is one thing (and undoubtedly more straightforward), but moving further away brings further considerations for barristers on the move. You may be deciding whether to move to a London chambers, or out of London to the regions.

While some barristers have no choice as to where they will move because of their particular personal circumstances, others will be weighing up which geographical area to focus on – or even whether to move offshore if they have the experience.

London is the home of the Bar and is understandably a major attraction for barristers moving from the regions or seeking a lateral move from one London set to another. For up-and-coming barristers seeking an upward progression in their career, joining a London set should prove a positive professional move.

Though London is undoubtedly singularly attractive, it is not the exclusive preserve of the best barristers at the Bar. There are hugely successful chambers in the regions (more than half of chambers in England and Wales are outside London), and now that the Business and Property Courts are up and running, no business case is too big to be tried outside of London – even international disputes. Cases are heard at Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Cardiff and Bristol, as well in London, so any perception that big cases can only be dealt with in London is fast diminishing.

To add to the attraction of the regions, there is also the lower cost of living, lower house prices and tighter communities – but not at the cost of your career. There may be a reduction in earnings if you are leaving London, but the benefits of moving to the regions will undoubtedly outweigh this. There is also a level of collaboration between sets that you may not find in London, for shared training and experiences.

Are you thinking about practicing offshore? If so, the attractions are obvious: the Channel Islands offer a better climate, the work of a higher quality, a higher net income and a better life balance. Commuting will probably be a thing of the past – save for the odd trip to the mainland (a flight to London takes just half an hour or so).

However, given that Jersey and Guernsey are now world class financial centres, you ideally need to demonstrate to your prospective firm your solid experience in areas such as commercial law, banking, dispute resolution and cross-border transactional work to have a good chance of securing a tenancy in the Channel Islands. You will probably be expected to work relatively autonomously and at a faster pace, with more responsibility, and suitable experience will be important.

On a procedural note, remember that Jersey and Guernsey are not part of the UK but are British Crown Dependencies - distinct jurisdictions influenced by English common law, French civil law and Normandy Customary Law. To be granted full rights to litigate as an attorney, you would be required to do further study and to undertake a local period of apprenticeship. Note also that you need to be qualified in Jersey or Guernsey to become a partner.

Research is therefore vital. Contact agents specialising in offshore legal practice, learn as much as possible about the firms of interest to you ,and visit the islands (particularly the financial centres) to get a feel of the place, the atmosphere and the types of home available. Perhaps one of the most important things you can do is talk with other barristers who left the English Bar to practice in the Channel Islands.

With any move, whether a local lateral change of set or a long-haul move to Jersey or Guernsey, make the time to consider these issues carefully and research your options before taking serious practical steps to move.



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