Barrister’s clerk: what is the reality?
A recent article in the legal press has discussed the relationship of the clerk with a barrister – he was at once his clerk, his good servant, dresser, his friend, his flapper, his guide, stopwatch, auditor, treasurer. One of the clerk’s tasks was to send a barrister’s summer reading books to his hotel in Davos. He also booked the train ticket. No, no, no, said the barrister. He never sat with his back to the engine.
The clerk could be compared with a public school fag. (For those fortunate enough to have avoided an English public school education, a “fag” is a young boy who acts as an unpaid servant for an older boy. The benefits of this system are said to include an appreciation of the service ethos and respect for one’s elders).
In theory, the role of the barrister’s clerk has developed into management and administration, and clerks are now often described as practice managers. It is not clear how far this modern terminology reflects the reality of the barrister-clerk relationship. Clerks, who do not need formal qualifications, can exercise significant power over members of chambers, particularly in relation to the arrangement and distribution of work. In reality, practice as a barrister can be efficiently managed without the services of a clerk.