What a year this has been, and rather appropriate that we are holding our AGM exactly a year to the day that we all went into lockdown. This time last year, we thought that we would be out of chambers for a couple of weeks, not 52 and rising.
However, for the most part the IBC and its members have done what they do best, and carried on clerking, but not without some casualties and today is a time to reflect on those clerks who lost their jobs during this ongoing pandemic. Some clerks’ rooms continue to operate at half capacity, putting extra pressure on those not furloughed, some clerks remain furloughed and wondering whether they will still have a job once the furlough scheme ends. There remains a lot of uncertainty and I think that those of us who are still working consider themselves lucky to be doing so, however difficult the circumstances.
But, pandemic aside, the wheels of the IBC kept turning. As we all got used to meeting via Teams and Zoom, so the IBC adjusted is outlook for the year. All our management committee meetings have taken place via Zoom, which means that all members of the Man Comm, London and the Regions, are able to attend “in person” rather than just being a disembodied voice on the end of a phone line in a conference room in one of the Inns. This has, in my view, brought us all much closer together and helped us understand the different types of issues that we face across the country. For my part, I love seeing everyone once a month, and we have some really useful discussions between us.
Our sub-committtees remain active and we are represented on many Bar Council Committees. Let me give you a handful of examples of the work that we have been involved in:
- Etiquette and Discipline has been quiet, I am pleased to report, with only one issue which was dealt with promptly and properly considered in line with our Code of Conduct .
- The Legal Services Committee is always busy – one of the current issue with which they are dealing is dealing is Covid safety in the courts, or rather the lack of it. They are also monitoring the extended opening hours proposal, but that situation is in flux at the moment, partly because of resistance from the Bar and partly because of a lack of funding for the security.
- The International Business Development and Strategy Group has been looking at issues surrounding the involvement of the Bar Council with countries who have a questionable legal reputation eg China, and more administrative matters such as how to overcome the problem of foreign companies and clients not accepting that counsel and arbitrators can be in the same Chambers.
- Chambers and Social has mainly consisted of moving our annual events further and further back – last year we missed both the dinner, the summer social (which replaced the Ball) and the Conference, but they all have new dates set for later this year so fingers crossed that we can go ahead. I also know that the CDC committee are keen to get the social events up and running as soon as possible, so watch this space.
- Some of our E&D projects have taken something of a back seat in lockdown, but these are being rejuvenated eg access to clerking and E&D will become a big focus for the coming year, specifically around increasing the diversity of the profession and ensuring equal opportunities for all clerks in the workplace.
- Our website has been undergoing an overhaul under the watchful eye of Rowan Cafull and his team on the IT Committee – we are now able to make amendments and add news and events, booking and paying for events will be much easier, and there will be some new features, including a message board, a general forum, a parents forum and a female clerks forum.
- The Criminal Committee have been doing a stoic job in keeping on top of progress in getting the criminal courts up and running again and are part of various working groups including the introduction of the Common Platform and the launch of new Nightingale courts; Martin Secrett and Mark Essex continue to a brilliant job heading the committee and keeping the membership abreast of developments.
Our online conference was a huge success and the best feedback was from those who got in touch to say how much they enjoyed being part of the sessions in circumstances where they wouldn’t have been able to attend in person.
We have worked closely with the Bar Council on the issue of Fair Allocation of Work. This is going to be an ongoing theme for some time to come and we will be putting on webinar session to discuss what it is, how to implement it, how to report on it and why it is important. I am also a member of the Flexible Working Group, again organised by the Bar Council but including solicitor members.
For my part, just so that you know I have been keeping busy, I have spoken at all sorts of virtual events, including the Bar Conference, a panel session to discuss the Chancery Bar’s paper, Voices for Women, discussing lived experiences of women barristers at the Chancery Bar (which was not easy reading), a session for Advanced Legal on what the next 12 months looks like, a couple of sessions training for pupil supervisors, two webinars for ABC about remote working – overcoming the challenges for clerks and how to motivate people remotely, and whether more remote working going forward will enable us to retain more women in the profession; a returning to work session for Middle Temple, 2 article for Counsel magazine, discussing the viability of the Bar Standards Board Regulatory Return and timing of the same in Covid, I have taken part in a roundtable discussion organised by the BSB with the main stakeholders in the legal profession about Diversity and Distribution of Work, and I attend the Bar Council GMC every month, not forgetting the quiz organised in aid of the Barristers’ Clerk Benevolent Fund which I particular enjoyed because my team one thanks to me bursting into a George Michael song for the last question 😊
So, that was the year that was. A year of real ups and downs. I would like to take this opportunity to remember those members who are no longer with us, including dear Nigel Jones, who had been a stalwart of our profession and a great friend for as long as I can remember.
On the bright side, we have all learnt how to use Teams and Zoom, we have had fun experimenting with different backgrounds, we have all learnt to unmute before trying to speak, we have discovered the joy of walking (on the basis that there is nothing else to do) – I hear that walking dates are actually a thing! – and we have been eternally grateful for Netfilix. We have got used to working from home – mostly. We didn’t think we would, and I am sure that there are some members who are still struggling with it, because of course we are creatures who work best in a pack, we like to be surrounded by our fellow clerks, we like to be able to bounce problems off each other, we like to talk about football and new shoes, we like to argue over who’s turn it is to make the tea. Some of this we can do by zoom, but it’s not the same. I don’t know when we will be able to return to life as we knew it – I hesitate to say normal because this is all feeling very normal now – but I hope that it won’t be long before we can have some form or regular contact again. However, I also hope that we don’t try to go back to exactly how things were. The pandemic has taught us many things, one of which is that we CAN work from home and it is my real hope that we will embrace this new way of working and understand how it can facilitate a real work life balance for all, and make working life easier and more accessible for those with caring responsibilities.
Finally, a huge thank you to all the members of the Executive and Management Committees, and all those who step in to help with specific projects, without whom the IBC would be nothing. Thanks to all of them too for their friendship and support, which to me is invaluable.
I hope that 2021 is a better year for us all but let us not be too despondent about 2020. As I said at the beginning – we did what we do best – kept calm and carried on clerking and we should all give ourselves a pat on the back for making it this far.