The English bar, when I began practice in the 1970s, was a sclerotic caste-based institution very different to the profession that provides advocacy services today. Chambers were notorious for denying access to women (“we don’t have the toilet facilities”) and to minorities, whilst pupils were never paid for their labour and often required to pay a “pupillage fee” (an anachronistic one hundred guineas) for the privilege. Bar ‘ethics’ insisted on aloofness from clients – they were left to solicitors – and prosecutors never spoke to victims of crime. Barristers could not promote their services – this was called “touting” and you could be struck off for handing out an address card. Chambers were run by venal clerks on commission, who discriminated on grounds of sex and politics in allotting work and refused to accept briefs from solicitors who did “civil liberties” (which was what human rights were then called). The approach of most chambers was Dickensian - there was little sense of teamwork; no chambers brochures; very few pupils were taken and fewer were “taken on”. The Bar was, in short, a smug, self-satisfied coterie with complete immunity from any action for negligence - the incarnation of the Ogden Nash aphorism: “Professional people have no cares. Whatever happens, they get theirs.”
The first step, at a time when barristers all practised, by centuries-old convention, from rabbit-warrens in the four Inns of Court, was to obtain permission to set up chambers outside this suffocating environment. Tony Gifford (now an associate tenant) and I obtained an audience with the legendary Mr Boulton, General Secretary of the Bar and author of “Boulton on Ethics”, a slim volume of biblical stature solemnly presented to all barristers on their call. Tony and I visited him, with all the trepidation of those ancient messengers who approached the Oracle at Delphi, to ask whether we could take the revolutionary step of setting up chambers outside the boundaries of the four Inns of Court. Mr Boulton carefully thumbed through the pages of Boulton on Ethics, and eventually pronounced judgement: “There is nothing in Boulton on Ethics against a set of chambers located outside the Temple”. This ruling in our favour emboldened us to seek another breach in tradition: all barrister’s clerks were at the time paid by way of at least 10% on the fees they extracted from solicitors, which served to force up the price of advocacy services. Might we actually employ clerks on a salary? Again, the sage consulted his oracle, and pronounced “There is nothing in Boulton on Ethics against employing clerks on a salary”. Tony left Mr Boulton’s office as excited as Lenin on leaving the Finland station, and set up a utopian feesharing collective in Wellington Street, Covent Garden, from which in due course Doughty Street inherited James Wood, Ben Emmerson and Issy Forshall.
Meanwhile, I succumbed to the blandishments of sharing a room with John Mortimer, who became my forensic father, at 1 Dr Johnson’s Buildings, headed by the Welsh liberal silk, Emlyn Hooson QC MP. Our Room overlooked the Temple Church – there was dry rot in the walls and mice in the skirting boards, and shadows fell eerily from the gas lamps outside. It was like working in a museum, an impression reinforced every evening by the voices outside of tour guides declaiming about Dr Johnson and Boswell, and the adventures of Rumpole of the Bailey. By 1990 I had been joined by some brilliant colleagues who were also anxious to move out. Peter Thornton, Helena Kennedy and Ed Fitzgerald, Stephen Irwin, Andy Nicol and Beverley Lang, Mike Grieve, Keir Starmer, Chris Sallon, Robin Oppenheim, Jo Walker-Smith, Gavin Millar, Anthony Metzer, John Femiola, Penny Barratt, Sally Hatfield, Heather Williams, Colin Wells, Andy Buchan and Julian Fulbrook. Sir Louis BlomCooper offered us his name and high reputation as an associate Tenant for a new set of chambers, as did the great South African silk, Ismael Mohammed and the leader of the Mauritius bar, Guy Ollivry Q.C.
We had all determined to work in a different, more consumerfriendly environment than was possible in a traditional Temple chambers. Our Welsh liberal colleagues were congenial, although somewhat wedded to the pantomimes then beloved of the bar (clerks would walk behind them, carrying their robes, up and down the Wales and Chester circuit). We craved more rational, up-to-date ways of working with solicitors, serving our clients and assisting campaigns on their behalf. We wanted to maintain the independence of the individual practitioner – the true glory of the bar – but find new ways of harnessing our collegiate force to the needs of defending clients against the power of the state.