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Baby Barristers
22 September, 2009  
A question of faith

Junior Junior discovers that you’ve just got to believe in your clerk … After all, four percent of nothing much is not worth bothering about

imageThose of you who regularly visit Justinian would be aware of the kerfuffle regarding barrister’s clerks in Melbourne Town.

The clerk is an intriguing phenomenon and, as a moist behind the ears member of the bar, I’m yet to entirely understand how they work.

I’m not all that shocked to hear that the magic 13 are anxious to keep back the hordes sweeping in from the north and stymie infiltrators from within the city walls.

After all, if you have a business that involves creating money for (almost) nothing there’s a fair bit at stake.

As far as I can tell each clerk has about 120 or so barristers on their list.

Any solicitor who has briefed the list for time immemorial, and requires very little massaging to keep doing so, merely has to ring up and ask for a barrister.

Names are put forward by the clerk. One is picked and a barrister is briefed.

That’s it … Seriously.

For this, clerks receives four percent (usually) of the fees collected by all barristers on their list, regardless of whether work was sourced by the clerk, or not.

Four percent of all the fees earned by 120 barristers in any given week for running a glorified introduction service is a pretty good gig, in anyone’s language.

No wonder the words “licensed and approved” are guarded so heavily.

That said, clerks are a necessary part of life for a barrister who is just starting out.

Certainly, I couldn’t imagine Vicky Mole suddenly waking up with an urge to brief a recent addition to the bar named Junior Junior, whom she neither knows nor has heard of, without a gentle prod in the right direction from a third party.

In the early days of the life of a young barrister the relationship with a clerk is weighted one way – you need them much more than they need you.

After all, four percent of not much is really not very much.

The eventual goal is a kind of clerk/barrister symbiotic relationship.

Each party benefits the other, much like the bird cleaning the food scraps from between the teeth of the hippo (although it’s clear just who in this relationship is putting themselves in close proximity to the pointy teeth).

Hence the constant fear of all at the junior bar – have I/will I/might I/did I/ piss off my clerk somehow?

Ne’er an angry word is said to or about a clerk in circumstances where it might get back – as next thing you know, those jaws will snap shut and the baby barrister bird is gone for good.

It seems as though every conversation with the clerk inevitably ends with the refrain, “we’re working hard for you, we’re putting your name out there, we’re talking you up, we’re trying to get you something good soon … ” And so on.

In the end you just have to believe it.

You don’t know whether it’s true or not, as there’s no real objective way to weigh one clerk up against another. It’s just a matter of faith.

Just like those other purveyors of faith – the rhetoric can be a little hard to swallow, but you just have to cling to hope …

Hope that you’ve sidled up to the right shepherd and keep reminding yourself that the alternative isn’t all that appealing.


Reader Comments

Posted by: Anonymous
Date: September 22, 2009, 9:37 pm

I am pleased to be in the NSW system where we do not pay a commission to our clerks.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: September 24, 2009, 9:38 pm

John Dever is Jesus Christ? Not the wackiest theory I've heard this year.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: September 27, 2009, 3:38 am

I have a Victorian Clerk and I am also in the Other System and I like Victoria best. Hard luck in the Other System if your Clerk is a dud and the rest of the floor have self-sufficient practices and happy to keep him/her because they are cheap. My Victorian Clerk is a wonder. My fees are vastly lower in Vic than they are in my main practice and that has to be good.