On being “really a barrister”

KCCUW14Keating Chambers’ Winter 2014 Construction Update is now out, and available here. Full of good stuff.

It also contains an interview I gave about joining chambers, including the recollection that it was the present Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, who suggested to me many years ago (when he was at the bar, and we had just finished a High Court trial against each other in which I had appeared as a solicitor advocate) that I was “really a barrister”. Which was ironic in that it was a previous Master of the Rolls, that had admitted me as a solicitor. I think it was a compliment; either that or it was lost on me.

There is an old, rather cynical, view that being a barrister is all about ensuring that cases do not settle until the brief has been delivered. On that test, I am a truly dreadful barrister. It is welcome that the first page contains my old friend Rosemary Jackson QC commenting on her decision to devote all of her time now to mediation, to the exclusion of court work. In his welcome introduction, Professor Anthony Lavers, who generously remarks:

The rationale chimes exactly with the news that Robert Fenwick Elliott has joined Keating Chambers as an International Tenant and with his credo that his “instinct is to settle cases if an achievable settlement will produce a better result than trial” as he explains in his Brief Encounter profile. Robert belongs, with the late Stanley Berwin, to that very exclusive club of lawyers who have founded two major firms.

His stature in construction law across the world is unquestioned and his new role will strengthen Chambers’ presence in the Asia-Pacific region particularly.

I knew Stanley Berwin. At an early stage in my career, when I was learning about how to run a law firm the hard way, Stanley was kind enough to buy me a very long lunch – he spend most of the afternoon talking about how he had achieved what he had achieved, and answering my very detailed questions about how best to tackle the manifold challenges that are inherent in making a happy and successful legal ship. I was indebted to him for a long time for that masterclass.

I also knew Donald Keating. My first encounters where distinctly daunting – he was a nightmare for an instructing solicitor in the final minutes before a hearing – a maelstrom of nervous energy – and then as he got to his feet, he transformed himself into this manifestation of calm persuasiveness. It was fascinating to watch. Later, when I was established with my own firm, he became more of a friend, and we used to occasionally drink some wine together at the end of a day. He was also was a fountain of wisdom. I complained of being tired once. “The thing about being at the head of chambers or a firm” he remarked “Is that nobody asks you to do anything easy any more.  Other people get the easy ones. So the opportunity to rest a bit when doing the routine things is lost. If you only do the hard ones, it is very tiring”.

He was absolutely right about that.


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