Drystone Chambers: reflections on a merger

20 August 2015

Drystone Chambers Logo

Months of careful discussion precede any professional services merger that stands a chance of succeeding - the creation of Drystone Chambers from Dyers Chambers and One Paper Buildings is the result of just such a process. The discussions and detailed planning focused on making the transition as smooth as possible for tenants and staff alike, coupled with significant investments in new IT and the refurbishment of our premises. 

At the heart of this merger is the knowledge that barristers - for whom the practice of law is a professional vocation - flourish in a well-managed, financially strong set of chambers, committed to the development of the talents of its members through the maintenance and provision of the highest standards of service. 

Here we share some of the main points that we found to be compelling as we moved towards our merger date of 27 July.  

Below we consider: 

  • The need to diversify

  • The purpose of a set of chambers

  • The legal structure of Drystone Chambers

  • Building trust and confidence

The need to diversify

There is too much law: Richard Heaton[1] declared in 2013 that 'it is extremely difficult to estimate how much legislation is in force at any one time ... between 1983 and 2009 (alone) Parliament approved over 100 criminal justice bills and over 4000 new criminal offences were created'.[2] So good lawyers have never been more necessary. 

Are there are too many lawyers? Dick the Butcher's uncompromising solution, 'Let's kill all the lawyers', in Henry VI (Part 2 Scene 2) has been reflected by successive governments taking advantage of the numbers of lawyers to institute continuing reductions in the public funding of civil and criminal work, safe in the knowledge that the voices of the most talented and experienced are sometimes inaudible amidst the noise generated by the pressures of overcrowding. 

So by bringing together groups of practitioners across diverse ranges of Call, experience and expertise, we predict that our merger will serve to help re-balance the scales and enable some of the most talented to flourish and be heard. 

We realised, counter-intuitively, that mergers between direct competitors may lead to internal structural problems arising from the continuation of the spirit of existing competition: outwardly cohesive, the inner dynamics of such a chambers are not conducive to the pursuit of collective excellence. They are also very difficult to manage! 

Our two sets have brought together complementary and overlapping areas of expertise and geographical reach, allowing for the development of each set into a more exciting and interesting prospect together than the mere addition of numbers. 

The purpose of a set of chambers

What is a set of chambers for? Some have found it surprisingly easy to overlook this fundamental question when planning for the future. 

They perhaps regard any chambers as merely an expensive bureaucratic hub, supplemented by inadequate conference facilities and storage space. 

In poor examples of chambers, that may in fact be the case. We have addressed these issues by controlling our finances and refurbishing our premises to a high standard. 

Critics who underestimate the significance of the chambers environment fail to appreciatethe importance of the professional interactions, guidance and support that is to be derived from membership of a Set of Chambers; in short, the maintainance of professionalism. 

Nothing matters more to the professional than reputation. Although lightly worn, the good opinion of judges and peers, is highly prized. Its value to clients, lay and professional, is immense. The respected barrister makes the difficult case respectable and the respectable case compelling. Reputation reinforces expertise, both reflecting a history of integrity and consistency. These determine not only the long-term success of the practitioner but also the long-term viability of the set. 

The legal structure of Drystone Chambers

We looked closely at alternative structures, both business and employment. The loosening of the regulatory framework provides a number of alternatives to the traditional model, including companies limited by liability or guarantee, or multi-disciplinary partnerships etc. 

We came to the conclusion that these structures are far from being as central to the success of a modern set as their proponents suggest: are barristers really prepared to shortchange a legitimate claimant, whether employee, client, cleaner or other, by liquidating the legal entity against which the claim is brought? Neither of us would wish to belong to a set that might behave in such a way. Better to have a genuine collective responsibility towards one another and those with whom we do business. 

For sets of chambers that are debt-financed to a significant degree, the case for limited liability grows stronger. Happily, we are not in that position. 

Building trust and confidence

The wonderful individualism of barristers may serve to destabilise a potential merger due to the incompatibility of (some of) its members. 

The respective heads of chambers have the responsibility of assessing and conveying such sensitivities to one another at an early stage. To do so requires candour, trust and confidence. We have been fortunate to find this in one another and look forward to continuing with the same approach in our newly merged set. 

 

Karim Khalil QC
Andrew Campbell-Tiech QC

 Dyers Chambers and One Paper Buildings merged on 27th July 2015 to create Drystone Chambers, based at 35 Bedford Row, London.



[1] First Parliamentary Counsel and Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet Office

[2] 'When Laws Become Too Complex' - 16 April 2013