The Barrister’s Clerk



Barrister’s like badgers live in sets, all of which are to be found in the inns of Court, Middle and Inner Temple on Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn situated on the edge of the City of London.


Each set or chambers has a Barrister who is regarded as head of Chambers.  The day to day administration of the Chambers however is run by the Clerk’s Office who deal direct with Solicitors in terms of agreeing fixtures, negotiating brief fees and fees for appearing at Court, arranging conferences and generally dealing with the day to day administration of the Barrister’s affairs.  They are a bit like theatrical agents and certainly in the past had enormous power. 


The most powerful Clerk of course is the Senior Clerk who was often a man of advanced years and who had perhaps been an Army Officer during the Second World War and who ruled the Chambers with a polite but extremely firm hand.


Given that it was they that were the first port of call for a Solicitor ringing to ask for a Barrister to represent them in a particular case, it was important that the Barristers got on well with the Clerk because of course he had the power to direct work to them or not as the case might be.


Not only did he weald enormous power but he was also financially very well off because his fees, at least in the past, were calculated by reference to a percentage of the fee charged by the Barrister.  It followed therefore that a Clerk in a very busy set of Chambers would earn very considerable sums of money, effectively on the back of the fees earned by the Barristers in those Chambers.


There were many characters all of whom were well known in the very small and closed world that was the Inns of Court and as an outdoor Clerk, that is to say a Clerk working in a Solicitors Office who did the running around London delivering briefs to Barristers Chambers, attending conferences, sitting behind them during Court cases and generally spending the day out of the office on legal business, it was not long before he became very familiar with these often larger than life personalities.


There was Percy the share pusher for example, so called because of his fascination for and endless conversation about the Stock Market and there were many others whose foibles idiosyncrasies were well known and sometimes mirrored in their nicknames.


The Clerks were influential and well known and very much in the know.  A word in the ear of one of them, for example if a friend of yours might be looking for a job as a Junior Clerk, would result within a very short space of time of a name and telephone number of Chambers that were looking for a junior.  These jobs were not advertised and required no qualification beyond being presentable and acceptable to the Senior Clerk.


The Clerks worked long hours and would often not leave Chambers much before 9pm in the evening.  The daily Cause Lists were not issued by The Royal Courts of Justice until late afternoon for cases that were listed the following day and so a Clerk’s work would often begin at that point in time checking to see whether or not his Barrister’s cases were listed for hearing and then checking to see whether the Barrister’s were available and so on.  The evening could be a very busy time indeed.


In short a life in the world of law, life as a Barrister’s Clerk was ultimately just that.  It was your life.


There might be some relaxation in the number of hours you worked if in the Autumn of your life one of your “governors” as the Senior Barristers were called was appointed to the bench to sit as Judge. There was a convention that the Senior Clerk would be invited to, in effect retire from Chambers and join the new Judge as the Judge’s Clerk which meant more regular hours, less work and holidays.  Some Senior Clerks took this course but most soldiered on eventually retiring or dropping dead in post.


These days things are organised differently.  Most Chambers have got their Senior Clerks onto a salary rather than a percentage but the Senior Clerk and his team are still just as important as they ever have been in the intimate inside world of the law.



Is it fate or is it Dick Turpin?

dick-turpinIt is a curious thing, fate. Most people comply with the proverb of Master Shakespeare:

“Some are born great; some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them”

But then occasionally you get a person who lives a squalid, mean little life, and yet who is celebrated and idolised as a hero while nothing could be further from the truth. An example of the latter person was Dick Turpin. 

About Dick

Dick Turpin born 1705 was an English highwayman whose crimes and exploits were romanticised after he was hanged in York for horse theft in 1739. 

His early activities revolved around poaching and burglary with a gang known as the Essex gang who committed some very unpleasant crimes including breaking into people’s houses and on occasion torturing them to reveal the whereabouts of their money and valuables.

On one occasion they made a 70 year old man sit on a fire to try and get him to tell them where his money was but he steadfastly refused to do so.  

There are other such instances before the gang was broken up and its members captured, after which time Turpin took to highway robbery which is what he is famous for.

Largely because after he died a Victorian novelist, William Harrison Ainsworth, writing almost 100 years after Turpin was hanged created a romanticised account of his life for public consumption including an overnight ride from London to York on his horse, the famous Black Bess. 

As that part of the fictionalised and romanticised account of Turpin’s life was concerned, this is far more likely to be related to an earlier highwayman known as Swift Nick whom I will come onto later. 

Turpin’s career as a highwayman was not long lived. 

Rewards were offered for his capture and he moved around the Country a good deal including a spell up in York where he lived under an assumed name.  One would have expected him perhaps to maintain a low profile as we say these days but he still engaged in some of his old activities, including horse theft which in the 18th century was a capital offence.

He was arrested in connection with the horse thefts and whilst he was in detention he wrote a letter to his brother-in-law, the letter was kept at the local post office because the brother-in-law refused to pay the delivery charge when he saw that the letter had come from York and so it was transferred to another post office at Saffron Walden where the postmaster happened to be one James Smith who had taught Turpin how to write whilst Turpin had been at school.

James Smith recognised the handwriting and brought the matter to the attention of the authorities and so Turpin’s cover was blown.

Smith received the reward of £200 which is well over £20,000 in today’s money and Turpin was hanged at York, going to the gallows in a new coat and shoes defiant to the last bowing to spectators as he passed them.

An account in a magazine written in April 1739 recorded:

       “Turpin behaved in an undaunted manner as he mounted the ladder, feeling his right leg tremble he spoke a few words to the top man then threw himself off and expired in five minutes”.

In effect using the short drop method of hanging customary in those days, people who were executed were killed by slow strangulation.  His body is buried in St George’s Church, Fishergate in York.

Would the real Dick Turpin please stand up

Now to ‘Swift Nick’ as he was known. Also known as one John Nevison who lived in the 17th century and was one of England’s most notorious highwaymen.  He was nicknamed Swift Nick by King Charles II after a famous 200 mile gallop from Kent to York to establish an alibi for a robbery that he had committed earlier that day.

It was this feat that earned him the epithet of Swift Nick.

This occurred when in 1676 after Nevison had robbed a traveller near Rochester in Kent he took a ferry across the Thames and galloped via Chelmsford, Cambridge and Huntingdon to York some 200 miles away from where the crime had been committed.  He arrived at sunset and made a point of bumping into the City’s Lord Mayor by challenging him to a wager on a bowls match.

When he was later arrested and tried for the robbery in Kent he was able to produce the Lord Mayor as a witness to support his alibi that he could not possibly have been in Kent and he was duly found not guilty.

Like most men of his kind however he continued with his offending and in due course he again found himself before the Court, this time tried for the murder of a constable who tried to arrest him.  He was convicted and taken to York where he was hanged in March of that year.

Over the years these tales have been told and re-told, becoming more and more embellished in the re-telling, and slowly two charmless, cruel and murderous young men, one whom killed his own partner were turned into ‘dandy highwayman, folk hero of his day’.

But whoever said that life was fair?

10 Ways That Twitter Can Help Writers

TwitterWhen I first heard about Twitter, I dismissed it as just another social networking site. I didn’t really take it seriously but as a self-confessed online beginner, I gave it a go, even though I was already overloaded with keeping up with the social networks I had already signed up for.

Why on earth would I want to read about what someone eats for breakfast or what they’re doing every minute of the day?

I admit now that I was completely wrong. I’m now @marlin_writes on Twitter, and here are some of the reasons I’m glad I joined.

1. Twitter forces you to exercise your writing and editing skills. With only 140 characters to work with, you have to choose your words carefully and be concise.

2. Stay informed about the publishing industry. With so many publishing house Tweeters, you can learn a bushel about what’s happening in the industry.

3. Make contacts in the publishing industry. One of the reasons I decided to take Twitter seriously was because I kept hearing about various editors and publishers who were Tweeting. And they weren’t just posting promo items; they were also reading posts by other Tweeters and sometimes replying to them! (Imagine that……one can only dream)

4. Meet and share ideas with other writers. Yes, you can do this through other social networks as well. I’m finding, though, that Twitter’s platform provides a unique experience not yet duplicated by other social networks .There is a HUGE network of writers on Twitter and chances are good that you’ll find other writers who are going through the same types of experiences in their careers as you. Said writers will almost certainly posts tips and blogs articles of mutual interest.

5. Promote and market your writing. As writers are expected to take on more and more of the responsibility of marketing their own work, it makes sense to use every possible venue to do so. You may already be promoting your book on Facebook, for example, but Twitter gives you access to more potential readers.

6. If you can’t get to the next ‘big’ writing event, the next best thing in my view if not better is by following the relevant event #. You will then see posts from anyone attending and keep up to date with all the latest news!

7. Increasing your blog readership. Post a summary or blurb about the great content on your blog on Twitter, with a link back to your blog post for those who want to read the full content. Increased blog traffic means increased exposure to your work, which could lead to other writing-related benefits.

8. Writing motivation. In addition to finding inspirational tips and information via Twitter, you can also exchange mutual encouragement and advice with others via mentions and hashtags. The #amwriting hashtag is a popular hashtag for those posting updates on what they’re working on, for example, and has expanded into its own Amwriting website.

9. Get ideas for your writing projects. Get inspired by following current hot “trending topics” as well as thought-provoking posts.

10. Find useful resources, articles and tips to help you in the craft and business of writing. Most of the people I follow with @marlin_writes are writers, editors, publishers or book publicists, and many of them post links to useful info for writers on a daily basis. I try to do the same.

I could go on, but I have to get back to writing now. Follow me on Twitter! I’m @marlin_writes.