The Outdoor Clerk

The Outdoor Clerk as the name suggests spent most of his time out of the office.  Every day at the office his partner or Assistant Solicitor would give him various tasks to do which would range from issuing writs or entering judgments at The Royal Courts of Justice in The Queen’s Bench Division, carrying out Company searches at Companies House in Shoreditch, delivering papers to Barrister’s Chambers and perhaps cheques in payment of their fees, interviewing witnesses, visiting prisons to interview clients in criminal cases, attending at The Divorce Registry to deal with the procedural aspects of a divorce case, visiting The Probate Registry to obtain copies of Grants of Probate and generally to do all of the legwork involved in a legal practice in the Central London area.

 

Most of the lads who did this work and indeed in those days most of them were male rather than female, had left school at 15 and gone to work in a Solicitor’s office, often as a tea boy and had learned their trade from the bottom up.  Most of the time the best of them became very knowledgeable and were often the sergeants of the legal profession, who trained Articled Clerks as future lawyers were known, when they were apprenticed into the legal profession.

 

At The Royal Courts of Justice for example some of the Clerks behind the desks had fearsome reputations and were to put it mildly less than helpful.  The new Articled Clerk having reached the front of a long queue would find himself confronted by a stern individual wearing metal National Health glasses who would look contemptuously at the papers handed to him and then throw them back at the hapless Clerk as being completely incorrect and told to go away and come back when they were completed.

 

No word of advice was offered as to what was wrong with the forms.  This advice would generally be given by sympathetic Outdoor Clerks waiting in the queue behind who would take the unfortunate Articled Clerk aside and after a swift look at the papers help him put them in some kind of order.  Notwithstanding that however the Articled Clerk would still have to go to the back of the queue and wait his turn.  Upon reaching the front of the queue and again presenting the papers he would hold his breath until they had been scanned by the stern individual the other side of the desk who would not have been out of place as a Concentration Camp Guard in Hitler’s Germany, before sighing with relief when the Clerk without a word stamped the papers heavily and threw them into a box at his side.  All of this without a word.

 

Outdoor Clerks very often studied law with a view to becoming a Legal Executive, that is to say a qualified Legal Clerk in a Solicitor’s office and many of them had long and successful careers.  Some of them even in due course became Solicitors themselves but many were happy to remain working as Clerks for their professional life.

 

The very idea of an Outdoor Clerk seems and indeed on reflection was highly Dickensian but then so was and is the world of law.

The Barrister’s Clerk

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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.