Nigel Poole QC, talks about becoming the new head of chambers at Kings Chambers in Leeds and explains how embracing Yorkshire’s reputation for integrity and pragmatism can help fuel Leeds’ momentum as the UK’s fastest growing legal sector
Leeds & Yorkshire Lawyer (LYL): Was it always an ambition of yours to be Head of Chambers? How do you think it will affect your work as a barrister?
Nigel Poole (NP): Barristers’ names are displayed on a board outside their chambers. When I became a tenant, I remember seeing my first name plate being fixed to the bottom of the board. I could see my future laid out in front of me – year by year gradually moving up the list. It was both exciting and daunting.
I certainly did not expect to leapfrog to the top of the board, where the name plate for the head of chambers sits. The head of chambers is not the most senior or successful barrister but is usually a leading Counsel who is willing take on the main managerial role within the chambers.
It is an honour to have been chosen by my colleagues to take the role. I have to fit my responsibilities around my professional practice but I have excellent support from the chambers director and the clerks, as well as a brilliant management committee comprising other senior barristers.
One of the benefits of being head of chambers is that I see a wider picture of life at the Bar and that helps give me perspective when dealing with my own practice.
LYL: You have said that Kings rivals the best sets in London thanks to the work of your predecessor Nick Braslavsky QC. How do you see Kings building on that success to date?
NP: Over recent years under the leadership of the previous Heads of Chambers, including the late Dame Frances Patterson and more recently Dr Nick Braslavsky QC, Kings Chambers has built an enviable reputation as a national set specialising in civil law.
Whether you measure success by rankings in legal directories or by financial targets, we are consistently amongst the very best chambers in the country. We have national leaders in commercial work, planning, chancery, public law, clinical negligence and personal injury. Clients can access excellent advocacy and advice at the Bar without having to go to London. I want to build on that reputation by attracting the best barristers and the best civil work.
Our philosophy is to recruit only excellent barristers and to manage chambers so as to best support each barrister to fulfil their potential. We have to constantly strive to become more professional, more accessible and more specialised, because that is what our clients have a right to expect.
LYL: Law firms and chambers in Leeds and Yorkshire have been talked of highly recently, with a recent survey showing that Leeds’s legal sector has grown faster than in any other city in the UK. How do you view the legal scene in Leeds and Yorkshire in general? And can that growth be sustained?
NP: When I was a student at Bradford Grammar School I had my first taste of life at the Bar doing a mini-pupillage at 39 Park Square in Leeds, spending time with (now HHJ) Neil Davey QC. I was hooked.
The Bar in Leeds struck me as very able, friendly and self-confident. It still is, but whilst Leeds has the strongest professional services sector outside London, the Leeds Bar now needs to grow in strength to match the success of the city’s and the county’s solicitors.
Under the new leadership of our head clerk in Leeds, Rory Davis, we are primed to help the Yorkshire Bar move forward in commercial, planning and civil work at a greater pace.
At Kings we believe that the region’s legal and professional sectors deserve a local Bar that provides excellence and accessibility. We are trying to play our part in developing the Bar in Leeds so that it can match the strength and reputation of the rest of the legal sector.
Our members, including Eleanor Temple, have been instrumental in setting up and leading the North-Eastern Circuit Commercial Bar Association. We have a growing commercial and chancery team and we have recently recruited very able young planning barristers who are based in Leeds.
All members, including our 15 silks, can be instructed through our Leeds Chambers. We do not want Yorkshire firms to use the local Bar for reasons of protectionism, but because we believe we are best placed to work closely with and serve our professional and lay clients.
It is something of a cliché, but Yorkshire, and the North of England generally, has a strong reputation for integrity, pragmatism and plain dealing. We should not be shy to use that reputation and to work closely together to enhance and expand the region’s reputation in the legal world even further.
LYL: Could threats in terms of further fixed fees or stricter cost budgeting derail or hurt the UK as a legal centre?
NP: If I were a client, I would think it preferable to know what my lawyer would be charging in advance of deciding whether to engage them.
Provided fixed fees are not used cynically, only for the purpose of cutting the liabilities of government departments and public bodies, they can serve clients and lawyers well.
In my own specialist field, personal injury and clinical negligence, one of the main problems, certainly at the Bar, is delay in payment of fees. We often have to wait several years to be paid for the work we do and there is no penalty or interest for late payment.
I for one welcome fixed fees in principle as a way of keeping costs proportionate but also ensuring fair and prompt payment. I view costs budgeting, even in a stricter form than at present, as a step on the road to fixed costs. Budgeting is often done in a very loose and broad-brush manner and it is still based on lawyers charging by the hour.
The hourly rate has always struck me as a curious disincentive to efficiency. Why should someone be paid more for taking longer to complete a task? For legal sectors outside London, this is a great opportunity. We can be cost efficient with lower overheads, and we can be very competitive.