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Stephen Twist’s 2012 Blog: Thirty Three Thesis Thirty Three
Thirty three is the largest positive integer that cannot be expressed as a sum of different triangular numbers. It is also the smallest odd, non-prime number repdigit. Thirty three is a good number.
This year it will be thirty three years that I have braved the Bar; and it has sustained me. Thirty three years of change, like an extended marathon run, with tough up-hill slopes and balmy down-hill jogs. Past are the days when clerks of the court assessed huge public funded fees; and seeing one of the thirty three female practitioners on circuit was like meeting a penguinito in the North Atlantic. Gone too are the hard winters, shivering under robes in the thirty three church-hall like crown courts (now there are 27), where the antique heating system clanked in unison with gaoler’s door. We now slide like seedy civil servants, through paper-packed offices, into video linked meetings with those we cannot feel; whilst clients arrive by taxi, and others, less fortunate, leave in air conditioned vans.
Am I too retrospective? That is not my intention. Without wishing to sound like an old 33 rpm long playing record, I simply want to review – from whence we came – where we are going. In my annual clearout, I flicked through an old ‘York Chambers’ brochure listing thirty three tenants. During my thirty three years, rather than the current sixty eight circuit silks, there were but thirty three in regular practice. Over the last couple of decades, as a profession we have become to expect growth and improvement year by year; our Bar numbers have swelled to over 12,000 (a 33% growth in the last decade) of which 33% are women, and @33 are Chinese; on buoy of public funding, way out of proportion to available work.
2012, a leap year, (unless the world ends in Armageddon on 21 December according to the ‘Great Cycle of the Long Count’) is the year in which the newly formed Dere Street Barristers leap forward and grasp the challenges of the future for the Bar.
This is the year that we tune both our future, and the values that will carry us there. The future is partly hidden behind the smoked glass screens of Whitehalland the Ministry of Justice, but we can plot a route, and most certainly identify some of the heart-held philosophies that will guide us, through what threatens to be a 33% reduction in fees.
So, what may they be? Mine is usually a lone, isolated and somewhat eccentric voice that comes from the wings, rather than the main stage. Perhaps my function has always been to be a prompter, rather than a player. Back on 17 June 2003 I presented my paper on chambers merger “To build on a multi-centre concept to achieve a dominant position in the north east of England, providing the complete range of direct and indirect legal services from Morpeth to the Humber”. Whatever happened to that? So here are my 2012 prompts.
First, I would like to revive another old paper, that from 01/10/01 in which envisaged chambers as a main national and international player, rather than a provincial one.
Let’s face it, there is a plethora of provincial chambers whose horizons and reputation extend not beyond the penultimate court centre on their circuit. For distinction, read difference. The difference of Dere Street Barristers is not simply one of size, but of composition and ethos. Unknowlingly, we have brought together some of the most dynamic minds and imaginations in the region which, when pitted against the national norm, are quite astounding. At all costs, we must avoid being seen simply as a large ‘circuit set’.
The North East of England is not a recognised international hub, nor yet to my knowledge do Dere Street members have significant international practices. Both are possible, and the economics of international association are not just those of commercial opportunity. They include:
- international corporate profile, including marketing;
- shared values, intellectual and educational links abroad;
- joint development opportunities with other groupings;
- professional and social opportunities, with associated tax deductible advantage.
International links can start with simple, informal association of individual practices, and the opportunity for Dere Street Barristers and our sister ‘firms of attorneys’ to advertise a shared international profile. This will require no further commitment than the mutual recognition of an association between us, and the willingness to publish and advertise the association on our web site, brochure and letter foot.
Business opportunities would inevitably arise. Initially, for those who have a commercial dimension to their practices; then for those of us who seek an international profile – in personal injury / clinical negligence expert determination, cross jurisdictional family practice, international fraud practitioners, or as cross-border mediators or arbitrators.
As important, our international profile would provide Dere Street Barristers with that extra ‘caché’ to assist us to our goal as true market leader in the North East. Our profile would change from ‘another circuit set’ to ‘International Advocates and Practitioners’.
If our new venture is to be marketed as part of a dynamic project of expansion of influence and market, contiguous international practice development will help to maintain a distinctive corporate identity for Dere Street Barristers.
Action plan for International Association
- Prepare a list of the business, social, cultural, educational and promotional benefits of international association. Circulate this and obtain agreement to the objectives.
- Identify two or three firms of attorneys: in Beijing, New York and Strasbourg where there are like minded members who share our interest in professional and ethical association. Remember that cultural and social links are as important as practice opportunities.
- Prepare a ‘protocol of association’, to identify and highlight the common objectives of corporate co-operation.
- Set a realistic timetable to launch and promote our developing international identity. Invite members of our European, far east and USA associates to our launch.
The voluntary sector
Second, I would like to encourage members of Dere Street Barristers actively to re-assess to their personal, domestic profiles.
Many of you will know that, for the last 33% of my practice years, I have devoted small amounts of time to a regional charity. Having volunteered to become a UNITE Mediation facilitator, I went on in time to assume the roles of Board Director, Company Secretary, mediator and tea boy.
Do not be deceived by my act of charity; my association with UNITE has delivered exponential personal benefit, both professionally and socially. For each hour I have given, I have received training, experience, access to business systems and models, new skills, business contacts, and friendship, which eclipse the effort. What have I learned?…..to work collaboratively, to run a company, to act as a trustee, to listen, to value the opinions of others, to cherish local connections, to know that giving and receiving are two parts of the same concept where they involve effort rather than just money.
Dere Street Barristers will be judged not just on its professional profile and turnover (whether national or international), but on individual contributions, especially in its regional setting. Members applying for silk or judicial appointment will be appointed not simply on their professional successes, but on their community contribution. What better reasons would you need for making a modest commitment of this kind?
Anyone (including those in the criminal team) wanting to know more about community directorships or charity legal advisers should contact the writer, who will be able to make the necessary introductions that will change both your future and your life.
Well, what of our lives together? I am delighted with my new association with my new brothers and sisters at ‘thirty three’. Those of you at that number have been most welcoming to one of this number.