Chambers based in and round the Inns of Court have been the heart and home for sets of barristers for hundreds of years. The leafy and ornate setting of London’s four Inns of Court have housed and trained barristers since the fourteenth century and the historic and picturesque setting of the Inns has made a fine home for barristers for hundreds of years.
However, times are changing, and the rapid modernisation and evolution of barrister’s sets is sometimes coming up against the restrictions presented by operating in such historic buildings.
As a chamber happily and proudly based in The Temple for 50 years, we increasingly felt that our office space at 4 Paper Buildings was no longer fitting the bill for a modern set of barristers working with rapidly advancing technologies. After many years of discussion, latterly expedited by the pandemic, the decision was taken to review the commercial office market space in November 2020, resulting in an actual office move just under a year later.
We moved out of the Inns altogether, having found a unique modern, commercial office space at St Martin’s Court, Paternoster Row. The new offices include bespoke conference and meeting rooms, suitable for remote court hearings and meetings as well as an open-plan area to facilitate seminars, training events and more collaborative working.
At the time of moving, our Head of Chambers, Alex Verdan QC, said: “We’ve been based at the 4 Paper Buildings address for some 50 years and will miss The Temple but were increasingly finding we needed a more modern space to accommodate our barristers, members of staff and clients. The pandemic brought into sharp focus the need for a different type of work environment.”
Here are some of the key reasons why we took the decision to leave our historic address behind, and the great benefits achieved having made the gargantuan decision to leave 4 Paper Buildings.
The pandemic brought about a working from home revolution which has had long-lasting implications, not just for the legal industry, which has seen many law firms formalising large-scale flexible working policies in recent months, but how the world works more generally. By their very nature, barristers worked in an agile, flexible way but the past 18 months has shone a spotlight on how office space requirements have, and will continue, to change.
The biggest change has been the shift towards virtual hearings. Largely, this move has been successful and whilst in person hearings have made a welcome return, we expect to see many meetings and hearings still conducted online where appropriate. To cater for this more permanent shift it means barristers’ chambers simply have to have the very best internet connections, sound proofed meeting rooms, fully equipped with cutting edge video conference technology. The new facilities have enabled 4PB to comfortably host multiple remote hearings and a number of private FDRs already, whilst also providing our clients with the in person professional service they are accustomed to.
Furthermore, we are all familiar with the unfortunate spate of ransomware attacks directed at both solicitors’ firms and barristers’ chambers, which further underlines the need for robust, modern technology and protection. It can be very difficult to install and maintain modern internet connections in old buildings, especially when those old buildings are listed and protected from substantial alterations.
Diversity and Inclusion
“Having a more accessible office space was also really important to us, as we want to make sure everyone who visits 4PB feels comfortable and catered for.” So said our Head of Chambers Alex Verdan QC when we announced our move. And it’s very true, not only were we based in an old building, which was difficult to access, but we were also spread over two buildings and split across five floors. Again, it can be very difficult to make an old building properly accessible for modern needs – not just wheelchair users, but all disabilities and it was very important for us that our clients feel comfortable and catered for when they visit us. Moving to a modern building means these needs are met with ease
Even simple things like air conditioning can become a headache in an old building – and we’ve all worked in enough offices to know what a bone of contention it can become if a working space is too hot or cold. However, fitting a modern air conditioning system in an old building can be very difficult, if not impossible.
Our clients’ needs
As a leading family set, we work with individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds with different legal requirements and often, complex needs. However, something that usually connects our clients is that their case is incredibly important and personal to them. That means sitting in a chamber’s waiting room can be anxiety inducing. We’ve always worked hard to make sure our clients feel welcomed by all members of staff and by the environment itself. Working with both high net worth and legal aid clients also means we’re mindful our space isn’t overwhelming but supportive, professional and comforting. We were proud of the environment that we created at our old address and we have worked hard and will continue to do so, to instil the same sense of calm and reassurance in our new space. This is an important requirement for any chambers looking to move after a long period of time – it took us a long time to find the right modern space which still had that feel which is so important to us as a family law set.
Ultimately, it’s the people not the building that makes a set. And our people – members of staff, clerks, barristers, clients, solicitors and friends were all front of mind when we were considering our current and future needs and how a new office space could accommodate these.
As mentioned, the pandemic saw home working normalised and we expect to see barristers continuing to work in a hybrid way. We expect to see in-person contact at the office reserved for more collaborative working and supporting juniors. As our previous office was split over two buildings and five floors, we’re all looking forward to being in the same space and on one floor – and we think this is especially important for our juniors and their ongoing development. Equally, a more flexible, open-plan space is also helpful for in-person meetings and collaboration.
Away from work, we’ve always seen chambers as an important space for our barristers and members of staff to socialise and network and we’re thrilled our new office has a terrace with an incredible City view overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral, and we’re very much looking forward to catching-up with clients and colleagues over the coming months.
After a long 18 months, we’re all looking forward to meeting in person and we expect this feature will also be an important consideration for chambers of the future.
The pandemic has certainly accelerated trends in the legal profession and although we were already planning to move premises, the changes brought about by the last 18 months has certainly helped crystallise for us what we did and didn’t need from a new office space.
Furhana Mallick (Chambers Manager) and Michael Reeves (Senior Clerk)