Coram Chambers was founded following a successful merger of two specialist family law groups in 1999.
None of us knew how to go about merging, and I was glad to be offered a free meeting with the head of a managerial and public relations firm. She had successfully managed the merger of two other chambers- which was almost unheard of in 1999. Barristers’ chambers did not merge. They stayed the same for ever, or they split, often traumatically.
We could not possibly afford her services, but she was interested to see what we were up to. At 8 am I was there, with my pencil eagerly poised, while she began to set out the problems we would encounter. Second or third on her list was that “the top boys in each chambers will be lobbying and fighting for pole position in the new set, but pretending that they are not doing anything of the kind .” She continued on until I asked her whether she was referring only to men , as the top people in both chambers were women. She put down her pencil and laughed- “You’ll have no problems”. We didn’t.
Eighteen years on, Coram is a thriving and unique set. In a tough, self-employed profession still largely dominated by men, three quarters of our 68 members are women. This continues the tradition of 4 Brick Court, our parent set, which was founded in 1974 by Barbara Calvert QC, the first woman head of chambers in the country. Barbara’s first seat in chambers was at Cloisters, when the senior clerk apologised to her because she would have to share a room with another woman. She and that woman, and yet another woman, set up 4 Brick Court. They were known in the Temple as “the Monstrous Regimen of Women”. From the outset, Barbara Calvert’s chambers had a strong commitment to legal aid work, which was also a fairly radical proposition for the Temple. There was not much good will towards their venture. At the twentieth anniversary party in 1994, Barbara simply said “They didn’t want us to succeed”. “They” got their comeuppance, and Barbara’s chambers flourished. Creating 4 Brick Court was her proudest achievement. She went on to become a Master of Middle Temple, and used her influence in the Inns of Court to sponsor other new sets which had a strong commitment to civil liberties and representation of the disadvantaged. The fine tradition of the Monstrous Regimen has continued ever since. Coram Chambers has now produced six women circuit judges and a woman Master of the Queen’s Bench Division.