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How I Made It

Alison Clarke, Insurance Partner @ RPC How I Made It

Alison Clarke, Insurance Partner @ RPC
One of the first barrister partners...

Alison Clarke is a partner in RPC’s Insurance and Reinsurance practice, specialising in financial lines E&O, D&O and professional indemnity insurance. We caught up with Alison to chat about her career with RPC and find out what life is like as one of the few barrister partners in the UK…


It sounds really geeky, but I love insurance law. It’s not just about insurance law itself, but the way it shapes other areas of law and affects so many different industries. You get a really interesting range of clients.

I worked as a self-employed barrister for five years before joining RPC in 2001. I wanted to take my interest in insurance law further and work with exciting clients on high-profile cases. RPC has a top quality reputation for insurance law and I got to the stage in my career as a self-employed barrister where I thought “am I enjoying this?”

I am quite a social creature and being a self-employed barrister can be a bit lonely. RPC is a people-centric firm, so I was hugely attracted to the company culture and the chance to work as part of a team.

I might be a barrister employed by a solicitors’ firm, but there’s really no difference between what I do and the solicitor working next to me. Although, of course, the SRA would not be happy if I started calling myself a solicitor!

Did I miss out on not doing a training contract? Not really, one of the main bonuses of my barrister background is that as a barrister you have to stand on your own two feet early on. You develop an independence and confidence that is hugely valuable in a law firm. So no, I don’t think I “missed out” by not coming through the traditional solicitor route.

The main shock of joining a solicitors’ firm was getting used to someone else working for you. As a barrister, you do all your own admin; no one else works for you. Mind you, I don’t know what I would have done without my legal secretary in the first few months. And yes, I admit, it was nice to no longer fill out tax returns and have the stability of a pay cheque at the end of the month. Although now that I’m an equity partner, I’ve come full circle and am, in a sense, self-employed again!

I’m in a quite unique position. I think I was one of the first few people to become a partner whilst still being qualified as a barrister. Before the Legal Services Act, I would have had to become a solicitor first. Nowadays, you find more and more barristers working in law firms.

Becoming a partner broadens your horizons. You spend more time supervising and managing other people, and you have to develop a new set of skills as you become more business-oriented and invested in developing the firm. Yes, there is more responsibility, but RPC gives you the support and training as you make the transition into the partner role.

I don’t think my gender has held me back at all. True, the legal industry has historically been a male-dominated profession and I think part of the challenge is to counter these ingrained attitudes. However, more and more women are entering law, and gender imbalance is starting to be addressed.

Setting quotas for women in management roles isn’t the answer. RPC is a very meritocratic firm and I side with that. Career advancement should be on the basis of ability, not gender.

Law firms have a big problem with retaining women. Perhaps we should really be focusing on why this is the case. Why aren’t more women staying on in the legal profession? Once we know this, then we can begin to work out how to provide women with the support needed to increase retention rates.

Being a barrister, all my career highlights are the big court cases. Of course nowadays, it’s very rare for things to go to trial. I also hugely enjoyed my two client secondments, which gave me a unique chance to gain insight into two leading insurers.

Law is a really tough profession. Make sure you are going into it for the right reasons. Research law firms thoroughly so that you know everything you can about the firm, its work and its culture. Company culture is hugely important and will colour whether you have a good experience at the beginning of your career. This is what makes going on vacation schemes so important; they are an unrivalled way of finding out whether a firm is right for you.

To find out more about training contracts at RPC, please click

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