Special report: the regional bar - A Bright Tomorrow
2 December 2013 | By Burhan Khadbai
26 February 2014
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23 September 2013
The effects of recent changes to civil litigation are only just beginning to be felt, but barristers in the regions have several reasons to be cheerful
Like their counterparts in London, barristers in the regions are anxiously awaiting the impact of the Jackson reforms. Changes to civil litigation are being introduced gradually and the full extent of the reforms is yet to be felt, although the implementation date was 1 April.
The reforms look set to change the way civil litigation cases are conducted and funded, with key changes affecting costs management, referral fees and no-win, no-fee cases. Chambers and their instructing solicitors now have to prepare litigation budgets to adhere to a new costs management programme, with a budget provided to the court at the start of the process. As in the Andrew Mitchell MP ‘Plebgate’ case, where a judgment on costs was handed down on 27 November, the courts are taking no prisoners where there is a failure to comply with the rules.
Meanwhile, referral fees are now banned in personal injury cases and damages-based agreements (DBAs) are being applied to civil litigation. The maximum a lawyer can receive is limited, with a cap of 25 per cent of damages in personal injury cases, 35 per cent in employment cases and 50 per cent in other areas.
At the same time as looking at Jackson, many sets outside London are bracing themselves for the impact of the Government’s controversial cuts to legal aid funding. Most optimistic are the sets that have a good mixture of work and do not rely solely on high-volume personal injury litigation or publicly funded cases.
The backing of Lord Justice Briggs’ recent Chancery Modernisation Review is giving confidence to many in the regions that their model is backed by those at the top of the court system. Many chambers are seeing more work coming in and feel this will continue as the regions become an increasingly significant part of the market.
So, while the next 12 months will be vital as the Jackson reforms come into full play, regional barristers are confident they can deal with the challenges ahead.
Just 12 silks appointed in the regions this year
The 2013 silk appointments round was the smallest since the system was reviewed in 2006, with a total of 84 QCs appointed. Of these, the majority were in London – and only 12 in the regions.
The lucky regional dozen were predominantly non-commercial barristers. Of the 12, six are criminal specialists. A further two focus on family cases and one, St Johns Buildings’ Karl Rowley QC, on cases concerning children. No 5 Chambers’ Jonathan Jones QC and Byrom Street’s Sally Hatfield QC are both clinical negligence barristers, leaving St Philips Chambers’ Edward Pepperall QC as a commercial specialist.
A third of the new regional silks are based in Manchester and three in Birmingham. Leeds sets No 6 Park Square and Zenith Chambers each picked up one silk, with the remaining three new silks being in Cardiff, Leicester and Nottingham.
St Philips was the only regional set to gain more than one new silk, with Pepperall joined by criminal specialist Jonas Hankin QC in Birmingham.
David Anderson, St Johns Buildings, Manchester
St Johns Buildings head of corporate services David Anderson says regional chambers are busy with work: “Despite all the doom and gloom, work is good. From our perspective a lot of work is coming through in areas such as mortgage supply cases.”
Anderson says that in particular there is a surge of work in administrative law.
“Administrative work is picking up,” he says. “We now have a separate court for provincial work and this is a big growth area for the region. Work in this area used to be in London only but due to the move it’s now also in the regions.”
But he says the impact of the Jackson reforms is yet to be felt.
“The bar is waiting to discover the full impact of the changes from April,” says Anderson. “It’s only been a few months and as the cases come through in the next 12 months we will really see the effects.”
Nicholas Braslavsky QC, Kings Chambers, Manchester
“Although we’re not seeing the effects of the Jackson reforms yet, the bar will lose a considerable volume of work at the lower end – it will be a tense time for chambers that do a lot of crime and civil work,” says Kings Chambers head Nicholas Braslavsky QC. “In the next 10 years the bar will be a reduced profession. A lot of people will leave the publicly funded bar.”
However, while its focus on areas such as personal injury and clinical negligence may mean Kings is deeply affected by the reforms, it will be largely immune from the cuts to publicly funded work.
“We do virtually no public work,” says Braslavsky. “We do no family or crime, and only a small amount of legal commission work in areas such as human rights.”
However, Braslavsky does think the cuts will affect recruitment.
“The cuts will do nothing to attract the highest calibre into the profession,” he says.
The changes are just the latest development in the changing profession of the bar.
“The old-fashioned bar I joined is no more – it’s more business-oriented now, with less family and public work,” says Braslavsky.
Braslavsky adds that Manchester is a booming region, pointing to the 3 per cent revenue rise for Kings in 2012/13 – up from £24.25m to just over £25m.
“Manchester is a busy centre and it’s thriving legally,” he concludes.
Stephen Connolly, Exchange Chambers, Manchester
“It’s premature to say what effect the recent Jackson reforms will have,” says Exchange Chambers barrister Stephen Connolly, who predicts that the big impact will kick in next year.
Despite this, Connolly argues that the northern bar is much better-placed to cope with their impact than some others.
“For us, the reforms did not suddenly go live in April,” he says. “We had a year of experience adjustment. This will help.”
Connolly adds that the North West is a good environment, with the region picking up a good quantity and quality of instructions as clients and solicitors turn to the region instead of London.
Efforts to push work into the region from London received a boost from July’s Chancery Modernisation Review by Lord Justice Briggs and Connolly says the Northern Chancery Bar Association and the Northern Circuit Commercial Bar Association are doing a good job promoting the North as a place to litigate.
“Those who will suffer most are chambers that have high-volume and low-value work,” Connolly says.
David Warner, St Phillips Chambers, Birmingham
”We’ve all seen the changes and are coming to terms with them,” says St Philips Chambers barrister David Warner, referring in particular to the new cost budgeting scheme. “It’s early days, but I believe it will make things easier.”
Warner’s reason for saying this is that, as part of the reforms, both parties will have to file costs budgets well in advance. This will make things easier, he believes, from the client’s perspective.
“As a result, we may see more work in litigation,” adds Warner.
He concludes on a positive note: “Things are looking promising, the economy is recovering and we’re seeing work”.
Sarah Clarke, 3 Paper Buildings, Bristol
3 Paper Buildings barrister Sarah Clarke says the set has been busy anticipating Jackson.
“We’ve been preparing for the impact of the reforms,” she says. “We’ve been deciding on structures and then putting them in place. We’re getting geared up for things that will change the way business is conducted.”
Clarke says the Bristol market is a vibrant hub for the Western Circuit, pointing to the opening of more administrative courts last October as an example of a city active in the legal market.
“More cases are coming into Bristol as a result,” she concludes.
Justin Emmett, Guildhall Chambers, Bristol
“As far as the Jackson reforms are concerned, the effects are still in the pipeline,” says Guildhall Chambers principal civil clerk Justin Emmett.
Emmett adds that the proposed costs budgeting scheme is a particular issue due to the difficulty of prediction. However, he welcomes the challenge.
The Jackson reforms are likely to particularly affect chambers with a combination of civil and crime work. Guildhall is in this bracket, with its work being two-thirds civil and one-third crime.
“The review by Lord Justice Briggs which said people should use regional courts and not be dependent on London was interesting for us,” he says. “The regions are well-placed with good barristers. There are challenges and we’re managing these.”