Cloisters left £3m down after split

Matheu Swallow analyses Cloisters' predicament following the departure of its entire team of criminal barristers

The splitting of Cloisters Chambers' criminal group from its core civil practice leaves question marks over the economics of operating a niche set.

The departure of 17 tenants, in addition to the three who have left in the last year, could see a drop in turnover for those remaining at Cloisters in excess of £3m.

However, head of chambers Laura Cox QC is adamant that the set can be an economic success. “We are financially sound but have room to grow and we are looking to recruit,” she says.

Chambers turnover in 1999 is believed to have been in the region of £7m. The combined earnings of the criminal group leaving chambers is estimated to be about £2m.

Add to this those tenants to have left the set in the last year, Roger McCarthy QC, Antony White and Matthew Ryder and, with one of the set's biggest earners, Alan Newman QC also leaving, the drop amounts to in excess of £3m.

Chambers contributions are understood to be in excess of 20 per cent of earnings meaning a direct loss to the set of at least £600,000.

Considering the total income to the set is between £1.5m and £2m this loss is highly significant.

Although not branding itself as a human rights set, Cloisters has a long history of acting in leading cases in the human rights field, including gays in the armed forces and transsexual equality cases.

Its core strengths in employment, discrimination, workplace stress, European law, clinical negligence and a growing education and welfare group are likely to be where the Human Rights Act will hit first and hardest.

But Cox says:”We're tried and tested. We were founded in 1952, the year after we ratified the European Convention and we have that history and commitment [to human rights].”

As exclusively revealed in The Lawyer (12 June) the set held talks two weeks ago to push ahead with the regeneration of Cloisters as a purely civil set. This brings to an end 18 months of massive internal restructuring that has seen the loss of several tenants, the departure of former senior clerk Michael Martin and the short-lived appointment of chambers director Vanessa Peters.

Cox says: “The only way criminal barristers can survive is by achieving a critical mass. We have known for about a year that the time would come when the need to split would arrive.”

The bulk of the 15-strong criminal group will now join Michael Mansfield QC's 14 Tooks Court.

The remainder, which includes Stephen Solley QC and new silk Jerome Lynch QC, are likely to be joining another former Cloisters tenant Rock Tansey QC at his set 3 Gray's Inn Square, but this has yet to be finalised.

However, the two silks are understood to be considering other options and are believed to have received numerous offers.

One other silk, Alan Newman QC, who has a split civil and criminal practice is also leaving the set and is understood to be joining 3 Raymond Buildings.

Cloisters has confirmed that Lawrence Kershen QC, Michael Turner, Roderick Price, Stuart Montrose, Peter Guest, Tom Culver, Graham Brodie, Joanna Evans and Peter Shaw will be moving to Mansfield's set.

As part of the deal, Cox says Cloisters' criminal clerk will also go to Tooks Court.

In addition to Solley and Lynch those who have yet to finalise a destination are Navjot Sidhu, Ali Bajwa, Julia Krish, Rufus D'Cruz and Anna Worrall QC.

Cox says that the set is now looking for a new director to replace Vanessa Peters who quit Cloisters after less than a year in the job (The Lawyer, 10 April).