Few people at the Chancery Bar have not heard of Geoffrey Vos QC, head of 3 Stone Buildings, either by name or reputation. At present, he says that he is content with keeping his set small. He fears expansion could mean diluting the quality, and with his caseload he would hardly be in a position for managing anything bigger.
Despite the quality of the other 19 members of his set, it is Vos who really stands out. He divides his time between the high-profile Hollywood 5 film finance litigation, and one of the most unusual and largest cases to hit the courts in recent times, concerning ownership of a vast fortune in a Cayman Islands trust (The Lawyer, 10 March 2003). Vos has been instructed by Clifford Chance for the family of the man who set up the trust and it is likely to be a money spinner. Vos has already been linked to the case for several years and the trial is likely to go beyond the four months set down, and then there will be other trials to follow. This trust case follows the completion of a similar trust case fought between squabbling siblings over ownership of the vast fruit and shipping corporation Fruit Shippers Limited, which Vos represented.
Vos's celebrity status aside, Edward Bannister QC – Vos's number two, who does a lot of Hong Kong work – represented Deloitte & Touche in an action brought against it by Barings. The involvement of respected pensions practitioner Sarah Asplin QC, who took silk last year, in the Equitable Life case, is also worth noting.
Vos estimates that about one-fifth of the set's work involves insurance, insolvency, professional negligence and trusts disputes in the Caribbean, areas which represent about half of his own practice. The remainder of the set's work is bread and butter chancery, of which around 30 per cent is advisory work rather than litigation.
The bulk of the work in the Caribbean – an archipelago of jurisdictions, many of which have restrictive rules on allowing foreign advocates into their courtrooms – comes from instructions from US firms. For the sake of practicality and to capitalise on this lucrative work, the set has just established a New York office, to be used by visiting 3 Stone Buildings barristers. One of its tenants, Teresa Peacocke, who is described as the “catalyst” for the new office, will be the semi-permanent face of the chambers in New York.
This is an innovative move by a set which has earned its reputation through heavyweight litigation such as Bermuda Fire & Marine Insurance Co, Kuwait Airlines v Iraqi Airways and last year's battle over the estate of Francis Bacon. This large work stems from a solid client base that includes all the magic circle, plus DJ Freeman, Eversheds, Herbert Smith and Stephenson Harwood. These clients are maintained by three clerks who have been at the set for a combined total of some 65 years and who continue to be paid in the traditional way, receiving a straight percentage of the chambers' total income.