If you want to hire a top-notch commercial silk you will probably have to take your place at the back of a rather long queue. Commercial barristers have had a buoyant time recently, with the mass of Lloyd's litigation and the ensuing explosion of commercial litigation both in this particular market and generally.
But with the recent changes proposed by Lord Woolf and the recent Arbitration Act having an impact on practice, Combar has taken the initiative through its moves in the training area to ensure that there is a steady stream of advocates with outstanding ability in the law coming up through the ranks.
Although there is no shortage of silks, one practitioner did comment that one of the problems with leaders is their availability – once one of the top-ranking heavyweights has been instructed, it is almost impossible to book one of the others, even for a short conference. One partner recounts the experience of it taking "about eight weeks to book a leading silk for a short conference and short preparation. You can be lucky and get one of the heavyhitters at fairly short notice, but it is getting increasingly difficult."
The increasing demand can mean, however, that those in sets which are seen as knocking on the door of the 'premier league' can earn promotion to it.
At 20 Essex Street, currently headed by Kenneth Rokison QC, the head-to-be, David Johnson QC, is rated as a leading silk, and Iain Milligan QC is "very bright, has a pleasing manner, and is well respected".
At 3 Verulam Buildings, Neville Thomas QC (the set head), as well as Richard Salter QC, Nicholas Merriman QC and Ian Geering QC all stand out, as does current chair of Combar John Jarvis QC, Nicholas Leigh-Jones QC and Peter Gross QC.
At 4 Essex Court, chambers head David Steel QC is noted, as well as the "grossly underrated" Belinda Bucknall QC, who "although known mostly for shipping is good for general commercial work", and Michael Howard QC – also for the shipping side.
At Essex Court Chambers, established silk Ian Hunter QC, Andrew Hochhauser QC and last year's silk Simon Crookenden QC are also singled out.
At Littleton Chambers, new silks Andrew Clarke QC and Clive Freedman QC are noted, along with the already established Michel Kallipetis QC, Daniel Serota QC and Ian Mayes QC.
At One Hare Court, joint head Richard Southwell QC and Nicholas Bratza QC are singled out for mention, and Barbara Dohmann QC and Colin Ross-Munro QC at 2 Hare Court are also mentioned.
At 7 King's Bench Walk, Gavin Kealey QC, Jeremy Cooke QC, and Adrian Hamilton QC are noted.
Steven Gee QC and Alastair MacGregor QC at 1 Essex Court are names to note.
At 4 Pump Court, Christopher Moger QC and Anthony Temple QC rate mentions, as does Richard Seymour QC at Monckton Chambers.
At 4 Field Court, Geoffrey Brice QC and Jervis Kay QC get a mention.
Julian Flaux QC and Jonathan Gaisman QC at 7 King's Bench Walk are recommended for the chancery crossover cases, while Simon Berry QC at 9 Old Square,
Geoffrey Vos QC at 3 Stone Buildings, and Patrick Talbot QC, Alan Boyle QC and Michael Briggs QC at Thirteen Old Square are also singled out.
Although a number of practitioners have cited the fact that for strength and depth, London is still the place to find counsel, some of them note that in terms of price difference, there is little to choose between a silk on one of the circuits, and a London silk.
Certain silks from the regions did, however, stand out for particular mention.
Stephen Grime QC at Deans Court Manchester is "phenomenally thorough and sensible and bears favourable comparison with his peers in London" and Peter Smith QC and Philip Raynor QC at 40 King Street Manchester are noted. For the chancery-related cases Anthony Elleray QC at St James's Chambers and Stephen Stewart QC at Byrom Chambers are also noted.
In Birmingham, John Randall QC at 7 Fountain Court and John Mitting QC at 4 Fountain Court are both recommended.