For many landlord and tenant solicitors, particularly in the larger firms, counsel are only required when time restraints prevent members of the firm's own in-house team running the show in court. Leaders are brought in for that "extra bit of brain power" and expertise, and on questions of construction when it is not clear which way the judge is likely to sway.
Landlord and tenant silks are generally instructed for heavyweight work and for the extra gravitas their names carry. They are seen to have adapted well to the fact that solicitors now do much of the work themselves – not pricing themselves out of the market or hiding behind any pompous exterior.
There are three chambers that stand head and shoulders above all others for the level of expertise they offer. They are Falcon Chambers, 9 Old Square and 4 Breams Buildings.
Of the "big three" in landlord and tenant work, Falcon Chambers is the 7-5 odds-on favourite. The set has been praised for taking fast and effective internal action that has meant a clear improvement. This set is especially strong for leaders as many of their senior juniors have recently taken silk.
Top of the pile is Paul Morgan QC with a "first-class legal brain" and a highly persuasive manner in court. Other class acts are Jonathan Gaunt QC useful for a "knotty, intellectual, obtuse, property-related matter", Kim Lewison QC who, although "not cuddly like Morgan", can "make bricks with straw" and the excellent 1997 silk Nicholas Dowding QC. Dowding is praised for his depth of knowledge, his incisiveness and the commitment he gives to a case. The fact that he is in great demand is proof of his expertise.
Others coming up in this set are the rated Jonathan Brock QC, who has improved since his days as a junior and "is good with difficult clients because he'll shout at them" or Kirk Reynolds QC described as a "bruiser and robust in cross-examination".
9 Old Square has sneaked into second place on the podium by one credit and for being the yardstick against which Falcon's success is measured. The barristers are "less high profile but in terms of quality it is hard to distinguish between these and Falcon".
Simon Berry QC came out strongest, noted for his excellent manner with clients and the way he approaches a case, influenced by his solicitor background.
Nicholas Patten QC was praised for his charm and the way he handled a major case in the House of Lords last year. Also rated at this set are Michael Driscoll QC for his superb legal brain, Robert Reid QC and Judith Jackson QC.
An outstanding individual is Hazel Williamson QC at 13 Old Square. She is highly rated for rent review and commercial, technical things with a general property bias and is described as "good fun to work with". Also rated at this set is Christopher Pymont QC.
In third place overall is 4 Breams Buildings – especially rated for planning and judicial review related matters – with three silks earning praise. "Probably the best", according to one practitioner, is Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC although earning most praise at this set is John Furber QC, the man with a "fast response time" who is also "affable and eager". Michael Barnes QC is recommended, described as being "exceedingly clever", but "beware he can have a tendency to be aggressive in court".
Elsewhere, Terence Etherton QC at Wilberforce Chambers is praised for his "good legal brain" and Michael Crystal QC of 3-4 South Square is also rated but these chambers will need to do more to break the stranglehold of the "big three".
"The star" at Wilberforce Chambers is Christopher Nugee QC who, although not classified as a landlord and tenant barrister is top notch for chancery-related points.