The young guns

Laurence Rabinowitz, One Essex Court

South African Laurence Rabinowitz is hugely influential, accruing by far the most votes in a recent survey undertaken by The Lawyer. Law firms and chambers alike say it was amiss of the Lord Chancellor not to select him for this year's silk appointments.

Paula Hodges, commercial litigation partner at Herbert Smith, describes Rabinowitz as hard-working, very entertaining and a brilliant lawyer. A top commercial silk rates him as “a real heavyweight” and particularly good for big cases. Besides his gravitas and ability to quickly get to the crux of matters, Rabinowitz works well in a team.

Rabinowitz tells The Lawyer that one of the hardest cases he has handled is Marsh & McLennan Companies UK & anor v Pensions Ombudsman on treatment of guaranteed minimum pensions. “Thankfully, I was led by Sumption,” he says. His recent Lords cases are: Amoco (UK) Exploration Co & ors v Teeside Gas Transportation; R v The Governor of HM Brockhill Prison ex parte Evans; and Grovit & ors v Turner. He is currently engaged in a dispute between siblings over ownership of the world's third-largest exporter of bananas, called Demolestina v Naboa Ponton & ors.

Besides being a frustrated novelist, the 41-year-old loves music, particularly Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Pink Floyd.

Rabinowitz's biggest cases include: Total Gas Marketing Ltd v ARCO British Ltd & ors, a House of Lords case around contract termination on grounds of failure to satisfy a condition precedent; Atlantic Computers plc v BZW & ors concerning the collapse of Atlantic Computers; and litigation arising out of the dispute between Lonrho and Mohamed Al Fayed relating to control of Harrods.

Bankim Thanki, Fountain Court

Thanki is highlighted as being good with clients and combining brain power with hard work. Barlows head of litigation Richard Dedman says: “In the modern world, barristers have to be more user-friendly and make the whole team work together. Thanki can certainly do that.” Raj Parker, litigation partner at Freshfields, describes him as an original thinker. “He looks at things differently and therefore comes up with things others don't,” he says. Lawyers are certain he will get silk, but he is still a relative newcomer, being called to the bar in 1988. His ability to turn his hand to pretty much anything also makes him popular. His wide practice includes commercial litigation, banking, professional negligence, aviation, insurance and sports law.

Thanki says his favourite work is arbitration and general commercial, particularly with an element of commercial fraud, which he enjoys for its human interest aspect. Recent cases include acting as junior counsel for the Bank of England against BCCI and in BCCI v Price Waterhouse on auditors' negligence. A big recent sports case was acting for the Football Association in disciplinary proceedings against Leicester City FC. He has a large trial upcoming in the Chancery Division involving Metalgesellschaft in a claim brought by the Chilean National Copper Company.

His two sons and one daughter have all been brainwashed into becoming adamant Manchester United fans. His other hobbies are classical music, eating out and cinema.

Some of his biggest cases include: NRG v Bacon & Woodrow & ors; the HIV Haemophilia litigation; Federal Republic of Germany v Sotheby's & Cobert Finance SA.

Helen Davies, Brick Court Chambers

Almost five years ago Davies was highlighted in surveys like this one as a future superstar with all the praiseworthy qualities needed for the modern bar. Still only 32, she truly stands out, and has a growing volume of work to reflect that. Most commercial silks interviewed say she is top-notch, albeit a bit junior. One points out that she has no less than 15 cases on the boil at present, despite loyal client Linklaters & Alliance claiming that it does not give much work to the bar.

Nicholas Green QC of Brick Court Chambers says: “She has particular strength, as she does European work but also a broad range of judicial review work.” Davies has done three European law-related cases in the last year. Her practice is split 40 per cent European and 60 per cent commercial. She believes the European work will rise because of the Competition Act and the Human Rights Act (HRA). She was recently involved in a group action against Mercedes for an alleged termination of an agreement, which contained European as well as straight contract and commercial points. She says one of the most complex cases she has handled is the professional negligence case Soden & anor v British Commonwealth Holdings Plc. Her broad practice includes being a member of the B Panel to the Crown list since 1999.

When she snatches a free moment, she enjoys sailing, travelling and theatre and opera.

Some of her biggest cases include: White v MIB, House of Lords, 2000; British Airways and CityFlyer Express, Competition Commission; British & Commonwealth v Barclays de Zoete Wedd & ors.

Richard Millett, Essex Court Chambers

Well liked among magic circle solicitors and silks, Millett clearly recognises the need to be nice to clients – he once said that clients choose counsel on the basis of “liking your personality and demeanour”. Nicholas Green QC particularly likes him for his European work. “He does cases with a strong European side. He does the banking and I do the European aspect,” he says.

Ongoing work is on a case involving Soviet fishing fleet VBTRF, covering five jurisdictions and an impressive list of UK law firms. A future case relates to a major Swiss bank in its claim against the Lloyd's market arising out of the insolvency of its French liquidator.

Millett is very approachable and youthful, and besides skiing, golf, tennis and fishing, he plays jazz on the drums.

Some of his biggest cases include: acting for the Central Bank of Turkish Northern Cyprus in the Polly Peck litigation; acting on the reinsurance insolvency action arising out of the collapse of Bermuda Fire and Marine Insurance Co.

Ewan McQuater, 3 Verulam Buildings

McQuater impressed a lot of people during his involvement in the fraud case BCCI (overseas) v Gokal and settlement of guarantee obligations case BCCI v Bugshan. “He has an outstanding brain and is a very capable advocate and good team worker. You also couldn't push for a more pleasant person,” says Lovells litigation head Russell Sleigh.

Lovells insolvency partner Jeremy Cole remarks that McQuater is just the barrister Lovells needs because of his overseas work experience. “It's vital when we use members of the bar that they have a good appreciation of the international aspects of the job,” he says. “He has tremendous experience in the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and others. He's very friendly with a good strategic mind in terms of thinking through wider issues in cross-border work.”

McQuater's main work is commercial fraud, and he has acted in some massive cases. He says his BCCI work was the most challenging. “The imagination of people to commit fraud appears endless,” he says. He also acted for Prince Jefri in Brunei and England in The Brunei Investment Agency v Prince Jefri Bolkiah over an alleged $40bn (£28.2bn) fraud on Brunei and the Brunei Investment Agency. He has worked on a lot of banking cases and has acted for the major banks, particularly around sovereign debts on commercial law agreements.

Last year he sadly ended his 25-year rugby union career due to injuries. He is a man who loves music, including blues, jazz and modern piano, and he is married with one child.

Some of his biggest cases include: Manson v Vooght, over striking out for abuse of process; AXA Equity & Law v National Westminster Bank; International Credit & Investment Co v Adham.

Stephen Kenny, 7 King's Bench Walk

Kenny is so busy that he cannot continue with his Medicaments case, which deals with a challenge to the practice of resale price maintenance. The first trial that he was involved in had to be abandoned after there was a real risk that a lay member of the court was biased. “Kenny's shipping practice is excellent, and overall he is very successful,” says a top commercial silk.

Kenny is extremely pleasant to talk to, plus he can put his hand to most areas of law. “I've always said that if you can do shipping, which comprises about half my practice and which is applied contract law, then you can do almost any work,” he says. One of the biggest cases he has acted on is Westacre Investments Inc v Jugoimport SDPR Holding Company Ltd, an arms trading case on whether enforcement of a Swiss arbitration award would be contrary to English public policy.

His practice takes up a lot of his time, but the 36-year-old enjoys holidaying, skiing and scuba diving.

Some of his biggest cases include: letter of credit case Kreditbank v Midland Bank; Karaganda Ltd v Midland Bank; the Ikarian Reefer, involving allegations of scuttling and presentation of a fraudulent insurance claim; ship sale case Zegluga Polska SA v TR Shipping Ltd.

John McCaughran, One Essex Court

McCaughran is often compared with Rabinowitz, but Herbert Smith commercial litigation partner Paula Hodges remarks: “He's excellent, but he hasn't quite got Laurence's flair in legal and commercial advice and advocacy; but Laurence is so hard to be compared with.” A leading commercial silk who highly recommends McCaughran says: “He has a real heavyweight intellect and is particularly good on the big cases.” Other qualities include the courage to stand up for his points against his leaders, as well as thoroughness.

McCaughran says the most complex case he has ever worked on was Feltrim Stanley Aarons v Arthur Andersen, which settled before trial as part of the Lloyd's global litigation. One of the most significant cases is Floor Fourteen, heard at the Court of Appeal last year, which related to expenses for a company winding up. “It had a very significant impact on insolvency practitioners and grappled with a number of authorities,” says McCaughran. Smith New Court v Citibank, which went before the Lords in 1996, concerned with the measure of damages for deceit, stands out in his memory as one of his biggest cases.

He denies rumours that he has a passion for Italian cars, but confesses that he loves all things French. His music tastes are wide-ranging as are the football teams he supports, although he expresses a slight preference for Manchester United.

Some of his biggest cases include: Britvic & Bass v Messer & Terra; acting for British Sky Broadcasting in a series of cases; for Sheikh Fahad Mohammed Al-Sabah in the Grupo Torras litigation; acting for a large firm of international accountants in two actions for professional negligence brought against it by Lloyd's insurance syndicates. Acted in all the Lloyd's of London global litigation.

Joe Smouha, Essex Court Chambers

Smouha is almost as popular as Rabinowitz. “He's rated very highly in terms of drive and identifying with the clients and the team. Extremely positive and a real dynamo,” says Freshfields litigation partner Raj Parker. A senior commercial silk reflects that opinion, saying his positive attitude makes him good with clients and persuasive in court. Another silk praises his insurance work. He has been described as “a member of the Pollock school of advocacy”. Apparently he is also a social livewire and charming at parties.

Smouha has a wide practice, covering employment, tax, art litigation and general commercial law. A lot of his time has been taken up on Kuwait Airways Corporation v Iraqi Airways Co & Ors, which is due to go to the Lords for the third time next year.

The 38-year-old plays clarinet for an amateur orchestra, and also skis and plays tennis.

Some of his biggest cases inlcude: Irvani v Irvani, an arbitration case in the Court of Appeal concerning two brothers in business together who fell out and arbitrated their disputes, with their sister as arbitrator; acting for Alcoa Minerals in the Privy Council concerning damage to large numbers of houses in Jamaica caused by emissions from an aluminium plant; China Shipbuilding Corp v NYKK, concerning the construction of three ships in China for large Japanese buyers.

Michael Swainston, Brick Court Chambers

Swainston has a tremendously wide practice – “one of the best all-rounders”, says a commercial silk. He receives praise for his insurance and shipping work. “Very sound, very bright commercial junior,” says Richard Dedman.He has been sweating it out since 1998 on the massive Solitaire arbitration, which recently ground to a halt.

He is currently in Phoenix, building bridges between the US bar and the Bar Council in his capacity as a member of the international relations committee of the Bar Council and executive of the American Bar Association.

He is currently involved in a complex case concerning shareholders claiming that they were refused proceeds during the takeover of a television station. Next year he is due to act for oil claimant Glencore against contentious security claims brought by several banks. This is part of the “ferociously complex” Metro litigation. He says he particularly enjoyed doing Peregrine Fixed Income Ltd v Robinson Department Store Plc on the ISDA master agreement, and Mann & anor v Lexington Insurance Co, in which he acted for Lloyd's, on the point of whether riots at several locations amounted to a single occurance.

He clearly loves his law and talks with passion about his work. “I quite like a case with an edge of fraud as well as financial services work. But it's extraordinary the degree to which human rights pervades these days, not least in Financial Services Authority work,” he says.

Swainston has a wife and one child. He plays classical piano (his favourite composer is Beethoven) and saxophone. “I do a lot of socialising, but not a huge amount with colleagues. I try to broaden my horizons,” he says.

Some of his biggest cases include: Sembawang Corp Ltd v Pacific Ocean Shipping Corp & anor (The Solitaire), currently on hold after the recent death of Michael Ferryman, a leading marine arbitrator; and Guild (Claims) Ltd v Eversheds & ors, a professional negligence case.

Guy Philipps, Fountain Court Chambers

Philipps is described by one commercial silk as “self-confident, a good advocate and gets straight to the point”. He is highly rated across the City. Barlow Lyde & Gilbert head of commercial litigation Richard Dedman singles him out for high praise. “He will unquestionably make it, but is currently a little bit junior, lacking the overall experience for senior station,” he says.

Philipps has spent a lot of time in the last year on confidential arbitration work. He has an extremely impressive CV. “Half of my practice is commercial litigation, and the rest is evenly split between insurance and professional negligence. I try to maintain a fairly broad practice, as trends come and go,” he says. He is currently handling part two of the case brought by Dubai Aluminium Company against its professional advisers to recover the balance it claims it was defrauded.

He has two children and loves contemporary art. “But I wouldn't dare do it myself,” he confesses.

His biggest cases include: Tykaz Chrome Corporation v Kazakhstan Mineral Resources Corporation (the Trans-World litigation in London and the British Virgin Islands); Clarke v Fennoscandia Ltd, on duties owed by merchant banks to their clients; and Credit Lyonnais v New Hampshire Insurance Co. n

Names to watch

While not quite making The Lawyer's top 10 of leading commercial juniors, there are several barristers who earned enough plaudits to deserve a mention. Listed below are some of those that stood out.

Alain Choo-Choy (One Essex Court): Phenomenally bright, mischievous and gives tremendous attention to detail.

Neil Calver (Brick Court Chambers): Very bright and user-friendly, with particular strengths in European and judicial review work.

Daniel Toledano (One Essex Court): Clever, intense and good company – particularly strong on insurance.

Alan Gourgey (11 Stone Buildings): Has a very fast mind and adopts a commercial and practical apporach.

Derrick Dale (Fountain Court): Delightful to deal with.

Philippa Hopkins (Essex Court Chambers): Very able and particularly impressive on reinsurance.

John Lockey (Essex Court Chambers): Particularly good on insurance work.

Sara Masters (20 Essex Street): Very good on her feet.

Philip Brook Smith (Fountain Court): Great all-rounder and of the right vintage to achieve silk.

Antony Zacaroli (3-4 South Square): Good at commercial work with insolvency.

Stephen Davies (8 King Street, Manchester): General commercial with emphasis on construction. Has a hard-working, calm and assiduous approach.

Lesley Anderson (40 King Street, Manchester): Chancery/commercial, described by a silk as incredibly dedicated, knowledgeable and intelligent.