Magic circle sets prepare to expand

The bar's magic circle is poised for massive expansion as movement and merger-mania intensifies within chambers.

After One Essex Court's senior clerk Paul Shrubsall told The Lawyer last week (17 January) that he believed the first 100-strong set was just around the corner, all four magic circle sets are preparing themselves for rapid expansion.

All four magic circle chambers have now either acquired new premises that could accommodate expansion or are in the market to do so.

Fountain Court is looking for extra space and One Essex Court is known to be in negotiations with the Inns for further premises.

Essex Court Chambers has just acquired approximately 13,000 sq feet of additional accommodation that will provide space for new tenants, keep existing tenants under one roof and allow for the development of a video conferencing room, a dedicated arbitration facility, a larger clerks' room, a conference suite and a library.

Senior clerk at Essex Court David Grief stresses that the move is part of a long-term game plan and not a precursor to immediate rapid growth.

He says: “This is space to give chambers a 10-year plan. We've done it for natural growth.”

Ric Martin, chambers director at Fountain Court, says: “All of us would like to grow organically but we would all be alert to the opportunity to acquire a team, be it a chancery, company or European team. Provided that it is right for strategic business reasons and there would be no diminution of quality.”

He adds: “There are so many opportunities out there at the moment with so many people moving around.

“I don't believe the bar can take the long-term view a capital rich company can, that we will need this space in the next five years. For barristers the cost comes out of their pocket. To take that sort of space suggests they [Essex Court] have some expansion plans.”