Four quit set over legal aid work

Four barristers, including one QC, have quit Leeds set 9 Woodhouse Square to form a new chambers, after a disagreement over how best to respond to the Government's legal aid reforms.

The new set, to be called Mercury Chambers and led by Benjamin Nolan QC, says it will do far less legal aid work than Woodhouse Square and will focus on handling work on a conditional fees basis.

It sees itself primarily as a civil set specialising in company and commercial, personal injury, professional negligence, employment, insolvency and private client matrimonial finance.

Nolan said he and his team left 9 Woodhouse Square because it would not cut down the volume of legal aid work it handled. 'We were not prepared to wait and pick over the carcass of legal aid,' he said.

An on-going disagreement at 9 Woodhouse Square came to a head late last year when the management committee was due for re-election. Two reformist members, Paul Isaacs and Raphael Cohen, insisted they be allowed to continue without election or they would quit.

When the majority of tenants refused, Isaacs and Cohen left with Nolan, another barrister, John Stiles, and senior clerk Carole Dexter.

The new set has two other tenants who moved from London – Anna Baltaian and Ashley Serr – and two door tenants – Michael Horowitz QC and Patrick Upward QC.

Nolan said the Leeds Bar in general had its head in the sand over the implications of the Government's legal aid reform plans.

But Samantha Ashford, the new senior clerk at 9 Woodhouse Square, said it would have been impossible to reform the set along the lines envisaged by Nolan. 'We have a very large housing department – ditching it would mean losing half our counsel,' she said.

She claimed that the set was responding to the reforms with an overhaul of chambers administration and a new IT system.