The champagne was flowing last Tuesday (22 January). Not only at The Lawyer’s Hot 100 party at the Royal Exchange, but at scores of chambers across England and Wales – the silks list had finally been announced.
Essex Court Chambers quaffed the fizz in celebration of four of their junior barristers receiving the accolade of QC, while Blackstone Chambers and Brick Court Chambers honoured their three new silks who had been given the nod.
But the corks were not popping in all chambers. 39 Essex Street will be disappointed that none of its candidates were appointed, while this is the first year since Doughty Street’s inception that it has not had a barrister receive the kitemark.
The two sets are not alone, however, as only 67 sets saw at least one barrister made up and a total of 235 barristers had their applications rejected.
So who are the 98 hotshots (which include just one of the five solicitor applicants)?Let us find out about the whippersnappers. At just 37, Graeme McPherson at Four New Square is the youngest person to take silk this year.
McPherson, who was only called in 1993, has taken the professional negligence arena by storm, with even one of his rivals hailing him as “the best thing since sliced bread”.
His enjoyment of dealing with the complex (he says he has “a particular interest in claims utilising scientific and mathematical knowledge”) gave McPherson a leg-up on his short journey to QC. Just five years after being called, McPherson was hearing the judgment of a precedent-setting Court of Appeal case about auditors’ duty of care towards directors, where he was a first junior. The case, Coulthard v Neville Russell (1998), continues to be referred to today.
The young gun, however, does not put his success down to any one point in his career. The key to his rapid rise, he says earnestly, has been “a strong sense of ambition and a willingness to achieve the next level at the earliest opportunity”.
Not all the bambinos of the bar, however, were so calm about being made up to silk.
Atkin Chambers barrister Chantal-Aimée Doerries, born in 1968, was the youngest woman to be made up. To say she is happy about it would be an understatement.
“I was elated, delighted and absolutely thrilled to be honoured in that way,” she tells The Lawyer. “There have been quite a few parties – it’s a very welcoming profession. In a way, what makes the whole thing so special are the congratulation notes.”
Doerries’ enthusiasm must definitely have been one factor in her favour for making silk, but she says there was no secret to her success at such a young age. “I suppose, like all of these things, there’s a lot of luck involved,” she admits.
Her senior clerk Simon Slattery, however, is adamant this was not the case, saying: “In my opinion Chantal is the complete barrister. She’s extremely bright, very user-friendly, a team player and a great advocate. That’s the combination that clients want these days.” Like McPherson, Doerries has a professional negligence string to her bow, but like another youngster this year – Toby Landau from Essex Court Chambers – she also enjoys international work and arbitration.
Doerries’ senior clerk points out that the silks list this time around seems to have a heavier focus on international and arbitration work, while Landau’s senior clerk David Grief notes that professional negligence features strongly. In relation to his own young star, Grief says he has been recognised as a leading barrister in the field of international arbitration since three years after his call in 1993.
“Toby had the privilege of assisting Lord Saville with the English Arbitration Act 1996,” explains Grief. “Around the world he’s recognised as being one of the craftsmen of the act, which is an amazing pull for clients.”
Landau prefers to skirt over his achievements. Instead he explains why he applied for silk and the benefits of the new QC appointment system. “I practise abroad a lot and there’s a certain expectation of being a QC. It has status abroad and people have respect for it,” he says. “The new system allows for more specialised practices. In the old days my type of practice might not have been recognised. Before, they wouldn’t have recognised appearances before an international tribunal rather than a High Court judge.”
With a large slice of this year’s silk round having some form of arbitration or international experience, it is clear that the diversification of the silk pool is well underway.
•The big guns on Silk Street
Four new silks – Essex Court Chambers: Vaughan Lowe, Vernon Flynn, Toby Landau, Hugh Mercer
Three new silks – 4 Pump Court: Duncan McCall, Alexander Charlton, Aidan Christie
Three new silks – 18 Red Lion Court: David Huw Williams, Max Hill, Noel Lucas
Three new silks – Blackstone Chambers: Pushpinder Saini, James Eadie, Robert Howe
Three new silks – Brick Court Chambers: Thomas Adam, Helen Davies, Timothy Lord
Three new silks – Maitland Chambers: Dominic Chambers, Simon Barker, Christopher Parker
Two new silks – 16 sets had two barristers made up, including magic circle sets Fountain Court and One Essex Court
One new silk – 45 chambers saw one barrister receive silk, including 20 Essex Street and Landmark Chambers
• … with some from an older generation
Brian Lett of 2 Paper Buildings and Stephen Meadowcroft of Manchester set Peel Chambers are the longest-serving barristers to be made up this year, having been called in 1971 and 1973 respectively. So why did they decide to apply?
Lett says: “Having done silk work for years, it just seems sensible. Why not have the kudos if you do the work?”
After 20 years’ call while at Three King’s Bench Walk (now QEB Hollis Whiteman), Lett moved to the West Country for family reasons. His move to Taunton, where he set up his own chambers, put paid to his ambition of becoming a silk. “But after 10 years on the Western Circuit and most of the kids gone, we thought it was time to come back to the City,” he says. That was just over four years ago; and having replanted his flag firmly in London, Lett has got his hands on that coveted kitemark.
For Meadowcroft’s part, he says: “I had a very busy junior practice and I never really got around to applying. I put in an application last year and it didn’t succeed. I thought I’d give it one more go this year.”
In relation to how he felt at being made up, Meadowcroft says: “It’s a very personal thing. People have been very kind and all the court staff, like the ushers and cleaners, have been hugging me and kissing me – I’ve been there so long I know everybody. It’s a marvellous feeling. I’ve always been a rather shy person, but I’ve been friendly with everyone.”