Barristers specialising in employment law need to be aware not just of the legal issues but also the "politics with a small p" of the situation, according to the solicitors that instruct them.
As one solicitor points out, academic brilliance is not the first consideration, despite the complexity of much of the law: "I first look for someone who understands the rough and tumble of an industrial case, who is sensitive to the client's worries and who does not look down on an industrial tribunal because it is not the High Court."
Another says specialising in employment law requires a commitment to keeping up with continual changes in the law, particularly under the European influence. It also requires an understanding of human nature and a clear picture of the strategic and tactical effects of the advice given to clients.
"A considerable dollop of common sense, industrial nous and an approachable manner" is how one solicitor sums up the requisite qualities. Advice must be practical and down to earth.
Another solicitor comments: "About half our cases involve a tactical approach and if all you are getting from counsel is the law, you are not as strong as you could be. It also important to have a light touch at industrial tribunals – we are all aware how accommodating they are to litigants-in-person and that there is almost a bias against powerful employers."
The list of silks who come highly recommended is not exhaustive and is based on the comments of employment law experts in firms around the country. They show a concentration of expertise in a small coterie of chambers: 11 King's Bench Walk, Old Square, 2 Hare Court, Cloisters, Devereux, and Littleton Chambers.
First on everyone's list, whether from a top City firm or the employment department of a regional firm, is Patrick Elias QC at 11 King's Bench Walk. "You hire him when you want to scare the living daylights out of the other side," reveals one solicitor.
Others say Elias is always top of their list if they want advocacy on a difficult point or in the Court of Appeal – "he has an excellent brain and is well respected by the judges".
"Wonderfully clear", says another. "He is the one who can win cases nobody else can."
Eldred Tabachnik QC, who is from the same chambers, is also highly regarded as "intellectually very able, certainly a good man to have on your side" and "a brilliant advocate who is very receptive to working on a tactical approach".
Another colleague from 11 King's Bench Walk, Alan Wilkie QC, is praised for his "practical approach; he addresses problems at a real-life level". From the same chambers, Elizabeth Slade QC is described as "a brilliant lawyer, very academic" and a "first-rate lawyer who I always turn to for advice on very difficult points of law". Michael Supperstone QC is also highly regarded.
David Pannick QC and Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, both from 2 Hare Court, are singled out as exceptional in discrimination cases, public law and European law.
Michael Burton QC, from Littleton Chambers, is described as "excellent – a very forceful advocate" and "flamboyant". His colleague Daniel Serota QC is said to be "very thorough".
Laura Cox QC, head of Cloisters, has a "very good reputation" for her "high-quality discrimination work". Her colleague, Brian Langstaff QC, is described as "a rising star", while Robin Allen QC has been involved in some "milestone" employment law cases. "There is no one better in the country at race discrimination cases," says one solicitor.
John Hendy QC at Old Square is regarded as "very effective", "excellent to work with", while colleague Jeremy McMullen QC is praised for his particularly good understanding of union issues.
Michael Beloff QC, 4-5 Gray's Inn Square, is seen as a very effective advocate, while his colleague Cherie Booth QC is regarded as good on employment law questions.
Charles Falconer QC, Fountain Court, is praised for expertise in High Court litigation and restrictive covenants, while Nicholas Underhill QC has an "excellent brain and is easy to work with – has a really cutting edge in analysing difficult equal pay problems", comments one leading practitioner.
Jeffrey Burke QC, Devereux Chambers, is recommended for his work on injunctions in industrial disputes.