With specialist solicitors encroaching on their turf, barristers are fighting back by broadening their skills, reports Leo Schulz. The role of the barrister is changing and under pressure as solicitors increasingly sell themselves as specialists. And if clients are paying a high price for one lawyer, they are understandably reluctant to pay even more for a second.
“Bringing in a barrister is no longer a matter of course,” says one solicitor in Manchester.
“It really has to be justified. The clients want to know why we cannot do it ourselves. After all, we are telling them we are specialists and charging them accordingly.”
This tends to put the greatest demand on the most senior counsel, those who can add real weight to a case, not only through specialist knowledge but through their analytical abilities, clarity of expression, negotiating skills and bedside manner.
“There are two types of counsel,” says one solicitor. “There are those who see the case as a partnership. But there are also those who look down on the solicitor and client as though they are lower forms of being. To be honest, no one is going to buy that any more.”
In employment law, in particular, the relationship with the client is important.
One solicitor says of a senior barrister that he is “really very good, excellent mind, sharp, incisive, but very eccentric. There are a lot of clients you just could not put him in front of. You can see it would not work on the personal level.”
A QC cited as someone who does work “on a personal level” in front of clients is Brian Langstaff QC of Cloisters. “He is to the point, but he is affable, he is on the client's level,” comments one respondent. “You have to be very sensitive. You need someone who can understand the personal relationship that exists between a master and servant.”
Head of Cloisters Laura Cox QC is regarded as a leading light in the field of discrimination. At the same set, Robin Allen QC is also well regarded.
For sheer professional force, Patrick Elias QC of 11 King's Bench Walk remains the principal name at the employment bar. He is said to be “at the top of everyone's list”, garnering twice as many mentions as anyone else.
Eldred Tabachnick QC, head of 11 King's Bench Walk, is “a heavyweight” and “very, very busy”.
Also mentioned at the same set is Elizabeth Slade QC, the original author of Tolley's Employment Handbook and for a long time considered one of the dominant presences at the employment Bar. “She came in to replace Patrick Elias,” says one solicitor, “and in terms of dealing with a settlement negotiation we found her very nice to work with, very user-friendly.”
Another top name at 11 King's Bench Walk is new silk Christopher Jeans QC, who is “extremely thorough, very quick-witted” and as having a “very good manner” and being “down to earth, hands on, he gets on with it”.
Others considered to be members of the first rank include Andrew Clarke QC at Littleton Chambers who is “very incisive” and “very, very good, though a little academic”, and set head Michael Burton QC, who is described variously as a “brilliant advocate”, “very good on his feet” and “flamboyant, but also academic”.
By sheer number of mentions, the next rank includes Andrew Hochhauser QC at Essex Court Chambers who is said to be “one of the best cross-examiners you can get, very bright” and said to have “a killer instinct”.
Ex-Cambridge academic Alastair MacGregor QC at 1 Essex Court is “very good on injunctions, restrictive covenants, his knowledge is very up to date”, while John Hendy QC at Old Square Chambers is said to be “impressive in his understanding and commitment”.
Other seniors mentioned include David Pannick QC at 2 Hare Court and Nicholas Underhill qc at Fountain Court who is said to be “excellent, a little more of an establishment figure, but very good, quite academic but commercial”.
The high-profile Cherie Booth QC is also seen as top notch, although availability may be something of a problem.