The Bar

Leading sets have been busy gearing up for a whole new series of challenges, varying from law firms seducing the best talent to making the most of the opportunities presented by the Legal Services Act.

Over the past decade the bar has successfully rid itself of its slightly fusty image, emerging from the wilderness years when the economy boomed and litigants were few and far between with renewed professional direction.

So, having dusted themselves down, the UK’s top 30 chambers are using the countercyclical revenue they have raised in the past ­couple of years to invest in new talent and help secure their futures. They are also examining how best to compete in a post-Legal Services Act (LSA) environment.

The question now for the bar is how to embrace the next decade of change without losing the traditions that have helped to make it unique and keep clients coming back.

Attracting talent

In 2009-10 the total revenue generated by The Lawyer’s bar top 30 increased by 6 per cent, from £750.6m to £797m. This is a slower rate of growth than in the previous year, when revenue grew by 13.6 per cent from £661m to £750.6m. But this slower growth disguises the fact that many sets are using their increased revenues to invest in people and processes.

In July, The Lawyer reported that Blackstone Chambers, Essex Court, Maitland Chambers, One Essex Court, 3 Verulam ­Buildings and Wilberforce Chambers, all sets that have seen ­revenue increase, posted 100 per cent retention rates for their newly ­qualified (NQ) barristers (The Lawyer, 15 July).

With fewer students looking for seats at the bar, sets are keen to invest in the next generation to help secure their futures. One Essex Court demonstrated this when in August 2009 it set a precedent at the Inns of Court by raising pupillage salaries to £60,000 for the October 2010 intake. The announcement started ­a trend, with Wilberforce raising pupillage salaries to £48,000 from £40,000 and Essex Court upping salaries to £55,000.

With increased competition for talent, chambers fear losing future stars of the bar to higher-paying law firms. US firms in particular have set new standards in NQ salaries, with Bingham promising £100,000 to new lawyers and Debevoise & Plimpton, a firm known for preferring its in-house advocacy team to the bar, ­offering £93,250.

What those at the top of the commercial and chancery hierarchy want to attract is an excellent set of junior advocates who will ­produce the next Jonathan Sumption QC (Brick Court Chambers), Lord Pannick QC (Blackstone) or Lord Grabiner QC (One Essex Court).

“We see ourselves as being at the top of the market, recruiting the best people year-on-year, and we understand what they refuse when they come here,” One Essex Court senior clerk Darren Burrows tells The Lawyer. “There’s increasing competition for those people.”

Leading silks accept that having a top-heavy set with too few ­juniors can have an adverse effect on the mix of work coming into chambers.

For example, Fountain Court recognises that a broader mix of instructions is important to give junior members exposure to the courts. That mix of work is essential to help keep the coffers topped up in quieter times.

“People look at us and see us on the top cases, but we can’t survive on that alone – we need the other work too,” comments Fountain Court director of clerking Alex Taylor.

Fountain Court has just had its most successful year to date, with the set posting a revenue of £40.1m. In recent years it has ­overhauled its clerking function in an effort to shrug off its stuffy image and build a reputation in the City for being businesslike.

The top four sets all broke through the £40m barrier last year. Brick Court increased its member count from 68 to 71 as revenue increased by 2.4 per cent to £42.5m; One Essex Court added two members over the year as revenue increased by 7.8 per cent to £41.5m; while Essex Court, which kept its membership steady at 76, increased ­revenue by 4.1 per cent, from £38.8m to £40.4m.

Outside the magic circle the top 10 sets have seen greater revenue growth, reflecting increased demand for skilled advocates from a broader range of chambers.

For example, Wilberforce celebrated a record year, finding its expertise in pensions litigation well sought after. With a turnover of £37.6m and 49 tenants (including 23 silks) the set recorded the highest average revenue per barrister (RPB) of £767,000.

There are plans for Wilberforce to grow over the next 12 months, including the opening of an overseas base to accommodate demand for ­offshore advocacy skills.

Getting in on the act

While those at the top of the pile are sticking to their traditional frameworks, others are considering the implementation of the LSA and how best to move forward.

One innovation is the introduction of the ‘ProcureCo’ model, a structure intended to provide the bar with an effective method of responding to cuts in public spending and increased competition.

The ProcureCo model has been described by the chair of the Bar Council Nick Green QC as “a model procurement company for the bar that can be used now, giving sets increased flexibility in bidding for work in new and existing areas of practice as well as in areas where they face increased competition”.

Outer Temple Chambers, which posted a revenue increase of 1.1 per cent, from £18m to £18.2m, went live with an international ­ProcureCo mode branded ‘Outer Temple International’ (OTI) in ­February (The Lawyer, 22 February). Initially OTI will operate as a not-for-profit company, but the aim is for the set to turn it into a shareholding organisation.

“We’ve had to seek legal advice, draw up documents, work out the relationship between OTI and Outer Temple and agree new roles and responsibilities,” says practice director Christine Kings. “This is useful for other business structures we may want to set up. It also allows those who want to expand and develop international ­practices to make decisions and allocate funding without having to get agreement from the rest of chambers, which reduces the ­likelihood of tensions.”

According to Outer Temple, the biggest challenge is moving ­chambers forward in unison when not all members are benefiting from  ProcureCo. This is a problem facing all sets wanting to invest in new structures.

There is though a degree of scepticism surrounding the new framework.

“What happens when our members want to get work from another set. How will the other members feel about that?” asks one senior practice director. “And what does it mean for clerks organising ­barristers’ work?”

Nevertheless, according to the Bar Council there has been ­widespread interest in alternative structures, if only to help sets ­tender for the increasing amount of block contracts that have come onto the market.

Matrix Chambers, which has deep roots in public law work, posted its strongest year to date, with its revenue up by 26.5 per cent, from £13.6m to £17.2m. The set’s model is aligned more closely with that of a law firm than a traditional chambers. It sees the LSA as an opportunity rather than a threat.

“Making the most of the LSA, our model means we can have a number of businesses,” argues Matrix chief executive Lindsay Scott.

Scott suggests this could mean those working in criminal law might be able to take block bookings and charge project fees, while commercial barristers continue to use the hourly rate.

“Each area would have its own profit margin and the overheads might be different,” she adds.

The next wave

If the past decade has been about the modernisation of the bar, the next decade will bring about its diversification. The demand for expertise from independent advocates will ensure the survival of leading sets if they have the right mix of barristers. 

But there are other sets that will want to change their structures to embrace opportunities presented by the LSA, and it is this that will drive the next wave of change in the profession.

THE TOP 10

1

Brick Court Chambers

Turnover: £42.5m
Tenants (silks): 71 (35)
Chambers contributions: 10-11 per cent
Revenue per barrister: £598,000
Leading cases:
• Office of Fair Trading v Abbey National & Ors (Bank charges litigation)
Jonathan Sumption QC, Mark Hoskins QC, Jemima Stratford QC and Sarah Love
• Colour Quest v Total/Chevron (Buncefield litigation)
Jonathan Sumption QC and Alan McLean QC
• Fiona Trust and Holding Corporation & Ors v Yuri Privalov
& Ors (Fiona Trust litigation)
Andrew Popplewell QC
• Boris Berezovsky v Roman Abramovich
Helen Davies QC
• BSkyB v Ofcom
James Flynn QC, David Anderson QC, Helen Davies QC and Mark Hoskins QC

2

One Essex Court

Turnover: £41.5m
Tenants (silks): 68 (24)
Chambers contributions: 11 per cent
Revenue per barrister: £610,000
Leading cases:
• Digicel & Ors v Cable & Wireless
Lord Grabiner QC, Edmund Nourse and Cornall Patton
• Boris Berezovsky v Roman Abramovich
Laurence Rabinowitz QC, Richard Gillis QC, Simon Colton, Sebastian Isaac, James Edelma and Nahali Shah
• Colour Quest v Total/Chevron (Buncefield litigation)
Laurence Rabinowitz QC and Lord Grabiner QC
• Tullet Prebon plc & Ors v BGC Brokers & Ors
Jeffrey Onions QC
• CPC Group Ltd v Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment
Company (Chelsea Barracks litigation)
Lord Grabiner QC, Neil Kitchener QC and Alexander Polley

3

Essex Court Chambers

Turnover: £40.4m
Tenants (silks): 76 (35)
Chambers contributions: 11 per cent
Revenue per barrister: £531,000
Leading cases:
• Fiona Trust and Holding Corporation & Ors v Yuri Privalov & Ors (Fiona Trust litigation)
Steven Berry QC, Graham Dunning QC, Nathan Pillow, David Davies, Simon Bryan and Jern-Fei Ng
• The Kosovo Case
Professor Malcolm Shaw QC, Professor Vaughan Lowe QC and Amy Sander
• CPC Group Ltd v Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company (Chelsea Barracks litigation)
Joe Smouha QC and David Foxton QC

4

Fountain Court

Turnover: £40.1m
Tenants (silks): 63 (29)
Chambers contributions: 13 per cent
Revenue per barrister: £636,000
Leading cases:
• Boris Berezovsky v Roman Abramovich
Michael Brindle QC
• Digicel v Cable & Wireless
Stephen Rubin QC and Rupert Allen
• Clydesdale Financial Services & Ors v Smailes & Ors
Tim Dutton QC and Bridget Lucas
• Colour Quest v Total/Chevron (Buncefield litigation)
Richard Handyside QC
• Administrators of Lehman Brothers International
(Europe) v Lehman Brothers Finance SA & Ors
Michael Brindle QC and Nick Yeo

5

Blackstone Chambers

Turnover: £38.5m
Tenants (silks): 83 (32)
Chambers contributions: 16-17 per cent
Revenue per barrister: £464,000
Leading cases:
• RAB Special Situations (Master) Fund (Re Northern Rock)/SRM Global Master Fund v Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury
Michael Beloff QC, Lord Pannick QC, John Howell QC, Javan Herberg, Tom de la Mare, Claire Weir, Ben Jaffey and Iain Steele
• R (Binyam Mohamed) v Secretary of State for Foreign
and Commonwealth Affairs
Dinah Rose QC, Pushpinder Saini QC, Tom de la Mare, Ben Jaffey, Tom Hickman and Tristan Jones
• National Grid plc v Gas and Electricty Markets Authority Monica Carrs Frisk QC, Brian Kennelly and Tristan Jones
• R v Morley, Chaytor, Devine and White
Lord Pannick QC and James Segan

6

Wilberforce Chambers

Turnover: £37.6m
Tenants (silks): 49 (23)
Chambers contributions: 14 per cent
Revenue per barrister: £767,000
Leading cases:
• PNPF Trust Company v Geoffrey Taylor & Ors (Pilots National Pension Fund)
Michael Tennet QC, Paul Newman QC, Brian Green QC, Robert Ham QC, Michael Furness QC, Christopher Nugee QC, John Martin QC, Jonathan Hilliard, Jonathan Evans, James Walmsley and Emily McKechnie
• Chartbrook Ltd v Persimmon Homes Ltd and Persimmon plc Christopher Nugee QC and Julia Greenhill
• Foster Wheeler Ltd v Hanley & Ors
Brian Green QC and Jonathan Hilliard
• easyGroup IP Licensing v easyJet Airline
Michael Bloch QC and James Walmsley

7

No5 Chambers

Turnover: £36.4m
Tenants (silks): 184 (21)
Chambers contributions: 0.5-15 per cent
Revenue per barrister: £197,000
Leading cases:
• Vercoe & Ors v Rutland Fund Management Ltd & Ors
Richard Jones QC and David Holloway
• R (Bard Campaign) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Ian Dove QC, Anthony Crean QC, Chris Young and Tim Sheppard
• Horwood v Land of Leather (in administration) & Zurich Insurance (Toxic sofas)
Ralph Lewis QC, Gordon Wignall, Matthew Brunning, Henry Pitchers, Richard Cooke, Katie Feeney, Jack Smyth and Gemma Roberts

8

3 Verulam Buildings

Turnover: £34.1m
Tenants (silks): 60 (18)
Chambers contributions: 9 per cent plus rent
Revenue per barrister: £568,000
Leading cases:
• Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Bros (AHAB) Algosaibi v Maan Al-Sanea
Ewan McQuater QC, Stephen Phillips QC, Ali Malek QC, Gregory Mitchell QC, Andrew Onslow QC, David Quest, Peter Ratcliffe, Sandy Phipps, David Simpsons, Peter Cranfield and Richard Edwards
• CRC Credit Fund & Ors v Administrators of Lehman Brothers International (Europe) & Ors
John Jarvis QC, John Odgers and Adam Kramer
• Springwell v JPMorgan
Adrian Beltrami QC and Catherine Gibaud

9

39 Essex Street

Turnover: £33.6m
Tenants (silks): 78 (27)
Chambers contributions: 22 per cent
Revenue per barrister: £431,000
Leading cases:
• The Queen on the Application of London Borough of Hillingdon & Ors v Transport for London Hillingdon & Ors and Secretary of State for Transport (Heathrow expansion)
Nigel Pleming QC and Richard Wald
• Motto Y & Ors v Trafigura Ltd
Edwin Glasgow QC, Sean Wilken QC, Stephen Tromans QC, Robert Jay QC, Rohan Pershad, Katherine Scott and James Burton
Linklaters v Sir Robert McAlpine
Richard Wilmot-Smith QC and Karim Ghaly
• Horwood v Land of Leather (in administration) & Zurich Insurance (Toxic sofas)
Neil Block QC and Derek O’Sullivan

10

7 King’s Bench Walk

Turnover: £31.7m
Tenants (silks): 47 (19)
Chambers contributions: 14 per cent
Revenue per barrister: £674,000
Leading cases:
• Colour Quest v Total/Chevron (Buncefield litigation)
Jonathan Gaisman QC and Sioban Healy (now a QC)
• Equitas v R and Q
Alistair Schaff QC and Simon Kerr
• Wasa v Lexington
Alistair Schaff QC, Sioban Healy and Christopher Butcher QC
• American Reliance Insurance Company & Ors v Willis
Stephen Kenny QC, Gavin Kealey and Jessica Sutherland