Magic circle sets dominate commercial bar with solid revenue growth in 2013/14

The UK bar’s four leading sets have grown their turnover over the past five years from £164.5m in 2009/10 to £236.2m last year, UK200 data has revealed.

According to figures gathered for The Lawyer’s annual Bar Top 30 report (which include estimates), Brick Court, Fountain Court, One Essex Court and Essex Court continue to reign at the top of the table, aided by a year of heavyweight banking and oligarch-related battles.

As seen in this week’s cover feature, while London’s top commercial sets are facing very different issues to their commodity and mid-market counterparts, the vast majority of sets are in growth mode.

Among the commercial elite, Fountain Court has soared to the highest average revenue per barrister of all sets, posting an estimated £816,000, up from £754,000 the previous year.

Its silks were on heavyweight cases including Vincent Tchenguiz’ battle against the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), fielding Bankim Thanki QC, Rosalind Phelps and James Duffy for Tchenguiz (6 January 2014).

Recently Brian Doctor QC from the same set took over from Thanki before the case dramatically settled last week for £4.5m (31 July 2014).

Blackstone Chambers is now knocking on the magic circle door, according to the new data. It now has 42 silks, the joint-highest silk count of the top 30 along with Essex Court Chambers. Its roster inlcudes the high-profile James Eadie QC, who has made a name for himself as the Government’s go-to silk.

In the mid-market and commodity sets, regulatory changes to the employment and personal injury market is having an impact on sets but all have continued to grow and adapt.

39 Essex Street has ended its first full financial year since taking on 24 barristers and four clerks from 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square and has inched up revenue by just under 1 per cent, from £48.3m in 2012/13 to £48.5m last year (21 January 2013).

The now 105-tenant chambers has restructured its clerking team, putting former Gray’s Inn senior clerk Michael Kaplan in the sernior clerk role along with current senior clerk Alastair Davidson (21 January 2013).

3 Paper Buildings also boosted its combined fee income for its 177-tenant team to £21.2m, up from £19.4m the previous year. The set is growing, mirroring the expansion mode of law firms facing a tougher market for employment and personal injury work.

Outside the magic circle sets are expanding and honing in on target areas in a bid to become “multi-disciplinary specialists”, according to Hardwicke CEO Amanda Illing. 

Already this year Monckton Chambers raided Doughty Street for a five-strong public law team, aiming at a top-flight public law and human rights offering with silks like Ian Wise QC. Wise has acted for the Children’s Society, National Austistic Society and Age UK (10 July 2014).