Mighty struggle for regional Bar

Many regional solicitors send employment briefs to London rather than ill-equipped local sets, but there are some exceptions.

The regional Bar is known to struggle in certain specialist areas. Employment is one of them. “There are few true specialists at the regional Bar,” says one North East solicitor. “Even if you can find one decent barrister, there is no back-up,” says another, this time from East Anglia. It is a problem for regional barristers, made worse by the fact that the London Bar boasts so many employment specialists. Regional solicitors are understandably keen use this well-stocked pool of talent.

Two solicitors also remarked that not only were barristers at the London Bar more prepared to travel for conferences, they were also cheaper than their regional counterparts.

Employment law is also well suited to solicitors doing their own advocacy – another disadvantage for regional barristers. Employment solicitors are often experts in their own right and only need counsel for particularly complex matters or to save on costs or time.

The regional employment Bar's parlous state was brought into focus when The Lawyer received no recommendations at all for barristers in the South East, East Anglia or Wales.

And one Birmingham solicitor said: “There genuinely isn't anyone left at the Birmingham Bar since David Lock left to become an MP.” (Lock is now Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Lord Chancellor). The solicitor said this was “a reflection not just on quality but on price as well. A junior from 11 King's Bench Walk is not only better, but cheaper.”

But despite this, other Birmingham solicitors said good employment counsel could be found locally, including 5 Fountain Court's “excellent” Jennifer Jones and the “very good” Sarah George of St Philip's Chambers. Jonathan Gidney of Claremont Chambers in Wolverhampton is “an extremely sound commercial barrister who consistently achieves excellent results” and, at the same chambers, David Maxwell is rated. David Monk at 2 New Street in Leicester is “very sound”.

In the South West, Robert Thomas, of Bristol's Guildhall Chambers is “in demand”. “He is the best in the area by a very long way,” said one solicitor, while others described him as “user-friendly”, “practical” and “an extremely able advocate”. Also in Bristol, Nicholas Smith of All Saints Chambers is recommended.

In Manchester, 9 St John Street receives a number of hard-earned recommendations. Set head John Hand QC, who also works out of London's Old Square Chambers, is highly rated. Paul Gilroy is the most coveted junior, acclaimed as “by far the best in Manchester” because of his “willingness to take advice from solicitors” and his “approachability”, “thoroughness” and “knowledge”. He is particularly rated for major industrial tribunal hearings. Jonathan Parkin is also highly rated but is “more of a technical lawyer”. Nigel Grundy also wins praise, having acted successfully for local injunctions and industrial tribunals.

In Liverpool, John Benson of 14 Castle Street “does a good job”. In Newcastle, Paul Cape, who recently left New Court Chambers to join new set Milburn House Chambers, is the “local authority on employment law and well respected by everyone”.

SILKS: The three top silks, according to clerks' evaluation of their rival sets, are Patrick Elias QC and James Goudie QC at 11 King's Bench Walk – the undisputed king of employment sets – while Cherie Booth QC at 4-5 Gray's Inn Square is “very good indeed”. Other silks recommended include Jeremy McMullen QC at Old Square Buildings, the “very young and popular” Christopher Jeans QC at 11 King's Bench Walk, and Laura Cox QC at Cloisters. Andrew Hochhauser QC at Essex Court Chambers is also well-liked for being “an aggressive advocate” but very “hands-on and user-friendly” with clients and solicitors. For written opinions, Elizabeth Slade QC, yet another barrister from 11 King's Bench Walk to win plaudits, is recommended because of her “excellent knowledge and interpretation of the law”.

Juniors: Three highly regarded juniors are Paul Goulding at Blackstone Chambers, Jonathan Swift of 11 King's Bench Walk and Jennifer Eady at Old Square Chambers. Dinah Rose at Blackstone Chambers is thought by many to be “brilliant”, while one clerk described Timothy Pitt-Payne at 11 King's Bench Walk as the “man with four brains”. The same clerk said that on the basis of reputation alone, Thomas Linden at 4-5 Gray's Inn Square is “terrific” – although he is apparently keen to pursue his interest in public law further. Less well-known but highly regarded is Damian Brown at Old Square Chambers, while two “stars for the future” are Richard Leiper at 11 King's Bench Walk and James Tayler of Devereux Chambers. Alistair McGregor, also of 11 King's Bench Walk, is described as “supreme and probably the best” for restrictive covenants and injunctions.