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London’s historic Inns of Court run the risk of pricing themselves out of the barrister market unless they slash their rents and improve services, a silk at a leading criminal set has warned as his set shifts to City offices.
Mark Dennis QC
Inner Temple chambers 6 King’s Bench Walk has moved within the last few days to refurbished offices near the City’s Cannon Street railway station. The chambers has bought offices in College Hill but is retaining the 6KBW branding.
“Rents at the inns are not set at a level that we expect for the standard of accommodation,” 6KBW College Hill’s Mark Dennis QC, a member of the chambers’ management committee, told The Lawyer. “They are much too expensive for what they offer.”
Dennis said he was convinced that his view was generally shared across the bar and he anticipated that other sets – especially those on tight budgets – would move away from the inns in the near future. “If the inns don’t adjust their position and address the problems being faced by sets doing publicly funded work, then there will be real difficulties,” he warned.
The 55 members of 6KBW College Hill, which is co-headed by David Fisher QC and David Perry QC, have taken a small mortgage to finance the purchase of the new property, which has a 140-year lease. Dennis said the set anticipates it will pay off the debt by the end of next year and that an additional attraction of the deal for younger members was that it represented a solid investment for their pension funds.
But it is the criticisms over accommodation standards that will sting the inns hardest. The 6KBW move comes nearly three years after another high-profile criminal law set – QEB Hollis Whiteman – moved from the Inns of Court to a similar part of the City (31 May 2010).
“Ultimately, accommodation at Inner Temple was no longer suitable,” said Dennis. ”Especially for our growing corporate clients – we wanted to be closer to the City law firms and their clients.
“At the Temple, we were in two buildings and needed better facilities, bigger conference rooms. Gone are the days when you would come to a barrister’s chambers and be happy to perch on the side of a desk in a small room.”
Inner Temple officials hit back at the criticisms. Patrick Maddams, the inn’s sub-treasurer and chief executive, maintained that rent levels were set at market rates on professional advice. “We are not worried that we are pricing ourselves out of the market,” he said, pointing out that “all our rents include service charges”.
Maddams also highlighted that for the inns to continue with their primary role of providing educational and research services, they must rely on rental income.
The inns are also constrained by their own architectural history. “Inner Temple, in common with the other inns, is in a highly protected conservation area,” said Maddams. “Modernising the buildings in those areas is an expensive business and we have to seek to recover the cost of recent renovations over the last five years, again through rental income.”
Ultimately, Maddams maintained the Inner Temple and the inns generally “are still good value. We offer a lot of collegiate services – such as a world class library and catering – that those barristers leaving will miss”.