Set buys space for expansion drive

BARRISTERS' set 29 Bedford Row has expanded its office space by half through acquiring the lease of its neighbours, Yorkshire Television.

The purchase of the lease of 31 Bedford Row was prompted by Yorkshire TV's decision to abandon its London offices following its merger with Tyne Tees Television and the rationalisation of its London office space.

The Bedford Row chambers began negotiating to acquire the premises only after a Temple set dropped out of the talks to acquire a lease.

The deal has been struck in anticipation of expansion by the 42-member set to beyond the 50 mark, as part of a strategy aimed at maintaining its position as one of the largest common law sets.

When it moved out of Gray's Inn into its current premises in 1991 it had 25 members.

Nick Francis, a member of the set and on the Bar Council, said further expansion was scheduled to take place despite the threats to the Bar from extending solicitors' rights of audience, legal aid reform and conditional fees.

"I believe that to survive we need to be fit and efficient, but large enough to offer a range of services," he said. But he added: "We don't just want to be the biggest for the sake of being the biggest. We all know being biggest doesn't mean you are necessarily good."

The set will pay £17 per sq ft on a 13-year sub-lease with protected rights of renewal. It will also enjoy an initial 21-month rent free period in a deal struck with landlords and previous tenants.

Francis said a strengthening of the set's established fields of family, property, personal injury and medical negligence was necessary to build on its growing profile.

"Without this move we would have continued to expand in numbers, but eventually we would have had to look at annexes in other buildings which certainly wouldn't have been as good," he said.

"An awful lot of sets are still run along the lines of old fashioned gentlemen's clubs. It may be a nice approach but it's not likely to survive. There are economies of scale which apply to employing good staff and superb library facilities."