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25 October 2013
7 King's Bench Walk (7KBW) is one of the smaller commercial sets in London, but last week (20 July) it picked up more new silks than any other chambers in the UK.
David Bailey, Robert Bright, David Edwards, Stephen Kenny, Simon Picken and Richard Southern were all appointed silk as the new selection process produced its first set of results. The six were the only barristers to apply this time around from 7KBW, meaning the set managed a rare 100 per cent success rate.
The appointments mean that 16 of 7KBW's 42 members, or 38 per cent, are now QCs. The ratio is close to that of the bar's magic circle, Brick Court Chambers, Essex Court Chambers and One Essex Court.
Essex Court has also added a record number of new silks in this round, with five tenants being appointed. In 2003 it scored four - the highest in that year. With 33 QCs, equalling 45 per cent of its tenants, the set now has more silks than any other.
The new appointments mean Essex Court is pulling away from Blackstone Chambers, which added three silks in the latest round.
The QC flood
The successful sets are delighted with the news. But some critics are suggesting that 175 new QCs is too many, and, moreover, that the chambers with the most appointments will not be able to cope with the flood of silks.
7KBW dismisses the criticism. "I've no worries about there being too many silks," says joint senior clerk Greg Leyden.
Leyden says that the set foresaw its current situation nearly 20 years ago, when it first took on the six barristers who will take silk in October. In 1988 Bright, Kenny and Southern were all given tenancy at 7KBW. Two years later, Bailey and Edwards arrived, with Picken joining the set in 1991.
The set says that under the old silks appointment system, it was always prepared for a minimum of three new QCs a year at around this time. The introduction of the revamped process, however, meant that six silks at once was going to be a possibility.
7KBW's other senior clerk, Bernie Hyatt, says that the gap in appointments has meant a blurring of the lines between silk and junior. "In terms of the clerking requirements, there's not a great deal to be done, as each of the six has an excellent practice with loyal followings," he says. "They're all going to remain busy as the indications are those solicitors who have supported them so far will continue to do so."
Leyden and Hyatt say that their new silks have been spending much of their time during the past three years leading cases in the capacity of a junior QC, even without the title.
Indeed, while the system was in hiatus, other clerks were dealing with the situation in a similar way. Back in 2004, when The Lawyer published its 'Alternative Silks List', 8 New Square's John Call said: "The practice of one of my barristers is such that we're marketing him as a senior advocate." That barrister, James Mellor, was among the recent new appointments, and Call says he maintained his strategy throughout the interim period.
"We were essentially clerking him as a QC. Clients were already happy to have him as lead counsel, so not much will change," says Call.
The hiatus period is going to mean that many of this year's batch of silks have had a different career path to those who have gone before, with an easier transition between junior and silk. The Bar Council used to have a formal 'run-off' period of two years in which a new silk would gradually rid himself of his junior practice, but this was discontinued some years ago.
7KBW co-head Gavin Kealey QC says he found the move from junior to silk relatively easy. "The transition is absolutely straightforward so long as you time it right," he says.
Most of the new silks have already led a large number of high-profile cases. For instance, employment specialists Thomas Linden, from Matrix Chambers, and Blackstone Chambers' Dinah Rose appeared opposite each other in the Employment Appeals Tribunal earlier this year, representing Merrill Lynch and former banker Stephanie Villalba respectively.
Linden and Rose are among the younger of the juniors on the list. But others, such as 10 Old Square's Francis Barlow and 9 Stone Buildings' Vivian Chapman, have had successful leading junior practices for a long time. Gaining silk for them is unlikely to change either their practices or their clients.
The appointments are likely to make more of a difference to sets than individuals. At 7KBW, Kealey thinks that the chambers' success will help raise its profile.
He says that, in the past, the set has suffered by losing its most senior and strongest QCs to the bench as they were on the verge of becoming "superstars". Recent appointments to the High Court and beyond include Lord Justice Longmore, Lord Mance, Mr Justice Cooke and Mr Justice Tomlinson.
"Because of the migration of senior members to the bench, it's the first time that 7KBW has a very serious, substantial body of silks, all of whom punch greater than their weight," says Kealey.
But he admits that there is a potential knock-on effect on the set's remaining juniors. "The question that is to be asked here is whether we have sufficient juniors to service the silks," he says. But he swiftly adds: "The first and most important issue for the reputation of chambers is the quality of the members who are instructed."
Hyatt argues that, in fact, what might be seen as a problem could turn into a boon for younger members of chambers. "Bearing in mind that we've 'lost' six senior junior members, we consider that being a junior at 7KBW is the place to be right now," he says.
Essex Court senior clerk David Grief says that the extra silks in his set are welcomed. "In the three-year period since the last round of appointments, the set took on eight tenants from pupillage. In terms of the management of chambers, we're more than satisfied that we continue to have the right balance of tenants to meet both client needs and individual members' career progression aspirations."
As the QC selection panel begins to analyse the new process in preparation for a fresh competition, the new silks can begin to prepare for the future. For the vast majority, including 7KBW's Bailey, Bright, Edwards, Kenny, Picken and Southern, it looks like being an exceptionally bright one.