Tax barristers emerge as bar’s biggest earners

The exclusive list of top earners at the bar was unveiled over the summer (The Lawyer, 21 August), and the big news this year was that tax barristers are doing phenomenally well. They work in a narrow and complicated field and need detailed, up-to-date legal knowledge. They also benefit from doing more advisory work than advocacy, and charge more for it.

The sums being bandied around the tax bar are nevertheless phenomenal – £50,000 for a conference and the associated preparation is not uncommon. Hourly rates do not exist and clients are prepared to pay the vast amounts quoted because the money at stake is also vast.

But young barristers should not be fooled into thinking that going into the tax bar is an easy way of earning pots of cash – the practice area requires a very specific analytical mind. That in turn produces very small tax chambers – 11 New Square, for instance, has just three silks and three juniors.

Average earnings at the main tax chambers are high, with each of the three principal players – Pump Court Tax Chambers, Gray’s Inn Tax Chambers and 11 New Square – being home to two silks, who are estimated to be earning in excess of £2m a year each.

The rest of the £2m-a-year club comprises a mixture of established and up-and-coming stars. Included are two barristers who came out on top of last year’s biggest cases, Fountain Court Chambers’ Nicholas Stadlen QC and Brick Court Chambers’ Mark Hapgood QC. Expect them to consolidate their places in the club over the next few years.