The Leader Column

While most law firms have been desperately juggling figures and pleading with late-paying clients so they can scramble their way towards budget, on the other side of the fence the Bar is feeling rather flush after reporting an exceptionally buoyant financial year.
Littleton, Erskine and Birmingham set 5 Fountain Court are all this week revealed by The Lawyer to have posted turnovers up 25, 26 and a full 33 per cent respectively; and they are by no means alone.
Such hikes cannot be explained simply by the counter-cyclical nature of litigation, or by improved efficiency that has enabled several sets to significantly reduce aged debt this year, or even through major lateral recruitment.
But before the Temple – or those members that haven't already decamped to their Provençal Inn – indulge in overexuberant displays of self-satisfaction, or return their collective head back into their sandcastle, a word of caution.
You only have to look at two of this week's other stories to realise the good times can't last forever. On page two, Naomi Rovnick analyses the plight of the UK Patents Court, which is losing work to its cheaper and more efficient Continental rivals. The typical cost of running a patent trial in the UK is £1m compared with just £200,000 in Germany. Then, on page five, Brendan Malkin reports on an insurance case in which Norton Rose has been adjudged to have charged disproportionately high fees. Barlow Lyde & Gilbert estimates that, rather than the £450,000 billed, Norton Rose's costs to two months before trial should have totalled just £28,000. It seems counsel alone managed to rack up £25,000 in fees.
Given the number of equity partners who have had to cancel their orders for that must-have new Porsche, just how long do you think clients are going to support junior barristers taking home £100,000 in their first year of practice? Thankfully, some commercial clerks are waking up to this reality, with one reporting that, for the first time in several years, none of its baby juniors have passed what is in any event an excessive benchmark.
This year's figures are indeed very good; but the Commercial Bar is by no means overloaded with work at the moment, so perhaps this could be just the time to restructure fees for the junior bar – downwards. The end result will undoubtedly be the preservation of the Bar's total hegemony for advocacy and at no great cost. Now that can't be bad, can it?