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The decision by five Bristol-based barristers to leave their practices at Queen Square Chambers for local rival Guildhall Chambers comes as the regional bar enters a period of unprecedented change.
Employment barristers Debbie Grennan, Julian Allsop, Douglas Leach and Allan Roberts will all join the new team, with 21 year-call barrister Nick Smith at the helm. It will be a welcome boost for Guildhall, which until now has been bereft of an employment team. For the arrivals the prospect of pulling in top-drawer work as opposed to commoditised block instructions is attractive.
This is a decision many barristers have been grappling with as fees dwindle across the sector: should they settle for a guaranteed income stream because of commoditisation or take the plunge into the specialised bar, where instructions are never guaranteed?
“The bar’s in the midst of huge change and, while they may be self-employed, barristers are making critical decisions about their futures,” a source said.
At Queen Square there is talk of moving away from criminal work to focus on the contracts that will guarantee its future. At Guildhall, meanwhile, there may be contracts with the likes of Co-operative Legal Services, but the strategy is to leverage this with big-ticket work.
No one can predict whether a single model will win, but one thing is certain: where there are heated discussions over the strategic direction of chambers, there are fractures. The sets that win out in the end are unified in their goals, whatever they may be.