An opinion from the regional bar

The Bar in Leeds and Newcastle has expanded and changed considerably in the last decade. In recent years, the establishment of a Mercantile Court in the two cities has reflected the fact that there is more commercial work being dealt with locally and more often than not by local counsel.

For many years, both cities have had district registries that carry a chancery jurisdiction and all the services offered by the High Court Chancery Division in London are available in Leeds and Newcastle.

A perceived problem in the past, that there was no judge available, is no longer an issue and there is a distinct readiness and encouragement from the mercantile and chancery judges for solicitors’ firms and their clients to use local courts.

It was not that many years ago that flotations would not be handled locally and a large commercial client might instruct solicitors in London rather than Leeds or Newcastle. That geographical prejudice has for the most part changed as the level of expertise and professionalism of local firms has been increasingly recognised.

As the shift to specialism occurred there arose a need for local specialist expertise at the bar. The bar in Leeds and Newcastle has expanded and the number of barristers who specialise in commercial chancery matters continues to increase so that it is now in healthy double figures.

From the experience of Enterprise Chambers, it is apparent that the demand for specialist local advice has increased year on year. For instance, Leeds-based Hugh Jory is instructed by Herbert Smith as a junior in a high profile, multimillion pound competition dispute involving a locally based utility company; Charles Morgan has recently represented Newcastle United Football Club in its “save our seats” dispute; and Jonathan Holmes is a member of the Attorney-General’s Panel of Counsel to the Crown in the north and London.

Solicitors in Leeds and Newcastle expect to be able to approach a barrister at short notice. It takes a good deal of time for local solicitors to trust a chambers, requiring a committment from barristers beyond providing a postbox service for practitioners in London.

It is a little difficult to square with the alleged “Dickensian” nature of the bar that members regularly hold conferences by video link, subscribe to several internet research facilities, commonly use CD-Roms as research tools, give seminars in-house to solicitors and employ a practice director with a substantial emphasis being placed on marketing and client care.

There is a perception among chambers in Leeds and Newcastle that there is safety in numbers and mergers of chambers are likely to occur. But the future of the specialist commercial bar in Leeds and Newcastle is bright and indicative of the fact that specialist commercial work can be done locally and to the standards demanded.

Hugo Groves is a barrister and attorney New York State, Enterprise Chambers.