Brief encounter: 12 king's bench walk

The advent of conditional fee arrangements (CFAs) has struck fear into the hearts of many chambers, and apathy in most. In a survey conducted by The Lawyer on 16 October 2000, only one of 30 sets could supply information of their exposure to CFAs. However, for the chambers of Richard Methuen QC, 12 King's Bench Walk, their impact has been positive. The set, which has traditionally had a defendant rather than a claimant focus, reports a 10-15 per cent increase in personal injury (PI) work and is seeing its first collective CFA arrangements.

12 King's Bench Walk appeared 46 times in the Court of Appeal last year in the period October 1999-July 2000 inclusive. Because of its PI bias, the chambers did not appear in The Lawyer 2000 Survey. Had it been, it would have been ranked third by number of appearances. The highly respected Ronald Walker QC won four out of his six Appeal Court cases in the relevant period. These included Bernadone v Pal Mall Services, where he appeared with fellow tenants Andrew Hogarth and Stephen Worthington. The latter led in last year's Appeal Court case Heil v Rankin with juniors Allan Gore and Paul Russell, and was Walker's junior in the important PI House of Lords case in February, Watson v British Boxing Board of Control.

Unusually, Walker was also lead counsel in one significant clinical negligence case, Thompson v Sheffield Fertility Centre, and a professional negligence case, Goose v Wilson Sandford.

Richard Methuen QC – who replaced Timothy Stow QC (now a High Court judge) as head of chambers in December – with Susan Rodway, appeared once at the Court of Appeal in the PI case Van Oudenhoven v Griffin Inns Ltd.

Despite such success in the Court of Appeal, the set's turnover increased by only 3 per cent last year to £5.8m. Its tenants appeared in a total of 5,730 cases, receiving on average £1,015 per case, a £34 increase on the previous year. It hopes to top £6m in 2001. Practice manager Roderick Marshall, who joined in December, says the set intends to move towards greater specialisation in the PI field.

The set has endured the same growth in lateral movement apparent in all areas of the bar. Marshall argues that most moves can be explained by the increasing specialisation of most sets. For example, professional negligence practitioner Vincent Moran left in January for Keating Chambers, a set specialising in professional negligence. 12 King's Bench Walk still has five professional negligence members and Marshall says work in this area is increasing.

Arrivals include David Sanderson from 3 Paper Buildings in February 2000 and Stephen Archer, who joined from 2 Temple Gardens in March this year, which brings the size of the set to 44 members, including 10 silks and nine recorders.

In addition to PI and professional negligence, the set has a solid insurance practice and is on the panels of six major insurers, including Axa and Mib Group.

There was a perception that the set had been losing ground to its main rivals, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the creation of Crown Office Chambers in November 1999 through the merger of One Paper Buildings and 2 Crown Office Row. However, the past year has seen something of a minor turnaround, and as one source at a rival set says: "It's always been a bloody good competitor."