Commercial bar in crisis as work dries up

The commercial bar is facing a crisis as many silks find themselves virtually redundant.

One chambers director says that he has spoken to half a dozen leaders in recent weeks who all have little or nothing to do.

He cites the example of one well-known silk who last year earned £600,000 but was recently forced to tell his clerks: “I'm going home, ring me when you need me.”

Eventually, a four-day trial was secured. However, the clerk tendered for the work at only £10,000, while another silk estimated his tender at £25,000.

The chambers director also explains that, at a recent mock tribunal held by his set for a 30-partner firm of solicitors, the director was told by the senior partner of the firm that he had been approached by numerous clerks offering their tenants' services at half the price they were charging a year ago.

“I'm glad we don't have more than a couple of leaders to feed. In the present climate it would be untold pressure,” he says.

Another senior clerk at a leading commercial set says: “The word on the street is that across the board for junior silks it's a bit lean – but at the moment we're quite buoyant.”

However, Paul Shrubsall, senior clerk at One Essex Court, says: “At the top end of the market the demand is constant.

“At the commercial bar, at the bottom end, junior silks are continually in work, but it probably equates to working only three out of five days.”

Where, he asks, will the work come from for the new batch of commercial silks announced at the beginning of this month?

“The Bar has been riding the gravy train for some time,” says the chambers director, adding that barristers will have to get used to being only well rewarded, rather than very well rewarded.