Commercial cream of the crop

When selecting a dream team, some players are always first to be picked. But what of their support? Mike Yuille reports. Mike Yuille is a freelance journalist.

In a solicitor's fantasy counsel team, some names are bound to be first choice. Of these, the most frequently mentioned is Jonathan Sumption QC of Brick Court Chambers. For “sheer brilliance of mind, commercial nous, and steely nerves in court”, Sumption takes first prize – even if clients do choke over his fees.

But there is little daylight between Sumption and the commercial Bar's two other most expensive silks: the “affable” Anthony Grabiner QC, head of One Essex Court, and “ferocious” Gordon Pollock QC, head of Essex Court Chambers.

Many might prefer either of them, depending on the personality required and type of case involved.

“If money was no object, Jonathan Sumption would be at the helm for most types of commercial litigation,” says one City partner. Another says: “We'd certainly have Sumption. A good combination is with Richard Hacker QC of 3-4 South Square – he's just taken silk this year, but on a heavy case, we'd pair them if we could.”

Grabiner commands warm affection for his “user-friendly, commercial approach”, as well as consummate advocacy skills and would be preferred by some to Sumption for drawn-out court battles.

A good dream team junior for either silk would be Laurence Rabinowitz, from Grabiner's set. In fact, Grabiner and Rabinowitz are already paired following the collapse of British & Commonwealth.

The duo are acting for merchant bank NM Rothschild, one of a host of primary defendants, instructed by Ashurst Morris Crisp. “I would be pretty comfortable with those two as the dream ticket,” says one solicitor.

Rabinowitz's strength as a junior is his “solidity, brain power, and drafting skills”. Rhodri Davies and Joseph Hage, also of Grabiner's set, are rated as alternatives to Rabinowitz.

Peter Scott QC, head of Fountain Court, is a favourite, rated as being as tough as Pollock but cheaper. “Scott is a better cross-examiner, thorough and a better price, and is good for a highly contested matter with a lot of evidence,” says one top-five City firm partner.

A dream team junior for Scott might be Craig Orr, Bankim Thanki or Richard Handyside, all from Fountain Court. “Any of these with Scott would be extremely good.”

Among those also mentioned as team leaders are Christopher Carr QC, of Grabiner's One Essex Court, who is a firm favourite for some, and Brick Court Chamber's head Christopher Clarke QC, who would be the leader in many solicitors' dream teams should none of the golden three be available.

Brick Court Chambers “has lots of good people to team up”, although a former favourite juniors there, Mark Howard QC, took silk two years ago. Mark Cran QC, “a very good, experienced advocate”, would be a strong choice to lead a dream team on “a tough case”.

Chambers head Christopher Clarke QC with colleagues Charles Hollander or Catharine Otton-Goulder make a “tremendous” team.

Andrew Hochhauser QC of Essex Court Chambers, who gained silk last year, and colleague Martin Griffiths are mentioned – “the big mouth and the mind in perfect unison”.

Edwin Glasgow QC, head of 39 Essex Street, and John McLinden of 17 Bedford Row is another strong combination – “you need symbiosis between paperwork and advocacy”.

Michael Briggs QC at Charles Sparrow QC's Serle Court Chambers – “he's extremely good” – is known to work well with senior junior Philip Jones.

For more consultative work, Richard Southwell QC, head of One Hare Court, would be a first choice leader. Julian Flaux QC of 7 King's Bench Walk would be a first choice for leader on an insurance or reinsurance case. “We rate him highly,” says one top City partner.

The £1bn British & Commonwealth litigation is an example of how big cases attract top names. B&C's liquidators alone have spent £31m in legal fees since the collapse – dream team leaders do not come cheap.

Clarke and Sumption are leading a team for BZW; Fountain Court's Nicholas Stadlen QC and 11 King's Bench Walk's Alistair McGregor QC are leading a team for B&C; Michael Harvey QC of 2 Crown Office Row and Alan Boyle QC of Serle Court Chambers are for Atlantic; Fountain Court's Peter Goldsmith QC for auditor Spicer & Oppenheim; and Colin Ross-Munro QC of 2 Hare Court for Atlantic directors.