Too few stars at the public bar

Solicitors reluctantly spill the beans on which silks at the public bar they rate, perhaps in fear of losing the services of one of the precious few able QCs in this area to rival firms.

Not all solicitors are entirely happy with the service they are getting at the public bar.

Although most solicitors are generous in their praise, there were a small number who were forthright in their criticisms and the general consensus was that there are simply not enough top class specialists in this field.

Demand for senior counsel for advocacy and high-profile work stretches supply lines and some solicitors were reluctant to disclose their favourites, hoping to keep them for themselves.

Top of the pile is the recently renamed Blackstone Chambers. There are four leading silks at this set who earned numerous mentions. David Pannick QC is described as "uniformly excellent". However, it is Presiley Baxendale QC who edges out Pannick for top slot (a moot point with several practitioners), earning her a place in The Lawyer's "Top Five". Among her colleagues are the highly rated Charles Flint QC, a "commercial administrator's lawyer", "so very useful in these regulated times to act for commercial institutions". Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC is also regularly employed for "his detailed knowledge of the subject and superb advocacy skills".

Also at the top of its game is 4-5 Gray's Inn Square, winning a great deal of praise for being a "very amenable set". Duncan Ouseley QC is described by one solicitor as "seriously underrated". Two other able silks at this set are Elizabeth Appleby QC and the highly regarded Cherie Booth QC.

It then becomes very difficult to grade the leading sets, as several earn an equal number of mentions. In no particular order comes 11 King's Bench Walk, where James Goudie QC is heralded as an "excellent advocate" especially for local government work and in the education field, the doyenne of the employment bar, Patrick Elias QC "stands out".

39 Essex Street is also perceived by many to be a leading set with Nigel Pleming QC, who is not only "very good" but also possesses the skills to be a "good team player".

Doughty Street Chambers certainly possesses some quality, with Geoffrey Robertson QC the pick of the bunch. The "very academic" Andrew Nicol QC also comes highly rated, as does Edward Fitzgerald QC, an incontrovertible "brain on legs".

Essex Court Chambers has two leading silks. Gordon Pollock QC is a "first class commercial silk" and is "good in this area as in everything else". Peter Duffy QC is also "outstanding", but "doesn't have a high enough profile".

Two more sets with able Queen's Counsel are 4 Breams Buildings and Brick Court Chambers. At the former, David Holgate is "an excellent advocate with superb planning". Also at this set Richard Drabble QC is pretty pragmatic for opinion writing". John Howell QC is a "rising star" who is also the "best value for money leader at the Bar". At Brick Court head of chambers Christopher Clarke QC has a "very understated approach", while also at this set Nicholas Green QC and Mark Hapgood QC come highly recommended.

Two more heads of chambers earning mentions are Peter Scott QC of Fountain Court, described simply as "damn good" and Stephen Hockman QC of 6 Pump Court, while Farrar's Building has a "fabulous" barrister in Tim Dutton QC. Nicholas Blake QC of 2 Garden Court is highly rated.

Credit also goes to Robin Purchas QC and the "excellent" Charles George QC of 2 Harcourt Buildings, and the "excellent company lawyer" Robert Hildyard QC of 4 Stone Buildings. At 2 Crown Office Row Michael Kent QC is "up and coming". At 13 Old Square David Oliver QC is described as "definitely a player".

Finally, two regional silks more than worthy of a mention are John Randall QC of St Philips Chambers and Martin Kingston QC of 5 Fountain Court, both in Birmingham.