The bar must fight for its survival

Despite having commercialisation thrust upon it, the bar lags almost every other profession in terms of modernity – and it is extremely proud of the fact. Many see the Inns of Court as a selling point, symbolic of and synonymous with quality.

Katie Dowell

Not everyone agrees. The exit of criminal set 6KBW from the Inner Temple to the City is unlikely to be the last move of its kind. Many chambers are considering how best to set themselves up as the chambers of choice for general counsel, so having an Inner Temple postcode is not the lone selling point.

The perpetually stuffy image does little to encourage wannabe barristers from non-white, non-middle class, non-male walks of life to join the bar. Nor does it help barristers compete with their solicitor counterparts for work.

Like it or not, litigation lawyers are increasingly battling with barristers for those all-important instructions. The competition isn’t coming from the magic circle firms, which are sticking to what they know best, nor is it coming from the advocacy unit in Herbert Smith Freehills. It is coming from smart litigation boutiques and US firms.

Quinn Emmanuel Urquhart & Sullivan has Sue Prevezer QC and Debevoise & Plimpton Peter Goldsmith QC. Blackstone Chambers’ Thomas Beazley QC went off to start-up boutique Hage Aaronson, along with Graham Aaronson QC of Pump Court Tax Chambers.

How long before Stewarts Law and Enyo start installing barristers? And, more to the point, how long before more chambers start employing lawyers and completely change the competitive landscape?

In this issue we speak to four chambers heads, including Brick Court’s Jonathan Hirst QC, about their visions for the future of the Inns.

Hardwicke’s Nigel Jones QC suggests that LLP vehicles could be set up for management, tax, and profit distribution, that solicitors may be employed more commonly in certain sectors and that more clients will want to instruct competing advocates from different sets.

A dose of reality is required. The commercial bar is a referral profession that will survive the next decade, but only if it wakes up to competition.