Unlike the banking and finance practice where silks appear loath to go to the bench, chancery barristers seem more inclined to accept appointment as judges.
One recent example is Robert Walker QC formerly at 5 Stone Buildings whose appointment reduces the pool of chancery specialists. Despite this, several excellent barristers remain.
The sets most frequently mentioned tend to be concentrated in Lincoln's Inn. They include Wilberforce Chambers under Edward Nugee QC, Henry Harrod's set at 5 Stone Buildings, Charles Aldous QC's set at 7 Stone Buildings, 3 New Square headed by Sir William Goodhart QC, and the two sets at Thirteen Old Square under William Christie and Charles Sparrow QC upstairs. The heads of each of these are also highly regarded in chancery.
In this area of practice, a solicitor is looking for an expert who understands the issues, a consultant to “bounce ideas off off”. Although referrals are rare, fine tuning can be needed in the heavyweight cases, which is unlike common law practice or “knock-about crime”. They should be able to “turn things round quickly, be academically bright, and be able to relate easily to the clients in meetings”.
Chancery counsel should have intellectual excellence and an acute mind. Advocacy is not such a premium as there is no jury. “What is needed,” suggests one practitioner, is the ability to put a well-argued intelligent and intellectual case to a judge who understands it, without waffling.”
The following are thought to meet that mark. This list is not exhaustive but is based on the subjective recommendations of leading chancery and commercial litigation practitioners.
“One of the leading lights of the Chancery Bar” is Edward Nugee QC at Wilberforce Chambers. Both Charles Sparrow QC, of Thirteen Old Square, and Peter Curry QC, of 4 Stone Buildings, are “very well-known and very, very senior, only to be consulted in the grandest of cases”. Also at Sparrow's chambers, Michael Briggs QC and John Whittaker were singled out for mention. At Nugee's set, Robert Ham QC is a popular choice, as is Roger Horne at 11 New Square headed by Peter Crampin QC and Miles Shillingford. The latter is said to be “reasonably priced”.
At Wilberforce Chambers, which some described as probably the premier set for this area of work, Brian Green is predicted to take silk soon.
Christopher McCall QC of 13 Old Square is “outstanding, an excellent chancery QC and good at finding practical solutions”.
At Pump Court Tax Chambers, Andrew Thornhill QC is “a reliable chancery counsel, though better known for his tax work”, and William Massey at the same set has a “sensible approach to chancery and tax issues”. Kevin Prosser is also used and recommended for cases where there are tax influences rather than pure trust influences. Michael Furness at Wilberforce Chambers is also well regarded in this area.
There is a raft of well-known silks, such as David Lowe QC and Nicholas Warren QC, also at Wilberforce Chambers, “who is rated very highly indeed”. And Mark Herbert QC at 5 Stone Buildings is also highly regarded; at the same set the Honourable Launcelot Henderson QC was given an honourable mention.
Francis Barlow, of 8 Stone Buildings, comes highly recommended as “a very good and very experienced senior junior”. Another senior junior is Mark Studer at 11 New Square, as is Simon Taube at 8 Stone Buildings .
Another “very senior junior” is Shan Warnock-Smith at 10 Old Square headed by Leolin Price QC. At 3 New Square, Bernard Weatherill is “a very good general all-purpose chancery barrister”, and David Rowell at the same set is “known more as a conveyancer and a very good draftsman”.
In the area of probate and wills, James Sunnucks at 5 New Square is “one of the leading probate practitioners”.