One Essex Court suffers defection number five

Premier commercial set One Essex Court has lost another senior practitioner – its fifth departure in as many months.

Michael Rollason, a senior junior specialising in commercial insolvency and company litigation, has quit to join rival “magic circle” set Brick Court Chambers.

Rollason is rated as one of the top commercial senior juniors currently at the bar. He acted in the recent litigation between Prince Jefri and the State of Brunei.

Rollason's departure follows that of leading silks Jeffrey Gruder QC, Michael Bloch QC and Terence Mowschenson QC, and junior Sophie Lamb who joined the London office of US firm Wilmer Cutler & Pickering.

A source says: “This will hurt One Essex Court in two areas. First, it will damage the perception in the marketplace, and second, it will cause unrest internally.”

It could also hurt the set financially. The combined earnings of the four senior practitioners that have left has been estimated at between £1.5m and £2m.

Average earnings in the leading commercial sets are £330,000 per member, giving One Essex Court an annual turnover close to £20m.

Although the set has recruited Richard Field QC and Siobhan Ward from 11 King's Bench Walk, their arrival simply cancelled out the departure of big-hitter Steven Gee QC to 4 Field Court last year.

The commercial bar continues to be relatively quiet, which only means the departures from the set will be felt even more acutely.

Question marks have been raised about One Essex's autocratic management style and overall strategy.

Unlike the other “magic circle” sets, it is not focused in one or two specific commercial sectors, and much of the current swathe of movement at the bar, including Jeffrey Gruder QC's return to Essex Court Chambers, can be explained by polarisation.

“That's the difference between them [One Essex Court] and us.

“We have our core areas, whereas they have a number of areas bolted together,” says another source at a rival set.

Rollason's move is even more surprising because Brick Court Chambers is not a recognised player in the insolvency or company sectors.

However, it is understood that he wants to broaden his European practice.