New-generation silks muscle in on top dogs

The bar’s heavyweights are being edged out of work from the leading City firms in favour of a new crop of leader silks.

The results of a survey by The Lawyer reveal that heavyweight silks Lord Grabiner QC (One Essex Court), Gordon Pollock QC (Essex Court), Jonathan Sumption QC (Brick Court) and Lord Goldsmith QC (Fountain Court) are being instructed less and that younger silks are taking over.

Top firms are taking one of two distinct approaches. Clifford Chance and Linklaters & Alliance are adopting a policy of edging out junior barristers in favour of their own solicitor advocates, while Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Slaughter and May and Herbert Smith are cultivating a fresh crop of top silks.

Herbert Smith litigation partner Ted Greeno says: “For some years those people [heavyweight silks] were unrivalled, but there are now new leaders such as Michael Brindle QC [Fountain Court], Mark Barnes QC [One Essex Court] and Mark Howard QC [Brick Court].”

New names are emerging, and former One Essex Court tenant Michael Bloch QC, now at Wilberforce Chambers, is believed to have earned around £1m last year from Clifford Chance.

Lack of availability is cited as the main reason for replacing heavyweight silks, according to a partner who claimed Grabiner refuses to take long cases. But senior clerk Robert Ralphs at One Essex Court says: “He [Grabiner] has commitments, but [can take on cases] within a parameter of three days up to a week.” Short cases are more remunerative than long ones.

According to Greeno, this gives less senior silks the opportunity to make their mark. “There’s a movement towards instructing younger barristers on fact-heavy and longer cases,” he says.

Silk Jonathan Gaisman of insurance and arbitration set 7 King’s Bench Walk earned more than £1m last year as a result of maintaining a relationship with former Denton Wilde Sapte partner Philip Rocher. Gaisman was retained on the Barings litigation after Rocher joined Clifford Chance.

Nicholas Stadlen QC of Fountain Court is also earning more than £1m, from Freshfields on BCCI, as is Alan Boyle QC of Serle Court on the Baron von Thyssen case.

Both Clifford Chance and Linklaters are now promoting in-house advocacy over using juniors, but litigation partner Richard Chalk at Freshfields says: “We don’t yet have sufficient advocacy experience to feel confident of our capability to deal with the advocacy in a major trial. For that reason, we continue to use specialist barristers. This position may well have changed 20 years from now.”

Gabriel Moss QC and Simon Mortimore QC at insolvency set 3-4 South Square, Paul Lasok QC at European Union and competition set Monckton Chambers, along with Robin Potts QC at banking and company law set Erskine Chambers, featured on the tables as a result.

See feature page 24