Blair’s former set 11KBW looks to build on success forged during PM’s 10-year term

The former prime minister Tony Blair may have given up his tenancy at No 10 Downing Street last week, but there is one building where his name is still on the door: his former chambers 11KBW.

“If Tony ever thought of starting up a practice again he’d always be welcome to come back to chambers,” said joint head of chambers James Goudie QC.

Goudie said Blair had been a “fine barrister” with a very strong practice before he decided to leave for his political career.

“His name will remain on the door for as long as he wants it there,” added Goudie.

Blair, however, was not the only one to leave 11KBW for the political world. In 1997, when Blair was appointed to the prime ministerial office, he took with him one of the set’s founding fathers, Lord Irvine of Lairg.

Irvine, who became Blair’s first lord chancellor, was instrumental in 11KBW being regarded as one of the best sets in the country in the three main disciplines of employment, commercial and public law.

In 1997 Mr Justice Elias, who at the time was still a silk at 11KBW, said Irvine would be “a big loss”, but added that the set would “manage and cope without him”.

And that has proved to be the case, with 11KBW still at the top of its game.

But like New Labour, the last decade has seen Blair’s former chambers undergo dramatic changes to maintain its position.

For New Labour, of course, the most recent and notable revolution is the departure of Blair and the succession of ex-chancellor Gordon Brown as prime minister.

There has been no change in leadership at 11KBW since 1997, but it has undergone a rebranding to show its professional side – an endeavour similar to Brown’s current work on Labour’s new image.

The set, when it launched in 1981, was 11 King’s Bench Walk; this year it decided to depart from its traditional feel by branding itself as simply 11KBW.

“It’s a question of moving with the times, making the set more marketable and, of course, memorable,” explained Goudie.

Unlike Labour’s decade, which saw its majority drop from 179 to 64 in 2005, 11KBW’s quiet evolution has seen the set expand. The number of practice areas has increased threefold, from three to nine in the last decade. The new areas include sport, education, human rights and information law, with employment, commercial and public law still at the heart of the chambers.

“Tony Blair’s time in office really did help expand our practice areas,” explained Goudie. “The raft of new laws brought in by the Government were pieces of legislation which we could embrace as it built on the expertise that we already had in chambers.

“Of course, we’re thankful to Blair’s government, but it wasn’t only us who benefited. The way Labour churned out new rules and laws has helped expand a lot of lawyers’ practices.”

The set’s expansion of practice areas has seen its membership also increase in size. When the chambers started there were only 11 barristers, but this number has now increased to 50 tenants.

Such a large increase in the number of barristers has meant the previous office of Tony Blair has been outgrown. The set is now in the process of taking over the building next door to make room for more expansion.

The set is looking to continue its growth organically through pupils advancing through the ranks, but it is open to taking on barristers from elsewhere.

So what of the future for the chambers now that the prime minister who pushed through one legislative change a day has left office?Goudie reflects: “Tony Blair’s government has left the whole legal profession with many challenges and opportunities. So it’s simply a case that we as a set have to continue to adapt to the market and grab every opportunity that’s presented to us.”