Solicitors' dream legal teams

Matheu Swallow pinpoints the top three barristers' teams and talks to the advocates who are seen as simply the best

This month we asked solicitors to engage in a little Fantasy Barrister League and name their dream team. They simply had to choose their ideal leader and junior with money, availability and even prickly clerks being no object.

Michael Mansfield QC and James Wood

Michael Mansfield QC heads up the first pairing, being praised for what solicitors describe as his “sheer legal brain power, ability, hard work and a capacity to get on with the client as well as working under pressure.” Mansfield, who heads 14 Tooks Court, has noticed a “change in the ability of defendants to articulate their position, to give details in the way a barrister wants them and to assert themselves”.

Of great importance to Mansfield, for a successful relationship between barrister and solicitor, is that he is brought into the case at an early stage.

“I believe in the fusion of the professions and would like to be involved almost from the point of arrest onwards, especially now with changes to the right to silence and disclosure,” claims Mansfield.

Early decisions set a particular agenda for the progress of a case and to be called up by the solicitor from the police station means I know the problems or identify potential ones from the beginning,” he continues.

James Wood from Doughty Street Chambers gets the nod as his junior, though solicitors say he has the ability to lead without a silk. He has worked with Mansfield in the past, acting for Pat Molloy in the Bridge-water trial, and finds Mansfield a “lovely person to be led by because a junior's judgement is always listened to and because one can act as a restraining inf-luence with Mike”. Wood brings to the team a forthright app-roach, attacking in cross-examination together with judgement and tactical awareness.

Ronald Thwaites QC and Trevor Burke

This pairing is led by the captain of “fearless advocacy”, Ronald Thwaites QC, ably supported by a striker in his own right, Trevor Burke.

As a barrister, Thwaites describes himself as a “robust advocate” and a potentially difficult man to deal with. This, he says, makes him ideally suited to having an equally difficult professional man as a client, since the two are likely to hit it off straightaway.

Thwaites relishes the cross-examination role and perhaps tellingly indicates he likes a case that has sufficient “mystery” to motivate his interest.

As a team, Thwaites and Burke have worked well together in the past. Burke, who is seen as his protege, began life at Thwaites's chambers at 10 King's Bench Walk and has since returned.

Thwaites says Burke is able to “read a case through my mind, jettisoning anything he knows I consider to be a waste of time.” Called in 1981 Burke has not yet applied for silk.

Thwaites believes that, “solicitors and barristers should stand on an equal footing and that the Bar has damaged itself with the veil of pomposity, which is simply a cover for insecure barristers”. Despite his contention that the need to eat, sleep and breathe a case as a barrister is incompatible with a solicitor's daily round of correspondence and meetings, Thwaites maintains that “the future of the profession lies on the solicitors' side and that the Bar will contract a lot over the next 10 years and will end up being totally referral-based”.

George Carman QC and Gareth Rees

For our final duet there was great competition for places but it goes to the man solicitors describe as “Gorgeous George” Carman QC at New Court Chambers.

Although not doing much crime these days, he is described as “standing head and shoulders above everyone else”.

Gareth Rees at Hollis Whiteman Chambers in Queen Elizabeth Building is the nominated junior, and praised by solicitors as “an attacking midfielder who can drop into defence as well”.

Rees does not believe in the old divisions between the professions, but appreciates early involvement in a case and working in a team environment. His role, as he sees it, is dominated by a need to be able to adapt, because so much depends on the personalities with whom he is working.

Rees explains it in terms of the good cop, bad cop methodology of client care: “The junior may be a little more pushy with the client allowing the QC to come in and persuade the client with a more friendly manner”.

Whatever the style of approach adopted by Rees, it seems to be working. One practitioner told us that Rees “gets on extremely well with defendants and appears to have judges eating out of his hands”.