39 Essex Street forks out £1.8m on refit

Civil set 39 Essex Street has spent £1.8m – more than 10 per cent of its annual turnover – on a refurbishment to bring its premises up to date.

The refit, which was unveiled last week, included gutting the Middle Temple chambers’ Edwardian building and equipping it for the 21st century. 39 Essex Street now has a seminar room that seats comfortably all 60 of its tenants, as well as boasting new conference and catering facilities.

Chief executive Michael Meeson said: “We ripped the innards out of the building. It’s not just a lick of paint, we’ve really gone to town on it.” Despite the cost of refurbishment, the set has managed to reduce chambers contributions, previously among the highest of the top 30 sets – which is itself a legacy of the high cost of the set’s lease. Last year, 39 Essex Street tenants contributed 22 per cent of their earnings to chambers costs, a 2 per cent drop from the previous year. Meeson put the decrease down to good management.

The set reported a modest turnover rise of 5 per cent, up to £17.7m from 2004’s £16.5m. Revenue per barrister went up 2 per cent to £295,000, with three extra tenants compared with 2004. In July, the set hired Matthew Horton QC and Richard Wald from the now defunct 2 Mitre Court Buildings.

“It’s been a tougher year,” Meeson said. “People are spending less money on lawyers. Solicitors are finding it a harder environment and are doing more in-house.”