David Gold must be delighted that his firm’s protracted search for a silk has finally come to fruition. Unfortunately, in that time Herbert Smith has lost two of its own home-grown QCs – Lawrence Collins QC to the bench and, most recently, Julian Lew QC, who joins 20 Essex Street on 1 April.
Murray Rosen QC, though, brings a very different set of skills. A courtroom terrier, he fits perfectly the mould of a traditional Herbert Smith litigator and his practice covers a broad range of sectors, from sport through to fraud to IT. He also has a longstanding relationship with the firm, having received his first instruction in 1978.
However, it would be remarkable if many Herbert Smith clients would forsake freedom of choice for a predetermined silk, particularly for large-scale litigation. As one unimpressed litigation head at a rival firm said: “I spend my life trying to get clients through the door; I’m hardly going to risk losing them by forcing counsel upon them.”
But this is a slow-burner of a project. To get to this stage has taken several years (The Lawyer first broke the story of plans for a Herbert Smith chambers in September 2003), and the process of laying claim to the bar’s territory has thus far concentrated on the junior bar.
The firm must be hoping that Rosen’s arrival will improve its chances of getting some juniors on board, as there has been no sign of any takers yet, even for reported salaries of between £350,000 and £500,000. Perhaps Gold has decided he doesn’t need them – he already has a crack team of 43 qualified solicitor-advocates. More likely, though, the firm has been setting its sights too high. For the very best juniors in the market, that represents a drop in earnings and a significant loss of independence.
Rosen’s arrival at Herbert Smith does finally offer a credible model for one-stop-shop litigation. But critics have yet to be convinced that an in-house chambers will be able to offer sufficient choice or the other great unique selling point of the bar, objectivity. The impartial view of someone unaffected by the closeness of a client relationship is one of the key skills to be demonstrated by the silks of the future in order to comply with the new QC competency framework. The question is whether, as a Herbert Smith ’employee’, Rosen’s independence will be impinged by any feelings of duty to preserve the client relationship. Given his terrier pedigree that seems unlikely, but it might not prove too popular with his new colleagues at Herbert Smith.