High expectations in a competitive climate

Litigation partners instructing counsel at the commercial Bar are looking for a barrister who is just that – commercial.

Generally, the emphasis is on the delivery of a professional service to clients which includes the quality of the counsel.

As one leading litigation partner comments: "The whole psychology of litigation and legal practice has changed dramatically in the last five years. Clients are now sophisticated consumers of legal services who expect quality legal advice from solicitors and the advisers that they instruct in turn."

Increasingly, solicitors are expected to draft documents as well as attend court hearings.

The way in which legal culture has altered and now embraces the commercialisation of the Bar is illustrated by the experience of regional firms. These have reported an increasing willingness by barristers in London to accept instructions outside of the city or even to establish a presence in the provinces.

There is also a challenge facing barristers' clerks. They are having to exert more power in their traditional role of ensuring that a reasonable standard of service is being delivered across a set.

One head of litigation notes that a number of clerks from London sets have been making an effort to visit national and regional firms to raise the profile of their chambers outside of London, and it seems they have had some success in this quest.

As well as having to compete on value for money and legal knowledge, commercial litigators also face competition from the chancery Bar, which, as one partner explains, "is becoming increasingly commercial both in the business sense, and in the cases in which they are instructed".

The principal areas covered by commercial barristers are international trade, shipping and aviation, banking, finance and insurance, international arbitrations, energy law, and European law. Inevitably, however, there is an overlap with a separate and more specialised practice at the Bar.

The blurring of the distinction between pure commercial and pure chancery has been emphasised by the Commercial Bar Association joining with the Chancery Bar Association and the Financial Law Panel for two joint seminars to be held later this year.

A separate body for barristers in this area of practice is the London Common Law and Commercial Bar Association, which was founded in 1966 and has a membership of more than 1,100 practising barristers.

Membership is open to any member of the Bar whose practice is predominantly civil law and who practises wholly or mainly in the High Court, including the Commercial Court and the county courts in and around London.

Members include counsel whose practice ranges from general common law to the purely commercial, including specialists in areas as diverse as planning, PI, professional negligence, employment law, revenue, defamation, environ- mental law and European law.

The group has set up the London Bar Arbitration Scheme which is currently in the process of being updated to coincide with the passing of the new Arbitration Bill, currently going through Parliament.