The consensus of solicitors canvassed is that London is the place to find a banking specialist.
The area is seen as reasonably buoyant, although one senior litigation partner at a top 10 City firm commented “it seems that the juniors are just not coming through”.
“We are tending to do more and more advocacy in-house, as well as giving advice on technical matters and drafting pleadings,” he added.
But, with banking being such an indefinite area of practice – it overlaps with general commercial law and even extends to judicial review cases involving local authorities – it remains very much a growth sector. And, as with advocacy generally, those who specialise are reaping both the briefs and the rewards.
The up and coming and those in the middle ranks may be pleased to note that the rewards are such that one partner has said that it is noticeable how few barristers in this particular areas of practice have gone up the bench.
One of the few exceptions has been Jonathan Mance QC, formerly at 7 King's Bench Walk. The partner added that the current heavyweights “would, in any other area of practice, have been judges long before now”.
As with the silks, the list of juniors, who are all highly rated, has not increased noticeably in the past five years. This list is not exhaustive, but the practitioners instructing those named were principally looking for three elements: counsel with intellectual quality, commercial nous and someone who was easy to work with.
Ali Malek, of 3 Gray's Inn Place, was mentioned most frequently by the practitioners, and is “very popular”. At the same chambers, David Waksman, Andrew Sutcliffe, Ewan McQuater, Jonathan Mark Phillips and Adrian Beltrami were all singled out for mention. And Nicholas Elliott QC, who took silk in 1995, has a “good analytical mind and a very positive and clear approach to the analysis of banking issues”.
David Wolfson was also tipped as a barrister to watch.
Another of the juniors who has “impressed” and is “frequently used” is James Eadie at One Hare Court, while at 3-4 South Square, Robin Knowles is “definitely up and coming and easy to work with”.
In the same chambers is Mark Phillips, who is a “leading light, aggressive and good”. Also recommended are William Trower, Richard Sheldon, David Alexander and Robin Dicker.
Others who have been singled out for praise are Simon Browne-Wilkinson, Murray Shanks and Thanki Bankim at Fountain Court chambers. And although they are slightly more generalist, the juniors at 5 Bell Yard are spoken of very highly and are all seen as having “a pretty impressive grasp of banking issues” – Michael Sullivan, Hannah Brown and Akhil Shah.
At 7 King's Bench Walk, Stephen Hofmeyr and Christopher Butcher are “highly rated”, and Anthony Trace at 13 Old Square is also “very highly thought of”.
Rhodri Davies at 1 Essex Court, and Andrew Popplewell at Brick Court Chambers have also impressed.
And at Littleton Chambers, Clive Freedman, although not a banking specialist, “when he can be persuaded to take on the brief, is very careful and assiduous in his approach to problem-solving and analysis”.
Most practitioners admitted they rarely instructed local counsel, and if so, usually on “smaller banking matters”. But despite the majority of recommendations being centred on London, a number of lawyers “flagged” Stephen Davies, Martha Maher and Jeremy Bamford at Bristol-based Guildhall Chambers. Another name to watch is Neil Levy at St John's Chambers.
Further north, Katherine Dunn, Lesley Anderson and Geoffrey Pass, at 40 King Street, Manchester, were all singled out for praise, as were Stephen Davies at 8 King Street and Mark Cawson at 68 Quay Street.
Junior counsel with intellectual clout, commercial sense and a relaxed work relationship are highly prized by practitioners