Two of London's leading chambers, 1 Paper Buildings and 2 Crown Office Row, are to merge at Easter.
The newly created set, to be called Crown Office Chambers, will be nearly 73-strong and boast 15 silks dwarfing its closest rivals. Legal commentators predict that the merger will signal similar moves across the bar.
A continual downward pressure on fees, conditional fee agreements, block contracting and franchising increasingly require chambers to reach critical mass to handle volume work.
In this case the synergies of the two sets appear to fit well. Both are leaders in the fields of professional negligence, clinical negligence, insurance and reinsurance work and construction.
Crown Office Chambers will also be able to offer expanded teams in PI, product liability, commercial contract and health and safety. The set also plans to build a specialist ADR group.
“There is no doubt that risk can be better shared by bigger chambers. Conditional fees are already pushing us to that,” says Michael Spencer QC, head of chambers at 1 Paper Buildings.
A senior clerk at a rival set says: “It's a trend that has happened in the provinces. I and a couple of others have considered merging, it's finding the right beast. I predict this will be the first of a number. But there will always be some fallout from a merger.”
Spencer says that only one tenant voted against the merger at chambers meetings held last Tuesday.
The two heads of chambers, Spencer and Christopher Purchas QC at 2 Crown Office Row, will jointly manage the new set for the first two years.
The new set will continue to operate from two locations but will be clerked by joint senior clerks David Newcomb and Julian Campbell from 1 Paper Buildings.
“This is being driven by a desire to provide clients with the service that they are demanding. That requires the bar changing and we want to be at the forefront of that,” says Spencer.