It’s about time the bar had a new challenge and Herbert Smith has certainly got its timing right. With the commercial bar still experiencing one of its periodical slumps, there ought to be takers from a notoriously paranoid profession for estimated guaranteed earnings upwards of £300K.
And the takers might even include those from the firm’s favoured sets operating at the top end of the market. Not least because, despite the unappealing prospect of working for a single client – particularly one as notoriously difficult as Herbert Smith’s litigation team – the firm is one of the few in the City able to offer a captive 5 Herbies Yard tenant some guarantees as to the quality of work.
Certainly, it is one of the most intriguing attempts to put a concrete framework round the tedious and hazy ‘one-stop-shop’ concept. Clients, particularly those not so well-versed in the ways of a split profession, could benefit from a seamless service from the UK’s premier litigation practice. But it is also a dramatic move away from litigators’ obsession with solicitor-advocates. Perhaps wannabe barristers will not, as previously anticipated, be told to serve their time in a law firm, with the promise of a training ground for young advocates as well as security of earnings. It certainly looks as though Herbert Smith is accepting that solicitor-advocates aren’t working in the way they had hoped. Rarely spotted in the vicinity of the High Court, they just can’t compete with an eager and considerably cheaper junior bar.
Herbies might have more trouble luring a halfway decent silk. US firms, with all their financial clout, have failed to tempt all save a couple of the bar’s big hitters to head their London operations, so what can Herbert Smith expect to get for their £700-odd grand package?
Don’t expect it to give up easily, as 5 Herbies Yard has been a long time in the planning. The firm acquired chambers premises at 5 Bell Yard as long ago as 1999, and its plans took on a more defined form at least a year ago.
If Gold and his determined team can carry it off – something which is also likely to be subject to Bar Council approval – then don’t expect them to stop at a chambers of six tenants. Clerks at Herbert Smith’s favourite sets might not be quaking in their boots just yet, but they may want to be buttering up some of their disaffected juniors this week.