The world really is an oyster for ambitious and forward-thinking chambers. Direct access has been approved by the Bar Council, international work is spawning through growth of arbitrations and offshore work, and sets are bravely looking over their long-established parapets into Europe and beyond. So far, these opportunities have largely been pounced upon by big London sets, but now sprawling Birmingham set 5 Fountain Court, with 136 tenants, appears to be joining them.
The hot and dusty terrains of Madrid and Malaga are hardly places one would expect to see the gentlemen of the English Bar setting up home, but No 5, as it is otherwise known, has in its wisdom done precisely that by way of an association with Spanish firm De Cotta Mckenna & Santafe. The set is currently in talks with the Bar Council over how it can market its new venture, an effort likely to produce positive results because of the Bar's keenness to see the globalisation of chambers.
Most of the work referred to No 5 from De Cotta relates to trust, matrimonial, inheritance and property disputes on behalf of expatriates, with the set handling English law aspects and litigation set down for the English courts. The wisdom of all this is not limited to the fact that No 5 has trodden on the toes of London sets which traditionally would have been fed this work. It also means that English firms are interested in referring work to No 5, which, for a commission, forwards it to its principal contact at De Cotta, English counsel Edward Grant. In turn, Grant, who is an associate member of No 5, pays his set contributions in the same way as the Birmingham-based members do.
Spain is not the only No 5 incursion into London turf. The set also has 11 full-time tenants, including two silks, based in its recently-launched London annexe, a move inspired by its head Gareth Evans QC. Although it does not pose a real threat to other sets doing similar work – a hodge-podge of commercial, employment and personal injury – it is a clever strategy for a set keen to break out of its Birmingham mould.
That is also why its barristers have been so cock-a-hoop since it got its first ever instruction from the Cayman Islands. Few regional sets can boast any offshore instructions, and for No 5 to have become bed partners with Caymans firms, which are positively flushed with insurance, restructuring, fraud, trust and investment disputes, bodes well for the set's fortunes. To date, it has received four multimillion dollar cases involving trust and share disputes, all of which are ongoing. A positive push by the set into New York would yield instructions from across the Caribbean and bolster the set's turnover, which in the past year has increased by £1m to £17m, according to latest accounts.
General civil work at No 5 remains fairly strong, while commercial is, on the whole, bread and butter, although practice manager Tony McDaid reports a recent instruction from Canada involving a worldwide commercial fraud. On the planning side, it will be difficult for No 5 to beat the £1.5m that Michael Kingston QC scooped on the Associated British Ports inquiry, although junior Ian Dover has been instructed on the massive London Gateway inquiry.