Commercial Bar work may be scarce in the regions but some circuits still make a name for themselves, says Mike Yuille
If the regional commercial Bar has one drawback, it is that it is not in London.
Circuits around the UK have thriving criminal and family practices based on an ever-present (or even ever-increasing) local client base – which often prefers to be arrested or divorced closer to home.
Commercial clients, however, often prefer the London courts and, depending on the scale and complexity of their case, the wide choice of first-class counsel whose mere presence, they feel, will win for them their day in court.
Choice and consistency of quality in the regional Bar are often decisive issues for regional law firms in advising a client whether or not to stay local.
But the star performers of the commercial Bar can still be found congregating particularly in the bigger business centres of Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds.
In Manchester, Byrom Street Chambers is stocked “exclusively with leaders” capable of turning round a variety of commercial work.
Andrew Moran QC is favoured, together with Brian Leveson QC, and Giles Wingate-Saul QC who is considered particularly good – “if I were choosing one leader, it would have to be him”. Wingate-Saul is also described as “very good with clients – he judges them well and is flexible in his dealings with them… thorough and thoughtful”.
Local commercial firms, who claim to send half their work to the City, say there are only two other sets to consider: at 8 King Street, Jeffrey Terry is a “very good” senior junior who formerly practised in London.
At 40 King Street, Philip Raynor QC “has a good reputation and is highly regarded”. Colleague Peter Smith QC is another favourite.
One junior at the same chambers who is becoming noticed is former Manchester University academic Lesley Anderson who is said to be “very good, very bright”.
In Liverpool, Edward Bartley Jones QC at Exchange Chambers is highly rated.
In Leeds, the northern circuit has Hugo Groves at Enterprise Chambers who is highly regarded for his advocacy skills, Charles Ekins at 25 Park Square for a wide range of commercial and other work, and Simon Myerson at Park Court Chambers.
Birmingham may be a powerhouse of British industry but seems less so for the commercial Bar. Many firms send work to London, but a few locals stand out.
Rex Tedd QC, head of 7 Fountain Court, and colleague John Randall QC are highly rated. Randall, who took silk in 1995, was long favoured as a junior. “As far as I can see, a lot of people get work there because of his reputation,” says one solicitor. “If Randall's not available, I'd go to London.”
At the same set senior junior James Corbett is also “highly thought of and user-friendly”.
Another good set is 4 Fountain Court where senior junior Jeremy Cousins is widely admired and “just what the doctor ordered”.
Aubrey Craig at 5 Fountain Court is also widely liked.
In the south west, the western circuit's commercial Bar is dominated by the big sets.
John Royce QC at Bristol's Guildhall Chambers is recommended, along with top juniors George Newsom, Stephen Davies and John Virgo. Also in Bristol, at St John's Chambers, Nigel Hamilton QC is noted, with Richard Stead, Leslie Blohm and Paul Darlow among the strong juniors.
But there is still a shortage of quality counsel, it seems. As a leading commercial litigator in a big Birmingham firm says: “One of the difficulties I have with the local Bar is the lack of choice, and so the problem of finding someone to cover if your favourite's busy.”
The local commercial Bar's other problem is competing with the increasingly aggressive London sets.
With the London Bar now much more ready to hop on the train to Birmingham, and also more prepared to undercut the city's home-grown talent on price, it seems the local commercial Bar has its work cut out to retain the goodwill of the bigger law firms.