In the aftermath of Woolf and with the general slowdown in insolvency work, one might think that the specialist bar would be suffering. However, this is not the case for the leading sets in this area – not least because the work is concentrated in a few hands. Chief among them is 3/4 South Square, the chambers of Michael Crystal. Barristers from the set were variously involved in most of the large collapses of the last recession, from Maxwell to Canary Wharf.
The departure of John Higham QC for Stephenson Harwood may have been symbolic to some, but 3/4 South Square's pre-eminence in the field means that it is unlikely to get badly burned by the onset of the rescue culture, with its emphasis on informal, or non-court-based turnaround techniques. Indeed, in more recent times members of Crystal's chambers have been heavily involved in high-end advisory work, most notably on Barings and the Lloyd's Reconstruction and Renewal plans.
Gabriel Moss QC – whose cases last year included Re Mark One, which overturned Re Powerstore, much to the relief of many lawyers – is lauded by solicitors and accountants as the doyen of the insolvency bar. He is one of the cast of thousands currently working on the Bermuda Fire & Marine case, instructed by Clifford Chance for the liquidators.
Yet such is the talent at 3/4 South Square that there is much to choose from. Among the silks, Michael Crystal QC – recently instructed by Lovell White Durrant on Morris v Agrichemicals – stands out. With Mark Phillips taking silk in the last batch of QC appointments, and with Robin Dicker universally tipped to take silk next year, 3/4 South Square has undisputed strength across the board. Phillips himself was heavily involved in Maxwell, and the two recently appeared on opposite sides on Bank of England v Three Rivers (Phillips for Freshfields and the Bank of England; Dicker on the other side with Lovell White Durrant).
The other traditional sets include Erskine Chambers, Enterprise Chambers and 7 Stone Buildings. Erskine Chambers, which is rapidly becoming known as the alternative to 3/4 South Square, is praised by a number of solicitors for its breadth of approach, with Robin Potts QC (currently on Bermuda Fire & Marine) and Leslie Kosmin QC particularly rated.
The heavyweight commercial sets have also built up their insolvency practices. One Essex Court, which boasts Elizabeth Gloster QC, is a classic example. Gloster, who was involved on the Heron Group reconstruction, is also in Bermuda on the Bermuda Fire & Marine case. Essex Court Chambers, meanwhile, is building up its presence in the area through two well-regarded senior juniors: Richard Millett (currently on Bermuda Fire & Marine) and Sue Prevezer, latterly of 3/4 South Square.