Wilberforce barristers earn £550K apiece to top 2006 earnings table

A bumper year for the set’s pensions practice helped Wilberforce Chambers boost revenue per barrister (RPB) by 10 per cent last year to overtake 7 King’s Bench Walk at the top of the earnings table.

The average RPB has broken through the £350,000 barrier for the first time this year despite fewer cases reaching a full trial in court.

The Lawyer’s annual survey of the top 30 barristers’ chambers has revealed that average earnings have risen by 8 per cent between 2005 and 2006 to hit £358,000 this year.

The figures show that, while the average tenant in a top 30 set is earning more each year, few reach the heady heights of the £2m-a-year club of superstar silks inhabited by barristers such as Brick Court Chambers’ Jonathan Sumption QC or One Essex Court’s Lord Grabiner QC.

RPB ranged from £153,000 at 1 Crown Office Row to £554,000 at Wilberforce. A total of 20 sets now have an RPB of £300,000 or more, three more chambers than in 2005. Reaching the £300,000 marker for the first time in 2006 were Four New Square, 39 Essex Street and 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square.

Sixteen chambers have RPBs higher than the average, and 3-4 South Square and Essex Court Chambers have joined the elite group of sets where the RPB is more than £500,000.

XXIV Old Buildings enjoyed the greatest increase in RPB between 2005 and 2006, with the figure rising by 25 per cent, from £352,000 to £440,000, to push the chancery set into the top 10 sets by RPB.

Senior clerk at XXIV Nicholas Luckman said the rise had come on the back of a number of big cases, such as Sir Fraser Morrison’s dispute with Anglian Water, and an increase in international arbitration work.

“We’ve had three or four years of increased growth,” Luckman said. “Last year saw another push in that direction. We’ve seen increases all across the set – people here have a balance in their practice.”

Four New Square, Maitland Chambers and 3-4 South Square also had substantial RPB increases of 18, 17 and 12 per cent respectively.

The average rise in RPB from the previous year was 7 per cent, and the majority of chambers did see growth in this region.

Sets that failed to record RPB growth were those practising common law, where the legal aid crisis in crime work had an effect. North West sets Exchange Chambers and Kings Chambers, as well as Outer Temple Chambers and 1 Crown Office Row, all had rises in overall turnover as a result of recruitment during the year, but RPB dropped at all four sets.

Kings saw the greatest decrease in RPB, down by 4 per cent from £220,000 in 2005 to £211,000 this year. Senior clerk Colin Griffin said that the year had begun slowly, with few cases actually reaching court, and that Kings’ commercial practice had remained static.

Kings and Exchange are similar to the other regional sets in the top 30 in recording RPBs much lower than the average. At £211,000 Kings’ RPB is the highest of the regional chambers’, followed by Midlands-based St Philips Chambers on £182,000, Exchange at £170,000 and the UK’s biggest set, No5 Chambers, with an RPB of £161,000.

The increase in RPB has allowed some sets, such as One Essex Court, to reduce their chambers contributions this year after overall costs remained static.

One Essex Court tenants now contribute just 10.8 per cent of their earnings to cover rent, staff salaries and other costs, down from 12.1 per cent in 2005.