Buying in bulk

Laterals fad sweeps bar as chambers add numbers to fend off consolidation


Across the civil bar sets are assessing how best to survive in the post-good times era. The modern bar is not without its own price pressures and also faces increased competition from the solicitor profession.

Inner Temple set 11KBW is hoping to find safety in numbers. In the past five years chambers has been beset by barrister departures to the bench and retirement, meaning its member ranks have not expanded. Consequently, growth has been stilted, with turnover increasing by a marginal 0.3 per cent to £17.2m in 2011-12.

The set decided it needed a chief executive to help whip it into shape. David Stead’s January arrival led to a five-year growth plan. The first phase, focused on laterals, started last week, with the arrival of two 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square members: public law and human rights barrister Charles Bourne and Andrew Sharland.

Stead says the set could accommodate upwards of 60 members compared with its current 50, with plenty of room for growth across the senior junior tier.

But growth at one set means contraction for another. 11KBW’s strategy has hit 4-5 Gray’s Inn, which has also lost three juniors and a silk recently, with Landmark Chambers and Matrix Chambers adding two members each. Whether this assault will continue remains to be seen, but with its raft of public sector expertise it is a happy hunting ground.

For 11KBW, adding new members will see it moving into new areas, broadening its core practice bases to balance its public sector focus with a stronger footing in the more lucrative commercial sector.

There has been a streamlining of management structures to enable barristers to get on with their work rather than being held up by the business of management. This, it hopes, will see revenues move upward rather than flatline.

Quadrant Chambers, too, is trying to broaden its base.

It is only a matter of time before the bar begins to consolidate as the solicitor profession has, but for now it is all about bulking up through laterals.