Exchange Chambers expands ahead of cost-cutting office move

Liverpool-headquartered Exchange Chambers has moved to slash costs in the wake of legal aid spending cuts, moving offices and implementing a room sharing option to reduce chambers contributions.

It comes as the set expands through the addition of three members from St Johns Buildings. Barristers Philip Parry, David Bentley and Paul Hodgkinson joined Exchange as tenants Monday (14 October 2013).

All three are criminal barristers specialising in serious crime and regulatory work and are facing reduced fees as a result of legal aid cuts.

Exchange’s move to 201 Deansgate in Manchester is aimed at reducing chambers’ overheads with hot desking and room sharing slated to shave contributions by up to two thirds.

Chambers director Tim Handley said he was expecting most of the chambers’ 35 criminal barristers to take up hot desking, adding that barristers could end up paying an even lower rent than the chambers’ average 12 per cent contribution – compared to an average 20 per cent in London.

“The Government’s cut backs to legal aid have had a devastating impact on barristers undertaking publicly funded work,” said Handley.

“As a direct result of the cuts, a high-profile chambers in London has already closed its doors – and more may well follow. To survive and succeed, the bar needs to adapt its working practices,” he added.

The move of Parry, Bentley and Hodgkinson comes after a reshuffle at the chambers, with Sally Harrison QC elected earlier this year as the head of chambers (12 August 2013).

Both Exchange and St Johns Buildings have been in growth mode, though Handley said their strategies were very different.

“St John’s policy is to look at chambers and take over complete chamber whereas we look at individuals,” he said, adding “we wouldn’t entertain a merger, we’re more about organic growth.”

Handley said he expected more barristers to join the chambers over the next few years on the back of last year’s high revenue growth. Last year the chambers posted a 10 per cent increase in revenue for the 2012/13 year –from £21.3m to £23.4m.

The move to more flexible working follows the demise of Tooks Chambers last year and recent calls from former Tooks barrister Michael Mansfield for more decentralised working to reduce costs.

But it is not all about design – Exchange has been forced to relocate following a compulsory purchase order being placed on their current premises 12 months ago. The Ralli Court area is due to be turned into a new business district for Manchester by the group behind other business zone Spinning Fields.