Devereux Chambers silk Jonathan Fisher QC has left the set to launch a white-collar crime firm under new Bar Standards Board (BSB) entity rules.
Fisher is the 54th barrister to register as an entity following their introduction by the BSB in April 2015. He is only the seventh QC to register such a business, which allows for the creation of advocacy and advisory focused partnerships between barristers and solicitors.
His new firm, Bright Line Law, will provide financial crime, fraud and related tax advice to both law firms and businesses directly. It will operate from offices in central London and Manchester.
There has been an explosion in white-collar crime work recently, particularly among the large commercial firms and chambers. Fountain Court recently hired a group of silks and juniors led by Outer Temple’s Richard Lissack QC to launch the first corporate crime practice at the elite commercial bar.
The uptick has in part been prompted by high-profile corporate corruption scandals in the financial services, pharmaceuticals, energy and automotive sectors, as well as the increasing strength of investigatory bodies such as the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in the UK.
However Fisher said his decision to launch his own “barrister-led firm” was only in part thanks to an increase in work.
“It’s certainly a very bubbling area at the moment but it’s a potentially saturated area too,” he said. “Large firms have piled into corporate investigations work but we’re living in times where the Government doesn’t have a lot of money and I think it’s reached a peak. There will be some more major investigations but not as many as people anticipate.”
Instead, Fisher said there was room at the bar for a “specialist entity that focuses its expertise on a particular area”. He added that it was difficult to successfully focus a niche practice at a large chambers “where everyone is pulling in different directions”.
Fisher said it was also “important for clients to have access to their barrister”, adding that in white-collar crime clients want their barrister to be more flexible and present.
“The attraction for me is that being a corporate entity gives you enormous flexibility,” Fisher said. “It gives me the route of employing other barristers or bringing others in as directors or shareholders, I could also go into a joint venture with firms of solicitors. I also have the ability to instruct other counsel and can outsource much more easily.”
Fisher said he was “not trying to compete with solicitors’ firms”, and although he had noticed an increasing number of approaches from members of the public, business directors and accountants, “the vast majority of my work still comes from solicitors”.
“The bar has to be very careful with public access – we don’t have the systems or experience in place to take on law firms,” Fisher continued.
The rise of entities
The BSB started accepting applications for barristers to become regulated entities early last year. Just one silk, Atlantic Chambers’ head Simon Gorton QC, was among the first 13 barristers to be approved by the BSB in April. Since the initial wave, six more have joined the roll including Fisher.
They are: Fountain Court’s Richard Lissack QC; Outer Temple’s Gerard McDermott QC; 1 Pump Court’s Simon Bickler QC; St Philips Commercial Chambers’ Ed Pepperall QC; Bright Line Law’s Jonathan Fisher QC; and Six Pump Court’s Stephen Hockman QC.
Entities are “companies or partnerships that provide advocacy, litigation, and expert legal advice services”, according to the BSB guidelines.
“Previously, the BSB only regulated individual barristers. The BSB is now able to regulate businesses owned and managed by barristers and other lawyers,” the guidelines said.
However the addition of entities to the bar has been met with criticism by some who have accused the system of being a vehicle to enable barristers to pay less tax.
An entity has 21 days from receiving authorisation to show the regulator evidence it has appropriate insurance arrangements in place, without which it cannot provide legal services. The minimum level of cover each entity is expected to have is £500,000 per claim.
The full list of approved entities can be found on the BSB register.