Taking on the job

It's boom time at the employment bar. Colossal amounts of new legislation account for both an increase in the volume of work and a new slant on the nature of that work.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 and the Employment Relations Act 1999 have all led to an increase in litigation. There is also an increase in the number of people claiming unfair dismissal now that the ceiling for damages has risen from £12,000

to £50,000.

The National Minimum Wage Act and the Working Time Directive have not yet made their marks, but they will also encourage people to put forth claims. There is no doubt that there is plenty of work – the question is, where is it going?

The chambers of Eldred Tabachnik QC and James Goudie QC 11 King's Bench Walk is traditionally the favoured employment chambers, but since the departure of Patrick Elias QC, who left to become Justice Elias, there has been fierce competition for work. The market may have opened up, but as one barrister puts it: "No one has yet emerged as heir to the throne."

Everybody has their favourite. To name just a few: Simmons & Simmons partner Mark Hewland recommends Thomas Linden at Matrix; DLA partner Makbool Javaid likes Laura Cox QC, Brian Langstaff QC and Thomas Kibling from Cloisters; and Thompsons' Mark Turnball likes Jennifer Eady, Sarah Moor and Oliver Segal from Old Square.

Some chambers have a reputation for being better value than others. Charge-out rates vary hugely across the board and the bar is more sensitive to the market in this field than in many others. Some chambers can charge more because they have already established a reputation, whereas others still need to attract new clients.

Different chambers charge different rates for different types of clients. One barrister says he charges trade union clients up to 50 per cent less than employers. 11 King's Bench Walk is renowned for being expensive, for example, but while some solicitors say it is overrated and "other sets work much harder because they are trying to establish a relationship", others believe that you get what you pay for.

Law firms need to be more discerning about which chambers are cost effective if they want to be confident about receiving the service for which they pay. Javaid at DLA says that some solicitors pay too much for too little because they want to maintain harmonious relationships with chambers.

Most solicitors stress that at the top end it is the reputation of individual barristers that determines who they use.

But Hewland says that chambers need to come up with imaginative ways of getting junior barristers in front of law firms. One lawyer says she asks juniors to come into the firm to give a lecture before deciding whether or not to use them.

Ultimately, it can be the clerking that distinguishes sets. And Old Square Chambers, according to Hewland, has a lot to offer. "Occasionally there's a problem with clerking, for example a lack of flexibility and slowness in answering a call," he says. "But one senior clerk that stands out is John Taylor at Old Square. He'll always go that bit further to try to accommodate solicitors."

Littleton Chambers

Head of chambers: Michel Kallipetis QC.

Heads of employment: John Bowers QC and Andrew Clarke QC.

Number of tenants: 38

Number of employment tenants: 29 (7 silks, 5 0-5 years qualified, 5 5-10 years qualified and 12 10+ years qualified).

Main clients: most major City and regional firms, including Allen & Overy, Baker & McKenzie, Olswang and a number of in-house legal departments.

Main types of employment work: restrictive covenants, injunctions and employment tribunals.

Major cases in the past year: Gibson v East Riding Yorkshire Council – Jeremy Lewis led by John Bowers QC in a case to decide whether workers employed by a public authority could rely on the right to holiday leave in the Working Time Directive.

A-Z Restaurants v Gordon Ramsey & Marcus Wareing – Shirley Bothroyd acted for A-Z in a dispute about Ramsey and Wareing's departure from Aubergine and L'Orangerie.

Ms Friday v South West Trains – Shirley Bothroyd acted for South West Trains, which defeated claims of sex discrimination, victimisation and dismissal on grounds of health and safety.

Littleton practises in all areas of civil and commercial law, including business, contract and employment, professional negligence and human rights. Employment is one of the four specialisms at Littleton chambers, accounting for around 40 per cent of overall turnover. Littleton works in both the public and private sectors and acts for both employers and individuals, although it does slightly more work for companies.

It is actively targeting employment juniors and has already taken on three in the past year – Sam Neaman, David Reade and Gavin Mansfield – and junior Andrew Stafford QC recently took silk.

The set has a number of members who regularly publish books and lecture on a range of subjects, including Europe. John Yves de Cara is a European human rights lawyer and Neil MacCormick is a member of the European Parliament. John Bowers QC and Jeremy Lewis have written a book on whistle blowing.


Head of chambers: Laura Cox QC.

Head of employment: Laura Cox QC.

Number of tenants: 32

Number of employment tenants: 20 (3 silks, 6 0-5 years qualified, 6 5-10 years qualified and 5 10+ years qualified).

Main clients: Allen & Overy, Baker & McKenzie, Bar Council, Bupa, Charles Russell, Commission for Racial Equality, Denton Wilde Sapte, Disability Rights Commission, DLA, Equal Opportunities Commission, Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Finers Stephens Innocent, Michael Scott & Lau, Simmons & Simmons, Thompsons, Unison and Walker Morris.

Major cases in the past year: Regina v Secretary of State for Employment, ex parte Seymour-Smith – Robin Allen QC and Christopher Quinn acted for Seymour-Smith at the House of Lords in an unfair dismissal case.

Waters v Metropolitan Police Commission – Robin Allen QC and Andrew Buchan acted for Waters in a bullying case.

Regina v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, ex parte Bectu – Bectu is challenging the working time regulation qualifying period. Laura Cox QC is acting for Bectu when the case is heard at the ECJ on 7 December.

Employment contributes to 45 per cent of Cloisters' overall turnover. The majority of work is advocacy-based. 80 per cent of juniors' work is taken up with employment tribunals. It is estimated that practitioners spend 60 per cent of their time on employment tribunals, 30 per cent at the High Court and 10 per cent advising. Silks do mainly advisory work. "No one can afford to hire a silk for tribunals," says senior junior Christopher Quinn.

Cloisters is actively targeting silks and juniors and is looking to recruit up to 10 barristers. It also does a lot of pro bono work and has set up a separate advisory unit. Quinn says it is doing more and more regional work because law firms are finding it difficult to find local barristers.

Devereux Chambers

Head of chambers: Jeffrey Burke QC.

Head of employment: David Griffith-Jones QC.

Number of tenants: 42

Number of employment tenants: 31 (4 silks, 4 0-5 years qualified, 10 5-10 years qualified and 13 10 + years qualified).

Main clients: all major city and provincial firms with big employment practices, major plcs and institutions, local authorities, in-house legal departments, Treasury Solicitor and other government departments and trade unions.

Main types of employment work: advocacy at first instance and appellate levels, and some advisory work.

Major cases in the past year: Bourgeois v Saga Petroleum – Richard Clayton and Suzanne McKie led a nationality discrimination case on behalf of Bourgeois, who settled for £31.8m.

Kamlesh Bahl v The Law Society – Ingrid Simler is acting for the three employees at the Law Society in Kamlesh Bahl case.

London Borough of Lambeth v D'Souza – Jeffrey Burke QC and Keith Bryant acted for the London Borough of Lambeth in a discrimination case.

Devereux's areas of expertise include administrative and local government law, commercial litigation, employment law, insurance and reinsurance, professional negligence, personal injury and clinical negligence.

In the past three years there has been a rapid growth in the work it does for local authorities. This work tends to be tribunal work at the junior end of chambers, with a strong emphasis on advocacy.

In the past year it has recruited Suzanne McKie from Fox Williams and taken on two junior tenants from pupillage. McKie says there is currently enough work to recruit at all levels.

4-5 Gray's Inn Square

Head of chambers: Elizabeth Appleby QC and Duncan Ouseley QC

(Ouseley is leaving for the High Court bench).

Head of employment: n/a.

Number of tenants: 41

Number of employment tenants: 17 (3 silks, 5 0-5 years qualified, 4 5-10 years qualified and 5 10+ years qualified).

Main clients: local authorities, the Government, private clients, in-house lawyers, unions and individuals.

Major cases in the past year: Coker & Osamor v The Lord Chancellor – Richard McManus QC was instructed to represent the Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine in a sex and race discrimination case.

Preston & ors v Birmingham City Council – Cherie Booth QC and Clive Lewis instructed on behalf of the local authority on part-time workers' pensions and equal pay.

Matrix Chambers

Head of chambers: Nicholas Blake QC.

Head of employment: David Bean QC, Cherie Booth QC and Thomas Linden.

Number of tenants: 33

Number of employment tenants: 10 (2 silks, 2 0-5 years qualified, 2 5-10 years qualified and 4 10+ years qualified).

Matrix practices a wide range of disciplines, including UK public and private law, European Union law, human rights law and public international law. It does all aspects of employment law for employers and individuals.

Essex Court

Head of chambers:

Gordon Pollock QC.

Head of employment:

Andrew Hochhauser QC.

Number of tenants: 65

Number of employment tenants: 8 (7 juniors and 1 silk).

Main clients: Allen & Overy, Freshfields, Macfarlanes, Olswang, Pinsent Curtis, Simmons & Simmons and Theodore Goddard.

Main type of employment work: tribunals, appeal tribunals and High Court tribunals. The set tends to work for employers, but does act for individuals. 70 per cent of work is advocacy, 30 per cent is advisory.

Doughty Street Chambers

Head of chambers: Geoffrey Robertson QC.

Head of employment: Gavin Millar QC.

Number of tenants: 67

Number of employment tenants: 12 (2 silks, 5 0-5 years qualified, 2 5-10 years qualified and 3 10+ years qualified).

Main clients: Irwin Mitchell, Russell Jones & Walker, Thompsons, unions (in particular MSF, NUT and Unison).

Doughty street mainly does applicant work. It has a human resources unit which gives advice to regulatory and sports bodies, accounting for about 10 per cent of employment work. 10 per cent of overall turnover is attributable to employment. More employment work is done by juniors than silks.

Fountain Court

Head of chambers: Anthony Boswood QC.

Head of employment: Nicholas Underhill QC.

Number of tenants: 50

Number of employment tenants: No team as such but a number of tenants do employment work as part of the commercial practice.

Main clients: Range of City firms and a number of employers in the financial services and rail industries.

Main types of employment work: advisory and advocacy work, mainly for employers.

Major cases in the past year: Marshall v Glasgow City Council – Nicholas Underhill QC acted on an Equal Pay Act case at the House of Lords.

Taylor v Secretary of State for Scotland – Brian Napier acted on an age discrimination case at the House of Lords.

Lawrence v Castleview – Brian Napier acted in an equal pay and transfer of undertakings case at the Court of Appeal, which has been referred to the ECJ.

University of Nottingham v Fishel and Nurture – Timothy Dutton QC acted for the university in a case to decide whether academics with private consultancies must account to their universities for the profits of these consultancies.

Fountain Court has not recruited in the employment area in the last year and is not actively recruiting at this time.