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The UK Bar

It is an exciting time for the commercial Bar in the UK as it continues to adapt and modernise to the fast-moving and constantly changing international and domestic legal landscape. In recognition of these changes, the increased demand of solicitors and corporate counsel for more information on the Bar’s leading individuals, and as a result of the greater number of barristers recognised in our research, Who’s Who Legal has put together an overview of our current findings on the UK Bar. We currently single out 225 barristers in our research across 21 practice areas of law and we expect this number to continue growing.

All those featured in Who’s Who Legal are selected through independent research resulting from extensive discussions with private practitioners and corporate counsel around the world. Respondents are asked to identify those they consider to be leaders in their field, and those who receive the greatest weight of nominations are included in our final results.

The UK Bar has been under pressure in recent years with legal aid cuts, increased competition in the form of solicitor-advocates and the Crown Prosecution Service keeping more advocacy work in-house. However, the country’s leading sets and lawyers have risen to meet this challenge with solicitors and clients commenting on the increased commercialisation and modernisation of the Bar, particularly the greater attention being paid by clerks and lawyers to client-service and flexibility.

However, according to those we spoke to there is still more that sets could do, especially when it comes to marketing themselves. Most solicitors select counsel based on their personal experience of either working with them or going against them, yet due to scheduling, conflicts or types of cases it is not always possible to instruct counsel they know. This is where solicitors’ biggest criticism of the Bar emerges: there is not enough information. According to our sources, there is a real need for individuals and sets to provide greater information of their experience and skills, and crucially to also publicise themselves more.

Regardless, sets have come a long way in recent years, with the best now being run in a slick and highly professional manner, often more in line with solicitors’ firms. Numerous lawyers we spoke to commended the “client service” approach that many have adopted, which includes much more flexibility, alternative or fixed fee arrangements, and opportunities for third party funding. However, as one barrister we spoke to reminded us, chambers are not firms; they do not have the same set-up, scale and resources available to them. Thus, there is not the same amount of money and people available to them for marketing and promotion.

Yet there is undoubtedly a change under way, most notably with the development of the role of the clerk and other management positions at sets. Clerks are crucial to sets’ lawyers getting instructed, with solicitors stating that good clerking is a key factor they consider when selecting an individual or chambers. They need strong organisational and people skills, and more and more senior clerks in particular are playing a vital role in the marketing of chambers. Furthermore, sets are taking on other professionals, often qualified lawyers, to bring additional assistance and direction to these areas through roles such as business development or marketing managers. As one source at the Bar explained, there is a realisation now, whereas perhaps there was not a few years ago, that the commercial Bar is a service industry and, like any other service industry, as well as the need to provide an excellent core service advertising and promotion is a significant aspect of attracting work in an increasingly competitive environment. In fact, there is even suggestion by some that due to modern demands and the need for sets to become even more on a par with firms, we could potentially see a consolidation at the Bar, with fewer but larger sets which mirror the size and model of firms.

With the advent of direct public access (DPA) there seems to be more similarities between firms and chambers than ever before. For the first time it means barristers now refer work to solicitors on a regular basis, rather than it just being a one-way street. This has been perhaps the biggest factor behind the commercialisation of the Bar and it has opened up a wealth of possibilities for sets in terms of gaining business. Also, with clients concerned about costs and with increasingly large in-house teams it is becoming more common for the private practice lawyers to be bypassed in some instances. At the same time, sets highly value their relationships with solicitors and firms and are also keen to not risk damaging these. Furthermore, as one individual explained, they are not yet “geared up” to seek out work directly, so DPA is “not yet considered a very attractive or efficient way of doing things”. Whilst solicitors seem pleased with the Bar’s increased professionalism there is certainly some concern that DPA could in the future result in a real shift in the balance of power, with a reduction in influence for solicitors. Ultimately, though, referrals work both ways and DPA can be seen as an opportunity of growth and increased business for both.

Currently, a key trend is for solicitors and barristers to work together from an earlier stage, with cases being a team effort right from the start. Barristers are more frequently being sought out for the preparation and strategy stage. According to those we spoke to this is another sign of modernisation at the Bar, with lawyers working together to find the best way to litigate for the client. It is also a further “blurring of the line” between solicitors and advocates, another component of which is the rise of the solicitor-advocate.

Among solicitor-advocates, increasing numbers are becoming Queen’s Counsel, with five out of seven who entered the competition this year being successful. However, despite this achievement neither barristers nor solicitors considered this to pose a real threat to the Bar. For high-stakes contentious matters it is still barristers that are turned to, due to their greater level of advocacy experience and the perspective they bring to cases, and currently barristers come out on top over solicitor-advocates in the majority of instances when choice of counsel is weighed up. Ultimately, as one source explained, despite some convergence of roles between solicitors and barristers, there will always be a need for both, although perhaps the role each plays in cases may become less clearly defined and more inter-changeable.

Thus, it is a very interesting time for the UK commercial Bar and lawyers both here and abroad will undoubtedly be watching with interest to see how recent and future developments play out. Ultimately it seems that those sets that can adapt the best whilst continuing to be home to leading individuals will be the ones that thrive.

 

Leading barristers in our research

In looking at our research over the past year several sets in particular stood out, with Essex Court Chambers achieving particularly strong representation. The Chambers won our England – Set of the Year award for 2013 and 2014 and boasts especially strong arbitration and dispute resolution practices, with an enviable reputation in the fields of asset recovery, energy, immigration, insurance and reinsurance, labour and employment, and public and shipping law among other areas. Blackstone Chambers has grown over the past five decades to become one of the leading commercial sets in London and it achieves greater recognition than any other set in our sports and entertainment research.

Keating Chambers is our most highly regarded set for construction and engineering law and also boasts world-renowned QCs in arbitration and mediation. The “top-notch” Brick Court Chambers boasts well respected lawyers in the fields of competition, insurance and reinsurance, and sports and entertainment law. Monckton Chambers has a formidable set of barristers who practice across a wide range of commercial and civil law and One Essex Court especially excels at asset recovery, tax and trademarks. Atkin Chambers, Matrix Chambers, 8 New Square, IP specialist chambers Three New Square and 3 Verulam Buildings also stand out due to the high number of listings they achieve in our research over the past year.

Ultimately, though, while a set’s reputation is extremely important it is still very much the individual and their experience and skills that are evaluated when solicitors and corporate counsel are instructing. The depth and breadth of expertise at the UK commercial Bar is incredibly high and through our research we are able to single out 15 barristers in particular who are considered to be outstanding.

Philip Baker QC of Gray’s Inn Tax Chambers is the most highly regarded barrister in our corporate tax research and boasts a “simply stellar reputation” in the UK and around the world for his profound knowledge and understanding of international tax. At Monckton Chambers the “truly excellent” Daniel Beard QC is renowned for his expertise in both competition and the telecoms sector, and is notable for being one of the youngest lawyers to ever take Silk. David Brownbill QC is the top barrister in our private client research and is considered the “go-to guy” for issues involving international trusts and financial disputes.

Edinburgh-based Mark Clough QC of Brodies is highly rated in our research for three areas: competition, public procurement, and trade and customs. At Devereux Chambers Colin Edelman QC is hailed as the “dean of the UK insolvency and restructuring bar” and is one of the most highly nominated lawyers for this field. The “stellar” Nigel Giffin QC of 11 King’s Bench Walk is the leading barrister in our public procurement research, having been involved in many of the highest-profile cases in the country. At Brick Court Chambers Mark Howard QC stands out for both his litigation and insurance and reinsurance expertise.

“Highly regarded” sports and entertainment barrister Adam Lewis QC and the “phenomenal” competition and management labour and employment lawyer Dinah Rose QC of Blackstone Chambers both garner particular praise in their respective fields. At 1 Atkin Building Humphrey Lloyd QC is an “eminent” arbitrator who is the leading Silk in our construction research due to his “deep understanding” of this sector. Ali Malek QC of 3 Verulam Buildings achieved more nominations than any other individual at the UK Bar in our asset recovery research and is also greatly in demand as an arbitrator.

At 3 New Square Tom Mitcheson is hailed as a leading figure at the patents and trademarks Bar, with peers describing him as an “exceptional IP all-rounder”. It was recently announced that he has become Queen’s Counsel in the latest round of the competition, with this being effective from April 2014. At the same set Simon Thorley QC also boasts an extensive IP practice, garnering top spots in our life sciences, patents and trademarks research. Asset recovery and business crime defence specialist Clare Montgomery QC of Matrix Chambers is described by peers as “stunningly good” and “terrifyingly bright”, while Ian Winter QC of Cloth Fair Chambers is our most nominated business crime defence barrister.

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Thus, the UK Bar is home to some outstanding lawyers who boast international reputations combined with first class skills and expertise. The past few years have been full of challenges and changes but the leaders at the Bar have risen to meet these and adapted accordingly. Furthermore, there are continued developments expected for the foreseeable future. In this special report we hear from solicitors about what they look for when instructing barristers and hear their views on the changes that are taking place. We also feature three articles from barristers who are consider stars in their areas of specialism; IP, private client and tax, as well as a discussion by clerks on the developments and challenges at the Bar and how they have met them.

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Nominees have been selected based upon comprehensive, independent survey work with both general counsel and private practice lawyers worldwide. Only specialists who have met independent international research criteria are listed.

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