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UK Bar In Brief

Who’s Who Legal conducted its most in-depth research ever into the UK Bar in late 2017 and the results of this can be seen in the following chapters. In our discussions with barristers across some 26 practice areas, we were able to identify some wide-ranging trends affecting large parts of, or the entire, Bar. Brexit was once again an issue, although only some of the uncertainty discussed this time last year has been fully dispelled. However, many barristers reported thriving and growing practices, demonstrating that the Bar remains in robust health.

A global reputation

The UK Bar and judiciary has received its fair share of criticism in the British media over recent years, with a lack of gender and racial diversity – particularly among senior ranks – still an issue, even though a level of progress is being made on both fronts, according to Bar Standards Board figures. On an international level, however, the reputation of the UK Bar is burgeoning, and an increasing number of barristers are choosing to develop international practices to cater to the preferences and demands of clients. According to one silk, “Internationally clients are becoming more and more used to the Bar and are demanding QCs for advocacy,” particularly in more traditionally international practice areas such as construction. Sources spoke of the “increasing influence of the British Bar” as a reason for work becoming ever more international, with the UK legal market having “appeared on the radar internationally”. In part, the internationalisation of barristers’ practices goes hand in hand with the proliferation of arbitration as a favoured choice of dispute resolution, with English still the preferred language in arbitral proceedings and the lack of necessity for an individual to be admitted to practise in an array of countries an advantage. “The world is becoming smaller,” as one silk put it.

However, such a trend comes with challenges, not least for more junior barristers. As one interviewee put it, “The major problem that young practitioners face is getting known in the international market. It used to be common for a junior to be instructed with a silk and to make contacts, but now international law firms do much of the junior work themselves.”

A competitive domestic market

Competition among younger barristers for work is not limited to international work. Although in areas such as IP, interviewees report that there is “plenty of work to go around”, there is nevertheless “an awful lot of competition”. This view is echoed across a wide range of the practice areas that we cover, for instance in fraud, where it is “a significant challenge for a junior to get work on your own”. Even among senior barristers, sources told us that “the pool at silk level gets smaller” in certain practice areas.

This competition doesn’t just come from other barristers. Although the number of solicitors with higher rights of audience has been fairly steady at around 6,700 for the past two years, a good deal of work is being handled by solicitors in areas where arbitration is a significant method of dispute resolution, while at the same time there has been a notable trend of “solicitors of 5-6 years PQE transferring to the Bar… which is another source of competition that juniors have to contend with”. Even litigants in person in areas such as defamation were noted as a potential issue. Just getting to the Bar is an arduous task, particularly in commercial and business law, which forms the vast bulk of our research. Gaining tenancy following pupillage remains incredibly competitive, with fewer than two-thirds of those completing a second six pupillage being offered tenancy within six months. However, despite the various pressures faced by barristers of all levels, the Bar remains an expanding profession, with over 1,100 more barristers in practice in 2016 than in 2010.

Back to Brexit

Brexit as a topic of discussion was seemingly downplayed by a lot of respondents this year – certainly the levels of discomfort caused by uncertainty seemed to have lessened, although some respondents, particularly those with European-focused practices are still, as one aviation and travel silk put it, “looking nervously to see what will happen”. That is not to say that the future has become much clearer for a lot of practitioners – “Nobody knows what will happen after Brexit, but it’ll be interesting to find out,” said one barrister. What does seem to have happened is that the market has identified areas which they think will be largely unaffected by Brexit. “Arbitration is a safe port in the Brexit storm,” commented one interviewee, while in banking and finance, another barrister somewhat surprisingly stated that “the reality is that Brexit won’t affect this area really”. Even in some areas where it will seemingly have an effect, such as public procurement, it is becoming increasingly apparent that “it looks like we’ll carry on in the same way, or with a very similar model, for the foreseeable future”.

Concern is still very much apparent among those we spoke to, however. As one international trade barrister noted, “Managing the impacts of Brexit is very important on everyone’s radar.” Indeed, in this area, “Everybody is much more conscious of the needs to market the benefits of English law and its dispute resolution mechanisms because of concern about Brexit.”

Overall though, as a greater part of any Brexit deal remains to be negotiated, the sense that nobody really knows what will happen remains the prevailing sentiment in the market. As one source put it, “The trend regarding Brexit is more one of speculation rather than legal development.”



Whatever the challenges it will face in the coming year, the Bar seems well placed to weather the storm. Barristers in many practice areas reported being busier than ever, while the growing reputation of the Bar worldwide and the changing nature of global disputes is opening up new avenues of work for a sizeable number of practitioners. Uncertainty remains around the continuing Brexit negotiations, but the picture is becoming slightly clearer, and preparations to deal with the possible outcomes are well under way.

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Analysis: UK Bar

UK Bar: Arbitration 2018

In this chapter we highlight 83 outstanding arbitration practitioners who are recognised for their first-class work handling a range of international disputes. 

UK Bar: Aviation & Travel 2018

Nineteen silks and 11 juniors are recommended this year for their expertise across travel matters, including personal injury claims, and all aspects of contentious aviation.

UK Bar: Banking & Finance 2018

This year we recognise 93 leading barristers who represent the top tier of the banking and finance Bar. 

UK Bar: Civil Fraud 2018

This year we highlight 69 eminent silks and 17 leading juniors as standout advocates in the field of civil fraud. The individuals here boast broad experience advising and litigating in large-scale civil fraud disputes in the UK and abroad, and are all held in exceptionally high regard for their work in the space. 

UK Bar: Company and Partnership 2018

This year sees 24 silks and 10 juniors recognised for their expertise in company and partnership law. They lead the field in these two areas, helping corporations, partnerships and individuals in both contentious and non-contentious matters.

UK Bar: Competition 2018

Twenty-five silks and 19 juniors are listed in this year’s chapter for their position as some of the country’s leading competition barristers. They are regularly engaged in matters involving merger control, cartels and regulatory law at all levels of the UK and EU courts.

UK Bar: Construction 2018

Our most detailed look yet at the UK construction Bar has revealed 90 outstanding barristers who handle an array of disputes concerning some of the most significant projects in the UK and worldwide, including major matters in the Middle East.

UK Bar: Corporate Tax 2018

Eighteen silks and eight juniors are recognised as the foremost corporate tax barristers in the country this year. They are frequently instructed to represent clients in high-stakes matters in both domestic and international proceedings.

UK Bar: Criminal Fraud 2018

This year we recognise 47 standout barristers who are considers leader in the field of criminal fraud. They are highlighted for their expertise in a range of related matters including white-collar crime, money laundering, corruption and regulatory and compliance matters.

UK Bar: Defamation & Privacy 2018

In this chapter, 28 top-tier barristers are identified as the leading individuals in the privacy and defamation space. The barristers highlighted boast vast experience advising and litigating on behalf of high-profile clients in a range of matters including libel claims, breach of privacy and confidentiality issues.

UK Bar: Energy & Natural Resources 2018

We highlight 33 outstanding barristers in this chapter who are recognised for their impressive work in disputes across the energy and natural resources sector. 

UK Bar: Environment 2018

This year our research identifies 46 standout barristers with a proven track record of environmental litigation and advisory work. The individuals listed in this chapter are renowned for their far-reaching environmental expertise, from regulation and compliance issues to transactional matters.

UK Bar: Government Contracts 2018

This year 30 prominent barristers have been highlighted for their expertise handling public procurement matters for both domestic and European clients, as well as advising on and litigating in commercial disputes relating to public projects.

UK Bar: Insurance & Reinsurance 2018

This year we feature 72 outstanding barristers who are renowned for their expert handling of contentious, contractual and regulatory matters for a range of professionals in the field, including insurance underwriters, reinsurers, intermediaries and corporate insureds. 

UK Bar: Intellectual Property 2018

We highlight 33 silks and 21 juniors for their superb expertise across patents, trademarks, copyright and other IP issues across an array of sectors and industries.

UK Bar: International Trade and Commodities 2018

In this chapter, we highlight 41 silks and 25 juniors for their broad expertise in international trade and commodity disputes. 

UK Bar: Investigations 2018

We highlight 32 leading barristers for their impressive work handling criminal and regulatory investigations, including allegations of bribery, corruption and money laundering instigated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

UK Bar: Labour, Employment and Immigration 2018

This year we recognise 112 barristers across leading chambers in the UK for their expertise in labour, employment and immigration matters. This includes matters involving TUPE, people moves, and human rights and civil liberties cases before all levels of court.

UK Bar: Life Sciences 2018

This year’s edition contains a new chapter, which recognises 26 leading barristers highlighted for their expertise across the life sciences sector. Those recognised are experienced in a range of matters including patent litigation and product liability defence work for some of the world’s most prominent life sciences companies.

UK Bar: Media & Entertainment 2018

In this section, 43 leading barristers are recognised for their outstanding work in the field of media and entertainment law. Those included have a proven track record litigating and advising on a range of matters including intellectual property and contractual disputes for prominent clients in the media sphere.

UK Bar: Mediation 2018

This year we highlight 23 leading mediation practitioners at the UK Bar, who stand out for their exceptional work in the field. 

UK Bar: Private Client 2018

In this chapter we recognise 66 barristers who stand out for their excellent work in the areas of wills and succession planning, trusts and estates, residence and domicile, probate and charities.

UK Bar: Professional Negligence 2018

This year we recognise 29 barristers who are highlighted for their exceptional professional negligence work handling indemnity claims and liability disputes against individuals from the financial services sector, solicitors, accountants and other professionals. 

UK Bar: Real Estate 2018

This year we highlight 59 barristers who are recognised for their standout work handling contentious and transactional matters on behalf of landlords, tenants, commercial developers and multinational companies in a range of sector-related disputes. 

UK Bar: Restructuring & Insolvency 2018

Our research has identified 36 silks and 25 juniors who stand out for their excellence in major domestic and cross-border insolvency and restructuring litigation.

UK Bar: Shipping 2018

In this chapter we highlight 22 market-leading silks and nine prominent juniors. The individuals listed in this chapter have been recommended for their top-quality advocacy abilities and deep expertise spanning charter party disputes, cargo and carriage of goods claims and maritime casualties. 

UK Bar: Sports 2018

In this chapter we highlight 32 leading barristers who stand out for their excellent work representing sporting individuals, teams, clubs, domestic and international sporting associations and regulatory bodies in disciplinary, contractual, regulatory and commercial disputes before the relevant authorities.  

UK Bar: Telecoms 2018

Twenty-one silks and 14 juniors are recommended this year as leading figures in telecoms matters, including regulatory and merger issues for some of the leading international carriers. 

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Features: UK Bar

UK Bar 2018: Roundtable

Who’s Who Legal has brought together David Grief, senior clerk at Essex Court Chambers, and Oliver Parkhouse, director of clerking at 12 King’s Bench Walk, to discuss the current state of the UK Bar. They explore the development of the role of the clerk in Chambers, as well as key issues such as the effects of the Direct Access Portal and the main challenges facing sets over the coming year.

UK Bar: Leading Sets 2018

In our fourth edition of WWL: UK Bar, we feature more than 100 sets; however, over 40 per cent of the listings are earned by practitioners from 12 standout sets. Here we profile the outfits dominating the UK Bar.

UK Bar: Rising Stars 2018

For the first time, WWL has identified some of the standout members of the junior Bar as “rising stars” based on our extensive research conducted into the market, with the aim of highlighting the work of those barristers who are operating at a level beyond their call. Several of these names are also featured in our Future Leaders series, which now includes chapters in Competition, Arbitration and Investigations. The individuals featured are aged 45 or under, and of 15 years’ call or less.

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