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Sponsored briefing: The evolution of the Commercial Bar

Duncan Matthews QC, co-head, and Jemma Tagg, chief executive, reflect on the evolution of Twenty Essex and wider sector changes across the Commercial Bar

Reflecting on the past

Twenty Essex enjoys a rich heritage as one of the longest-established sets of commercial and international law chambers. Twenty Essex barristers have always been at the forefront of ground-breaking legal precedent in reported cases before apex courts and tribunals.

Several renowned individuals have influenced and created the foundations of what the set represents today. During the 1950s, the set first became associated with public international law when Sir Arnold McNair and Sir Hersch Lauterpacht became door tenants and were later judges of the International Court of Justice. Twenty Essex also has a tradition of senior members becoming judges with a number currently serving up to the highest level.

In 2010, Twenty Essex was the first UK set to open an annex in Maxwell Chambers, Singapore, servicing clients throughout Asia-Pacific and beyond. Much of the work done by barristers at Twenty Essex is international in nature. The set continues to invest in building international relationships including through having members based overseas.

More recent developments

Today, the culture of Twenty Essex represents a blend of respecting traditions with a firm vision to commit to modern developments needed for the Bar of the future.

A set with a strong maritime and international trade heritage, in recent years Twenty Essex has successfully diversified including through lateral recruitment of barristers. It continues to be recognised as a leading set for international arbitration and public international law and the set is uniquely positioned in relation to investor-state disputes, leading the evolutionary development of a wider range of commercial work at the interface with public international law. Expansion into a broader spread of commercial litigation has also seen Twenty Essex involved in cutting-edge cases in private international law, civil fraud, fintech and energy.

Jemma Tagg, Twenty Essex

‘We are alive to the challenges faced by our clients. We have been listening to their feedback to understand the changing service they require.’
Jemma Tagg, Twenty Essex

This transition has been achieved in tandem with significant internal change. This included the introduction of a new leadership and management structure, together with the appointment of Jemma Tagg as chief executive in 2017, and a more business-like approach to internal governance. Recognising changes in the legal services sector and evolving demands of an increasingly global client base, investment was made into the practice management and professional support teams ensuring clients receive excellent service. This investment combined with a new approach to business planning for barristers, a considerable increase in marketing activities and a refresh of the visual identity has proven successful, resulting in a 30% increase in the number of enquiries over a three-year period.

While these changes are not revolutionary, they do reflect the evolution required by the modern Bar which has to include more substantive engagement with clients. Twenty Essex has recently undertaken an in-depth client listening programme in the UK and Asia, the results of which will be reflected in strategic decisions taken by the set.

Tagg says: ‘We are alive to the challenges faced by our clients. We have been listening to their feedback to better understand the changing service they require and to seek their views on the future of the disputes market.’

Looking to the future

Undoubtedly the Bar faces the same challenges as their clients, with wellbeing and diversity coming top of the agenda. Last year, Twenty Essex became the first chambers in the country to adopt the Contextual Recruitment System (CRS), a unique, data-driven approach to unearthing talent from non-traditional and diverse backgrounds. This proactive endeavour complements the goal of the set to continue to attract the best talent and ensure quality for the future of chambers.

Duncan Matthews QC, Twenty Essex

‘In diversity, we recognise there is still a long way to go but we are committed to continuing to attract the best talent and ensure quality for the future of chambers.’
Duncan Matthews QC, Twenty Essex

‘In terms of achieving diversity, we recognise that there is still a long way to go but we are committed to continuing to attract the best talent and ensure quality for the future of chambers,’ says Twenty Essex’s Duncan Matthews QC.

There are positive signs to indicate that the future of the Commercial Bar is bright. Increased recruitment of disputes lawyers to in-house teams has resulted in growth in direct instructions. This development, coupled with more engagement from overseas law firms due to the proliferation of international arbitration, has increased the referral influence of barristers and heightened the need to raise profile in a broader market.

The evolution must continue. The changing landscape of legal services provision means the Bar must be alive to new developments. There are new areas of practice – climate change and crypto-currency being two areas where interest and expertise at Twenty Essex has grown over the past year – but the Bar must also consider the need to invest in infrastructure to keep pace with technology and business transformation of clients and the wider market.


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