Legal Business Blogs

Disputes eye: How the talent flow demonstrates the Bar’s strength

Speaking to Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer disputes veteran Jon Lawrence this summer on his decision to join Brick Court Chambers, he said he was not ready for the golf course just yet.

But there has been a wave of Freshfields heavyweights of Lawrence’s vintage who have made a similar move, notably former managing partner Ian Terry, who went to One Essex Court and Raj Parker, who went to Matrix Chambers in 2016.

The Bar is a convenient route for veterans who want to escape the bureaucracy of management. Well, it is either that or, as one clerk puts it: ‘It’s a retirement home.’

An obvious counterpoint would be a long list of partners in their prime who have made the switch. But that list does not exist.

A name often cited is Andrew Pullen, who switched from being a consultant on the partnership track in Allen & Overy’s arbitration team to heading Fountain Court Chambers’ Singapore outpost this summer. However, an aspiring partner does not carry the same weight as a rainmaker ditching equity partnership for the Bar.

When put that way, it seems obvious. Who would go through all the graft to become a partner only to give it all up?

‘There are only three people I need to keep happy: the bank manager, my head of chambers and my wife.’

But Matthew O’Regan, a barrister at Bristol-based St John’s Chambers who left Burges Salmon’s partnership, did just that. His rationale: ‘There are only three people I need to keep happy: the bank manager, my head of chambers and my wife.’

The Bar’s self-employed style certainly appeals to those who crave autonomy, a total antithesis to having your door constantly open and a legion of noses in your business in a law partnership.

Instances of barristers joining firms these days are even rarer. Among the few prominent examples are Ian Gatt QC at Stewarts Law and Sue Prevezer QC at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, although both made the switch a decade ago.

Gatt says while it was a smooth transition when he joined Herbert Smith Freehills in 2005, above all he was relieved to be readily equipped with a computer, a desk and a phone, luxuries he was required to source himself as a barrister.

Law firms do not offer a great deal to barristers who have spent their career steeped in self-sufficiency. Solicitor-cynics put it a different way, arguing barristers do not have the necessary client-handling and staff management skills.

But while the Bar is not currently attracting many young partners in their prime, that does not mean it cannot. The top-end sets are as busy as ever and the trickle of senior talent from Bar to law firms seen a decade ago has basically dried up. We have never looked further away from the previous expectations that the profession was heading for fusion. Brick Court will profit well out of being instructed by Lawrence in successfully defending Mastercard in a landmark £14bn consumer class action case this summer.

There is a lot to be said for swapping hours spent on business development for the self-employed life. The Bar may still be viewed as a retirement home, but it is one where you have to buy your own furniture.