Legal Business Blogs

The Legal 500 view: more choice and competition defines market

The UK legal market now offers more choice than ever, and this is reflected in the 2015 edition of The Legal 500, which has never seen more movement.

Specialist outfits with non-traditional business models are a credible alternative to classic full-service rivals. In dispute resolution, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Stewarts Law and Enyo Law have all moved up the rankings. Employment boutique Brahams Dutt Badrick French moves into tier one for senior executive work; tech and media-focused Cooley enters the rankings after its dramatic launch this year – while arbitration boutique Three Crowns ranks strongly again.

In Scotland and Wales respectively, Brodies and Capital Law were the standout firms, demonstrating an expertise and quality of work that resulted in promotions in several major practice areas. CMS Cameron McKenna’s 2014 merger with Scottish institution Dundas & Wilson saw the former consolidate its position in the upper tiers of many Scottish tables.

The UK firms with the most tier-one rankings this year are, in descending order: Pinsent Masons, Eversheds, DLA Piper, Mills & Reeve, and Addleshaw Goddard. For London firms, the top five are Clifford Chance (CC), Allen & Overy (A&O), Linklaters, CMS, and Herbert Smith Freehills.

Looking at the number of leading individuals, Eversheds leads the way, followed by Linklaters, A&O, CC and Pinsents.

Competition has been the key driver of a year of change at the Bar.

Competition has been the key driver of a year of change at the Bar; The Legal 500 UK Bar 2015 features more sets than ever before. Nationwide, chambers are exploring new avenues in order to pick up big-ticket litigation, for many, this has meant reaffirming commitments to markets overseas, as Asia, the Middle East and offshore jurisdictions continue to provide a strong flow of instructions. 39 Essex Chambers has made a particularly big splash in Asia in recent times; it is the only set to have two offices in the region and has scooped some high-profile recruits, including David Bateson. In order to succeed outside the UK, it is key for a set to house a strong bench of QCs, and it is no coincidence that the chambers with the most silk rankings this year – Essex Court Chambers, 39 Essex Chambers, Blackstone Chambers, Brick Court Chambers and Fountain Court Chambers – are all very well known in the international community.

For chambers heavily reliant on work affected by funding pressures (particularly in criminal law), the key theme has been strength in numbers; newly-merged sets Drystone Chambers and Park Square Barristers now comprise 87 and 120 members respectively, while Garden Court Chambers remains the largest set in London with over 180 members committed to the progression of civil liberties. Garden Court Chambers featured, for the first time this year, among the top five sets with the most individuals ranked, which reflects its growing presence at the London Bar.

In 2015, numerous chief executive positions were taken up by ex-solicitors with a view to driving service levels in chambers. A set that embodies this trend is Serjeants’ Inn Chambers, which now houses two former solicitors in senior management and a dedicated client care team (the first of its kind at the Bar), following the recruitment of Catherine Calder from Radcliffe Chambers. Serjeants’ Inn features as a leading chambers in five practice areas (up from three last year).

Solicitors or barristers, competition continues to reshape the industry.

John Read is UK editor of Legal Business stablemate The Legal 500. Hayley Eustace is UK Bar and Asia-Pacific editor.