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Jeffrey Dasteel likes to work with a barrister when he argues an arbitration in London, as he does with increasing frequency. A few years ago, when he was new to the scene, the Los Angeles partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom was shocked to discover that sometimes his barrister-advocate had the same fax number as the opposing barrister-advocate, or the same number as a barrister serving as an arbitrator. When a clerk at the chambers assured him that this was routine, Dasteel responded, “What do you mean, I don’t have to worry? How am I going to explain this to my client?” Dasteel got used to the idea, and became a big fan of barrister culture. But the appearance issue didn’t go away for 20 Essex Street, one of London’s storied barristers’ offices, usually known as chambers or sets. Though technically it is a collection of solo practitioners pooling resources, each chambers tends to cultivate a distinct brand image. Twenty Essex’s main brand is arbitration, and its 12 dedicated arbitrators kept bumping up against the set’s 44 other barristers, who do mostly arbitration advocacy. With a new referral from a U.S. law firm every three or four weeks, the 20 Essex Street set kept hearing the same complaint. Finally it decided to address it. Since January, the chambers has been renting space next door, at 18 Essex Street. This new wing or “subset” of 20 Essex houses all resident barristers who are exclusively arbitrators. It’s an impressive group. Among the dirty dozen are one retired “law lord” (the equivalent of a U.S. Supreme Court justice), one lord who used to be “Master of the Rolls” (senior appellate judge), one plain-vanilla lord, three plain-vanilla ex-appellate judges, two former heads of chambers, and four men who have spent the bulk of their careers as partners at major law firms. “It’s the nicest club I’ve ever been a member of,” says Charles Brower, who also serves as a special counsel to White & Case in Washington, D.C., and as a judge on the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague. David Grief, who is the senior clerk at another set stocked with arbitration stars, Essex Court Chambers, insists that the potential for conflict between a barrister-advocate and a barrister-arbitrator is simply not an issue. That is certainly correct as a matter of law. In 1999 lawyers from D.C.’s Bode & Beckman sued in the British courts to have the arbitrator they had appointed removed from the case after they discovered that both their arbitrator and their advocate resided at One Essex Court (a third elite chambers). The British high court, in Laker Airways Inc. v. FLS Aerospace Ltd., quickly found that there was “no real danger of bias.” But if appearances are, in this case, legally irrelevant, they still matter in the real world. In the absence of vacant real estate next door, Essex Court Chambers has addressed U.S. clients’ fears with two simpler systems. It locks all barristers out of the clerk’s room, where the fax machines are kept. And within that room, it keeps one fax machine — carefully labeled “ARBI” in black magic marker — dedicated to the arbitrators.

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