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The plight of student barristers searching in vain for pupillage has focused attentions on the bleak prospects of the junior Bar but it appears that many at the senior end of the commercial profession are not much more optimistic. As one of the least eventful years in recent memory for commercial litigation draws to a close, clerks at many of London’s top commercial sets are warning that the booming economy and continued growth of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is putting intense pressure on the Bar. Paul Cooklin, senior practice manager at 3-4 South Square, says: “We are heading into some form of bad weather. The Bar will contract, – not just the criminal Bar, but the commercial Bar too.” He adds: “There will not be enough work around. Sections of the commercial Bar will move to law firms, young barristers will decide not to go the whole course, and a number will move in-house.” Cooklin’s comments reflect what is by consensus an increasingly tough environment for the Bar. Essex Court Chambers senior clerk David Grief said: “It has not been an exciting year there have been a lot of settlements and not too much has come round to make up for it. Businesses are making good money and do not want to invest in litigation.” He added: “I hope it is a blip and will not continue. The trouble is we have had it good for so many years.” Blackstone Chambers senior clerk Martin Smith commented: “Litigation is definitely slower than it has been. Mediation and ADR have been playing a big part. When the City is really buoyant, litigation tends to be the last resort. People prefer to settle.” The comments, drawn from an in-depth Legal Week feature on the UK’s top sets, come as the Bar faces threats on numerous fronts, with some citing a loss of confidence in the UK courts in the wake of controversial court battles including the BCCI and Equitable Life litigation. Other sets cite the relative absence of insurance litigation, continued pressure on publicly-funded work and law firms taking on more initial advocacy in-house. Brick Court Chambers senior clerk Julian Hawes said: “The good barristers here are doing very well, but there are some at the bottom who are struggling.” He added: “It is not just us. Others at the commercial Bar are also saying it is quiet.” With a significant reduction in smaller and medium-sized cases, junior members of the Bar are bearing the brunt of the current squeeze, with many questioning whether the next generation of advocates are getting enough experience to become world-class advocates. Lovells head of litigation Patrick Sherrington warned that the Bar was set to contract. He said: “There will not be the pupillages on offer or the tenancies – that is just a natural supply and demand response.” Sonya Leydecker, head of litigation at Herbert Smith, which last year set up its own advocacy unit, said: “We do not tend to use the junior commercial Bar very much now – we do things in-house.”

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