Forum Chambers

Forum Chambers is a newly formed commercial set specialising in banking and finance, commercial litigation, insolvency, financial services, property and professional negligence.

David McIlroy, Head of Chambers

Patrick Webber, Senior Clerk

Last year you broke away from 3PB to form your own chambers. In light of an increasing number of chambers, across all areas of the Bar, seeing significant change to their business, what have been the advantages in your confident move?

Setting up on our own has enabled us to send out a clear message that we are serious commercial lawyers in the areas we specialise in. It has also allowed us to tailor our marketing so that it is targeted on what Chambers is setting out to achieve. Being focused means that we do not have to cope with the different pressures which large sets face as multiple areas of law are affected by government cuts. Being small means that we can make decisions quickly so that we can stay ahead of the game. Being a team means that we always have someone on hand who can provide the client with the help they need. At Forum we understand that accessibility and client service are key at the modern Bar; breaking away has allowed us to offer these at a new level for our clients.

Moving from a large multi-disciplinary set, what impact has this had on your collective practices, if any?

In a multi-disciplinary set it can be difficult to establish a reputation as a genuine specialist. Although we had already developed specialist practices and a good client base, we were still seen as a bit of a risk by solicitors who needed to find a barrister with expertise in financial services litigation.

Our move has been very successful because our clients who used us for commercial and banking work followed us and we have been able to attract work from new clients who want confidence that their barrister really is a specialist. As a boutique we are able to deliver a clear, confident message about expertise, quality, and client service.

What does 2016 look like for your Chambers?

We are excited about 2016. We have a whole series of cases which are coming to trial with a number of them involving more than one member of Chambers. We began the year by moving into bigger premises and are looking for other people to join the team. We are also looking forward to making full use of the new Financial List which was set up because of the need for specialist judges to tackle the complexities of banking and financial services litigation.

Financial mis-selling seems a key area of your set’s expertise. What trends are you seeing in this area?

2016 is likely to see a flood of interest rate swaps claims finally coming to court. There will also be more market manipulation cases going through both the civil and criminal courts. Film finance and other cases where poor investment advice has been given are the next wave of litigation which is still at the early stages.

The law is in a very interesting state at the moment. There is still a mis-match between judicial attitudes and the approach of the regulators. The courts are not yet tracking the reasonable expectations of businessmen and have not understood that the banks operate very differently from the way they used to. Banks have sold all sorts of complicated, unnecessary, risky and expensive products to customers who did not understand them. The higher courts are likely to be considering a large number of appeals if the first instance decisions continue to serve the business community so poorly.

How much of a shift have you experienced in how you are being instructed?

The days of the brief being delivered tied up in red tape are well and truly over. We have invested in the technology to enable us to process instructions received by email or to convert hard copy instructions into electronic format so that our barristers can work on them wherever they are.

The days of the barrister operating from an ivory tower and protected by their clerk from having to interact with solicitors or clients are gone. First contact can be by email, Twitter, telephone or at a seminar we are giving. We expect everyone in our team to be able to put clients at ease, understand their needs, and seize the opportunity however the approach comes. Because of our visibility, we have seen an increase in clients calling our Chambers directly to ask us to recommend which firms of solicitors to instruct so that they know they have the right team in place from the outset.

One of the other big changes is the need to think about how a case is going to be funded. In mid-size commercial work, which is our Chambers’ bread and butter, some clients need a solution which involves litigation funding or after-the-event (ATE) insurance in order to pursue a claim. Our Chambers has excellent relationships with funders and insurers alike and is working with them more closely on how this is tailored to fit the clients’ needs.

Clients expect a far more holistic service than in the past and Chambers have to get used to understanding how the legal services which we offer fit within the much bigger picture of what is required to resolve a dispute on the best terms for the client.

How do you both like to relax outside of Chambers’ life?

David thinks that there is nothing better than watching cricket, especially if Sussex or England are playing. When he can’t get away from work for that long, he takes his dog for a walk.

Pat enjoys spending time with his wife, pet dog Maggie and family when away from Chambers, and on the odd occasion you may also find him searching for his golf balls around the courses of Essex.

David McIlroy and Patrick Webber were interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Tony Stephenson, Partners at Hewetson Shah LLP

Category: