The chambers will also have an individual satellite presence in other jurisdictions, especially in the Commonwealth.
You were joint head of chambers at 4-5 Gray’s Inn and after many years decided to set up an international specialist boutique. What can you tell us about this?
Having had a long career at the Bar as a junior, Silk and head of chambers I wanted to do something different. Not just because it was different, but because I saw the opportunity of doing something special. There was also a gap in the market. There were good commercial sets which had, at their periphery, an international reach mainly through their door and associate tenants. However, there were none (so far as I knew) that had as part of their core a truly international dimension. I also felt that the traditional chambers structure was no longer working. It lacked economy of scale, operational efficiency and financial stability. It was a somewhat antiquated business model. I wanted to create something that stood out as innovative and fit for purpose in the modern world of legal services. The new venture is called Mondial which means ‘worldwide’. It has as its objective the provision of legal and other support services both in the UK and overseas. It will focus on those Commonwealth jurisdictions which share a common law heritage and commercial trading links with the UK. It will consist of three elements. First, a London core practice specialising in the provision of senior advocacy and advisory services. The emphasis will be on contentious, transactional, commercial matters and international trade. The second component will consist of a satellite presence of senior advocates in other jurisdictions. Third, will be a panel of other specialist disciplines serving the needs of London and Commonwealth practitioners. They will provide referral and support services across the whole of the practice.
You are on the board of directors of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) – what role does this play with your new venture?
The new entity will occupy a position between two new arbitral panels: the London Chamber of Arbitration and the Commonwealth Arbitration Panel. Historically, the LCCI provided arbitration services to the City of London. But for quite a period of time it ceased to exercise those functions. The new London Chamber of Arbitration (LCA) resurrects that role and it is anticipated that it will be a major force for dispute resolution in London and overseas. The reputation of London as an arbitral seat is likely to make the LCA a focal point in the arbitration world.
With Baroness Scotland being the new Secretary General for the Commonwealth of Nations, how do you see the legal landscape for the Commonwealth developing?
Baroness Scotland sees a Commonwealth Arbitration Panel as the opportunity to strengthen links between common law jurisdictions of the Commonwealth. It is not only a natural fit, but will facilitate trade and commerce between those nations. Many of them are developing countries which will benefit from the application of a Commonwealth Code of Best Practice. This will govern the contractual relationships of the 53 trading countries in the Commonwealth. The Panel will consist of eminent practitioners from the UK and the Commonwealth. Bearing in mind the common law heritage that exists in these countries, it is surprising that such a body has not previously existed. This may be because the emphasis in recent times has been on European law as a bolt-on to our domestic law. We had, to some extent, forgotten the importance of strengthening common law traditions throughout some of the greatest trading nations in the world.
With an increasing appetite for senior members of the Bar looking for new horizons in various ABS structures, how do you see the future for the Bar for the next five years?
It will be a challenging time. Chambers will have to adapt to the changing circumstances. Senior practitioners will increasingly be tempted to move to new ventures which will give them greater professional security and the opportunity of exploiting the value of their expertise and experience. It will give them the benefit of having an interest in the business entity as a whole. One of the limitations of the traditional Chambers structure is that it does not create transferable goodwill. This makes all sets in their current form vulnerable to the adverse effects of losing senior practitioners to the Bench or the world of ABS structures.
You are known for having always had an entrepreneurial spirit – what advice would you give to junior barristers seeking to make a mark?
Remember the commercial Bar is there to provide a service to the business community. Although the development of the law by the courts is properly characterised as a ‘public good’, the role of the advocate is to serve the needs of its clients. That service is as much a public good as the development of the law. The duty to the court sits parallel with the duty to do one’s best for the client. An appreciation of the entrepreneurial ambitions of business people is the hallmark of a good commercial barrister.
How do you like to spend time away from chambers?
Throughout my career at the Bar I have tried to maintain the balance between work and play. Even though the distinction between the two has been blurred as I so much enjoy practising as a barrister. Too old now to play sport and no longer in the sporting arena, I am an avid spectator and follower of most sports. Cricket represents a major part of life. I have been a member of the MCC Committee for over 15 years. I was Chairman of the Development Committee and the Laws Sub-Committee. I also enjoy holding a number of non-executive directorships which keeps me in tune with the business world.
Robert Griffiths QC was interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Mathew Kesbey of Hewetson Shah LLP