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UK BAR: Stars at the BAR

The Stars at the Bar have proved their excellence across a range of practice areas. Read below for details on these top stars.

Published on 5 July 2021

Jonathan Crow QC (4 Stone Buildings)

Standout commercial barrister Jonathan Crow QC garners praise from interviewees who describe him as “a very accomplished litigator” and “the best silk at the English Bar.” His broad expertise encompasses banking and finance, restructuring and insolvency, civil fraud, commercial chancery and company law, and he is routinely involved in the most high-profile and complex cases in the market, as evidenced by his regular appearances in the highest courts both in the UK and further afield. Market sources name him as “the go-to person for appellate cases,” and note that he has “unparalleled experience of appearing before the Supreme Court.” Both Crow’s opponents and his instructing solicitors are quick to highlight his advocacy skills when discussing his innumerable strengths as a barrister, noting that he is “a very powerful advocate and a skilled cross-examiner.” Interviewees go on to add: “His oral advocacy is absolutely brilliant – he is seriously good and is unfazed by questions from judges.” Crow’s commitment to client service is also widely appreciated by his instructing solicitors, who describe him as “incredibly user-friendly” and note that “although he is a senior silk you get a direct line to him and the clients love and trust him.” Another solicitor adds: “He is a dream to work with behind the scenes, and it’s always clear what he needs and by when. Despite his busy schedule he is always very responsive and hands-on.

Dinah Rose QC (Blackstone Chambers)

Possesses a truly formidable reputation for superb advocacy and astonishing mental agility. Sources consider her “the best advocate at the Bar, no matter the field,” adding: “Her advocacy really does have a magical quality to it – that’s not putting it too high at all.” Rose is described as “a master of bringing it all together, who has fabulous judgement and is utterly authoritative”; according to our interviewees there is “no more credible voice than hers.” Her prodigious achievements across numerous practice areas have been recognised with seven Chambers rankings. Star individual rankings in public law, civil liberties and human rights, and employment, indicate Rose’s status at the very pinnacle of those fields, which can also be demonstrated by appearances in a string of recent Supreme Court cases. She acted for the ride-hailing app in Uber v Aslam, a closely watched case on worker status, and successfully represented Ibrahima Jalloh in an appeal concerning damages for false imprisonment. A strong competition lawyer, Rose recently assumed a central role in the ‘interchange fees’ litigation between supermarkets and the main payment card operators. She is also top ranked in the related sections of telecommunications and European Law. Rose has been elected as President of Magdalen College, Oxford; she continues to practise as a barrister alongside this appointment.

Paul Chaisty QC (Kings Chambers)

Paul Chaisty QC is one of the finest legal minds in England, and without doubt a figure of colossal authority in the Northern Circuit’s commercial Bar, ranked as he is in eight Chambers practice areas, and top-rated in all but one of those. Chaisty is sought after nationwide for his handling of weighty banking and finance, chancery, commercial and company law disputes, as well as for real property, partnership, professional negligence and insolvency litigation. Superlatives abound in sources’ comments about him, with one describing him as “the best trial lawyer in the country,” and another as “far and away the best QC in Manchester – or in London, for that matter.” Such fine distinctions are beyond our purview, but legal sources’ impressions of his prowess as a performer speak for themselves. “Excellent technically and as a strategist,” one says, “his advocacy is confident and succinct – he makes all the right points and does not feel the need to labour them, and judges like him and appreciate his style.” Peers who have faced him in court speak of “a very strong opponent and very forceful advocate,” and a “tremendously well-prepared and relentless, outstandingly good cross-examiner.” For all his approbation as a master of open court, however, it is clear this dimension of his practice is but the tip of an iceberg. A source familiar with his way of working says, “Paul knows the law back to front and I’d be surprised if there was a case or a situation that he hadn’t come across before,” adding, “his submissions on the law clearly demonstrate his knowledge.” Another says, “His drafting skills are excellent, his advice is clear and his conferences with clients are well managed to ensure the clients can focus on this advice.” A further source adds: “Paul puts himself out to meet solicitors' timetables and gets through prodigious quantities of work,” adding, “he has no obvious weakness unless you are the sort of person who wants to spend extra hours in conference going over the same ground: he does not waste time and is thorough and business-like.” Chaisty’s merits as a senior silk par excellence are probably most neatly captured by this interviewee, who states: “He is accessible, he picks up the issues very quickly and he explains them really well to both solicitors and lay clients,” adding: “He is also commercial and a strong advocate.”

Joe Smouha QC (Essex Court Chambers)

Joe Smouha QC continues to carry all before him at the commercial Bar, and this year receives a star individual ranking in commercial dispute resolution in recognition of his immense standing across multiple sectors within this field. Our sources consistently place Joe Smouha QC among the “best of the best,” adding that he is “a top-flight advocate who gives impeccable client service.” Assessing his banking practice, peers describe him as a “punchy advocate – aggressive in a good way,” who is also “charming and courteous and tactically extremely good.” Among recent matters of note, Smouha has acted for PCP Capital Partners in its hugely significant and long-running claim against Barclays over an investment deal with Qatar. He has also been heavily involved in the litigation surrounding the Tuna Bond scandal, and the frauds implicating the banker Patrice Lescaudron. According to peers, Smouha is “cut out for this kind of work at the highest level,” and possesses “the vision, drive, determination and tactical mind needed for civil fraud work.” Much in demand as both counsel and arbitrator in major international arbitrations, his caseload in this area includes highly complex matters involving investment treaties in the Middle East. This year he rises to band one in our coverage of art and cultural property law, having tackled high profile cases such as a dispute over the authenticity of a Frans Hals painting. Smouha additionally appears in our tables covering commercial chancery and offshore work.

Mark Howard QC (Brick Court Chambers)

Mark Howard QC is considered “a colossus of the English Bar” and “one of the top commercial silks around.” Ranked as a star individual for both commercial dispute resolution and banking and finance, he regularly handles disputes of the utmost value and significance, such as the USD3 billion case of Law Debenture Trust v Ukraine, recently heard in the Supreme Court. He also has redoubtable expertise in complex civil fraud proceedings, bolstered by his knowledge of offshore jurisdictions, and can provide expert representation throughout both courtroom litigation and international arbitrations. Disputes concerning energy, insurance, professional negligence and competition law also form a key part of his estimable practice. Sources attest that Howard’s “knowledge of the subject matter he is dealing with, however technical or scientific, is exceptional,” and he is also renowned for his “phenomenal” advocacy which positions him as “the pre-eminent trial lawyer of his generation.” Solicitors praise his ability to “persuade the court through sheer force of will,” and remark that “his name strikes fear into the heart of the opposition,” ultimately concluding that “once you are in the courtroom it does not get any better than Mark Howard.”

Clare Montgomery QC (Matrix Chambers)

“Absolutely astonishing” in the words of one commentator, Clare Montgomery QC is a truly elite silk who operates an enviable practice across criminal law and many connected fields. Possessing star individual status in crime and financial crime, she also appears at the top of our listings for extradition, POCA work and corporate crime. In addition to this, Montgomery is well known for her expert handling of judicial review and human rights challenges relating to criminal justice, and receives rankings in the relevant Chambers sections. She is perceived to be “one of the greats of the Bar” and is variously described as an “absolutely superlative criminal lawyer,” and a barrister who is “massively respected by the judges and a leading light in the space.” Her cross-examination is said to be “masterful in its subtlety,” and clients deem her “a first-class adviser to a board in a criminal crisis,” adding that “her approach is always focused, practical and commercial.” Montgomery continues to handle the most difficult serious crime cases, such as a recent matter concerning a historical murder allegedly committed by a paratrooper in Northern Ireland. She has led a challenge against the CPS over its decision not to recall suspected IS fighter El Shafee Elsheikh for trial in the UK. She has also been involved in resisting extradition requests for high-profile businesspeople, and defended the banker Detelina Subeva in relation to the Tuna Bond scandal.

Hugh Sims QC (Guildhall Chambers)

The “very charismatic” Hugh Sims QC is hailed as an “exceptional talent” on the Western Circuit, a reputation which is underscored by his seven band one rankings across our banking and finance, restructuring and insolvency, chancery, commercial dispute resolution, company, partnership and professional negligence sections. “He is brilliant on his feet in court, and razor sharp,” reports one interviewee, with another source pointing to his ability to “adapt swiftly and seamlessly on his feet.” Clients also appreciate that he is “always willing to consider creative strategies.” His tactical nous is admired by an instructing solicitor who states: “I am in awe of him – he is always three or four moves ahead of the opponent.” “He’s user-friendly from both an instructing solicitor and client perspective,” appreciates a source; another agrees: “He can rapidly get to grips with matters and works brilliantly as part of the team.” He is also admired for his “down to earth and approachable” character and is acknowledged as “a safe pair of hands and someone you can lean on.”

David Perry QC (6KBW College Hill)

Market commentators regard David Perry QC as “the best criminal barrister of his time,” attesting that “there are no safer hands on the legal planet.” An enormously talented criminal law practitioner, Perry is distinguished as a star individual for his work in both general and financial crime, as well as for his specialist POCA expertise. Sources praise his “absolutely excellent judgement and fabulous legal brain,” saying that “what he doesn’t know about the law isn’t worth knowing.” His practice sees him handling cases not only through all levels of the English court system but also before international criminal courts; he is also noted for his ability to advise on extradition proceedings and related public law matters. Interviewees praise the adroit manner in which he “gives complex legal arguments in a clear and understandable form,” and describe him as “pre-eminent both commercially and intellectually.” Considered “a go-to silk for high-stakes advice on novel criminal issues,” he is also regarded as “a master in the appeal courts” who is “peerless in his advocacy.”

Jonathan Gaisman QC (7 King’s Bench Walk)

Jonathan Gaisman QC is a hugely respected commercial silk who has held the coveted position of star individual in our commercial dispute resolution rankings since 2015. Market sources from across the UK and abroad comment on the value and complexity of the work Gaisman undertakes, but it is his performance on his feet which most impresses. One instructing solicitor describes him as an “incredibly effective advocate,” while another states that “for any very large and difficult commercial dispute he is barrister you would immediately think of.” Gaisman’s top tier rankings in energy and natural resources, insurance and shipping are matched by his band one rankings in our civil fraud and professional negligence sections. Interviewees asked about Gaisman’s civil fraud practice were impressed by his willingness to “give you a frank assessment, positive or negative,” while those taking part in our research into the professional negligence market describe Gaisman as a “go to” for auditor negligence claims. As one interviewee puts it, he is simply “one of the best commercial barristers out there.”

John Randall QC (St Philips Chambers)

John Randall QC continues to be recognised as one of the most accomplished commercial lawyers in the land and is widely regarded as “the Midlands’ leading silk.” Sources commend Randall for his “meticulous preparation for trial and outstanding cross-examination skills," and highlight his “brilliant knack for perfectly pitching cases to judges in a way that has them eating out of his hand." His expertise spans an array of issues in the areas of chancery and commercial law. Alongside band one rankings in company, partnership and professional negligence, his prowess in the field of real estate has seen him described as “undoubtedly the top property litigation silk outside London." His most recent work in this area has seen him tackle cases concerning the enforceability of easements and shareholder disputes involving unfair prejudice petitions. He is able to draw upon his significant prior experience as a Deputy High Court Judge to assist in his assessment of cases, which is no doubt what leads market commentators to state that “tactically he has the experience, and legally his technical knowledge is so impressive." Alongside this notable pedigree, he is also admitted to the Bar in two Australian jurisdictions and is an accredited mediator.

Lesley Anderson QC (Kings Chambers)

The “tactically astute and very thorough” Lesley Anderson QC is rightly revered as one of the most prominent and talented barristers operating on the Northern Circuit. She possesses a mastery of various areas of law and is lauded for her “real understanding of professional negligence law relevant to solicitors and accountants,” alongside being described as “certainly the best insolvency silk outside of London.” She possesses band one rankings in chancery, partnership and real estate litigation, and it is this proficiency across numerous areas which contributes to her star individual ranking in our commercial dispute resolution section. Her exemplary approach in the courtroom has led to her reputation as a “tenacious and intelligent opponent,” with one source revealing that she “is pretty terrifying to go up against.” Beyond her formidable skills on her feet, sources are quick to highlight the pragmatism of her advice: “Lesley is able to cut through large amounts of information to get to the heart of the case and identify the key points.” Recent instructions highlighting her aptitude for such cases include her representation of the Official Receiver in the directors’ disqualification proceedings against eight of the directors of the charity Keeping Kids Company. Alongside her appearances in nationally significant cases, Anderson also sits as a Deputy High Court Judge in the Chancery Division.

Bankim Thanki QC (Fountain Court Chambers)

When a leading bank finds itself in hot water, Bankim Thanki QC is undoubtedly one of the first people they will call. He is widely considered to be a “star commercial silk” and a go-to for the most factually complex banking litigation. One fellow barrister calls him “truly the best person I’ve worked with at the Bar,” whilst solicitors reinforce the sentiment, including one who says “the indefatigable Bankim Thanki is on another level.” He is described as a “highly intelligent and effective advocate,” and someone who “operates at a high level of advocacy.” Composure is a key theme when interviewees discuss Thanki: “He is able to dissect complicated cases full of detail in a cool and collected manner; he makes complex things look so simple and there’s a real art to that.” A supremely talented silk, Thanki can turn his hand to a range of areas, leading to his reputation as “an extraordinary barrister across many fields, with the most phenomenal brain.” He is ranked in ten sections of our guide and has well-earned band one rankings in commercial dispute resolution, financial services and civil fraud. He has also developed a reputation as the foremost expert in legal privilege following his representation of ENRC in the Court of Appeal. He is no stranger to the higher courts, having appeared for Ukraine before the Supreme Court in its high-profile dispute with Russia relating to a 2013 Eurobond issuance.

Laurence Rabinowitz QC (One Essex Court)

Laurence Rabinowitz is quite simply “one of the heavyweights of the Bar.” “A superstar performer and brilliant legal mind,” he comes highly recommended as a man who “can turn his hand to anything.” He is ranked in five practice areas and is recognised as a star individual for his banking & finance and commercial dispute resolution work. Interviewees say he is “currently one of the finest barristers at the commercial Bar,” asserting that, “for the very difficult cases, he is one of the top names.” He’s a stand-out court performer who is praised for his “excellent advocacy skills” and “unassuming and down-to-earth advocacy style.” In court he is said to be “head and shoulders above everybody else in terms of legal analysis” because he is “excellent at assimilating complex facts and adding significant value.” Simply put: “He is truly fantastic on his feet.”

Richard Lissack QC (Fountain Court Chambers)

There is nobody at the Bar like Richard Lissack QC,” according to one impressed interviewee, who goes on to add: “He perfectly straddles the intersection between business crime and regulatory exposure. He is in a very unique position and as a consequence of this he has great strategic vision.” Lissack is widely regarded as a go-to silk for the most high-profile and challenging financial crime and banking cases, such as his recent involvement in the litigation arising from the £11 billion investment by Qatar in Barclays Bank, or the Autonomy scandal, a matter which involved allegations brought by both the SFO and the US Department of Justice. Thanks to his extensive expertise in criminal and regulatory law, he is also recognised as a leading practitioner for health and safety matters, and his recent work in this area includes the representation of one of the companies involved in the investigation into the Didcot Power Station explosion. He earns significant praise for his courtroom advocacy and is described by one solicitor as “one of the most powerful advocates at the Bar.” Others report that he is “a lionheart of an advocate,” and note that “he is a real fighter on behalf of his clients, and people instruct him for a reason – he is a very robust and forceful advocate.” Interviewees also draw considerable attention to Lissack’s client management skills when discussing his strengths as a barrister: “He has complete devotion to his clients,” according to one impressed interviewee, while another attests that he “inspires total confidence.” A solicitor adds: “He’s one of the best silks I’ve worked with in terms of user-friendliness and client care. Clients love him and have confidence in his ability, he’s very responsive and his written work is excellent.

Ali Malek QC (3 Verulam Buildings)

Instructing solicitors hail Ali Malek QC as “one of the most prestigious and experienced QCs in the country,” adding that “he is very intelligent and easy to deal with, and provides straightforward and sound advice.” Malek commands respect for his expert handling of both domestic and international litigation and is a top choice for high-profile energy, banking and finance, financial services and civil fraud disputes. He is also regularly called upon to appear in arbitrations arising across a number of sectors, and has experience of disputes under LCIA, ICC and SIAC rules. He is consistently lauded for his court advocacy skills, with one impressed interviewee describing him as “a forceful and eloquent advocate who delves deep into the issues and is always thoroughly prepared.” Another notes that “he has a voice that judges really listen to,” adding that “he is confident and punchy but engages the court rather than setting himself against it.” Solicitors are also keen to highlight Malek’s “amazing strategic vision,” reporting that he is “extremely skilled at informing case strategy” and “can quickly see which legal points the judges are going to be interested in.” Throughout his illustrious career Malek has been involved in several high-profile disputes both in the UK and overseas, and his recent work includes acting for one of the defendants in a claim brought by PrivatBank against its two former shareholders, and in Republic of Kazakhstan v Bank of New York Mellon, a highly complex multi-jurisdictional dispute. One impressed interviewee notes: “When speaking about Ali Malek QC you just run out of superlatives – despite being so busy he is accessible, quick, pragmatic and has excellent judgement. And he’s a phenomenal advocate.”

Richard Drabble QC (Landmark Chambers)

Richard Drabble QC is an “absolute superstar who knows everything about everything,” according to our sources. He possesses top tier rankings in administrative and public law, civil liberties and human rights, immigration, local government and social housing, and is admired for his exceptional performance across a host of complex cases. This impressive public law silk reportedly “knows instinctively how to address the court,” and “has the judges in the palm of his hand.” Interviewees state that “everyone loves him,” and describe him as “the busiest silk in the country.” Numerous sources extol Drabble’s ability to make simple points from complex issues, and interviewees are also impressed with his collaborative working style. Several commentators admire his work in cases concerning the benefits cap and the bedroom tax, and he is described by one source as “the king of social welfare law.” A raft of solicitors and clients – and fellow counsel – attest to his ability to “turn a case around completely.”

James Willan (Essex Court)

There are sources who say that James Willan of Essex Court Chambers is “destined for huge things”; one might say, taking his considerable achievements and our researchers’ findings in the round, that he has well and truly arrived. A junior of 16 years call at the publication of the 2021 rankings, Willan is star-rated for his civil fraud practice and is also considered one of the leading barristers in banking and finance, commercial litigation, international arbitration, offshore and commercial chancery cases working in London today. Indeed, he has become a “senior junior of choice for complex, cross-border disputes.” Sources note that he regularly appears unled against QCs and “holds his own,” and that he is “an excellent barrister at his level who will no doubt be a superstar further down the line,” declaring themselves “extremely impressed with his written submissions as well as his oral advocacy.” Others are unabashedly fulsome in their praise, with one describing him as “remarkably brilliant – an absolute superstar who is spectacular on his feet, even completely by himself.” Alongside Willan’s clear mastery of his craft, it is reflections on his intellectual acuity that resonate most. Source after source remarks on his ability to “grasp complex, detailed points very quickly” and his “wonderful way of pursuing the complicated points.” It is worth stressing that, for all the passionate accolades, Willan does not have the bearing of a ‘rock star’ lawyer. Rather, interviewees speak of his “thoughtful” and “understated” manner, characterised by a “particularly rigorous approach to cutting through the issues and advising pragmatically.” He “reads the court and judges well,” and in conference he is “easy to work with and listens to other people's opinions”; sources state that “when he has something to say it is worth listening to.” All in all, James Willan is “outstandingly committed and already firmly established at the commercial Bar as a brilliantly analytical and fast-thinking advocate”.

Mark Harper QC (Kings Chambers)

A “superstar on the Northern Circuit,” Mark Harper QC is said to be “right at the top of the tree for chancery work.” In addition, he enjoys band one Chambers rankings across banking and finance, commercial dispute resolution, company and professional negligence; his partnership practice also merits a listing. Commentators enthuse that “his manner with clients is fantastic, and he has the mindfulness to give them meaningful advice,” adding that “he is an unrivalled advocate and a brilliant cross-examiner.” His focused approach is admired by our sources, with one stating: “He is extremely sharp and assimilates detail quickly,” while another adds: “He manages to cut through complicated and document-heavy cases and has a very succinct style.” “Calm and never flustered,” Harper is also described as “a team player, and a silk who is not afraid to roll up his sleeves.” He is also commended for his determination by one commentator: “He is prepared to hold his ground and stare down the barrel of the gun.”

David Streatfeild-James QC (Atkin Chambers)

For the tenth year in a row, David Streatfeild-James QC tops the charts as a star individual in our highly competitive construction rankings. His reputation as “one of the best construction silks around” stretches across instructing solicitors in magic circle firms focusing not only on pure construction and engineering litigation, but also a host of related professional negligence disputes. Since taking silk in 2001, Streatfeild-James has consistently attracted instructions in some of the biggest and most complex cases in the construction sphere. His workload includes challenging domestic work as well as disputes arising from multi-million pound construction projects across the world. He retains his top tier ranking in our technology and construction professional negligence rankings, as well as in the energy and natural resources practice area. International arbitration is an area of particular strength for Streatfeild-James, with one market commentator describing him as “one of the leading arbitration silks of our time in the construction field.” Both admired by clients and regarded as a “dreaded opponent” by fellow barristers (for all the right reasons), Streatfeild-James is “definitely at the top of his game.” He is also considered a top expert in IT-related disputes. As one source puts it, “There aren't that many people who actually understand how large IT projects work, but he gets it.”

Nigel Giffin QC (11KBW)

Steeped in public law and top-ranked in five Chambers practice areas, Nigel Giffin QC garners particular acclaim for his leading practice in public procurement. Clarity of thought, demonstrated in both written and oral advocacy, is among his key attributes reported by our interviewees. One source notes: “He can take hugely complicated concepts and factual pictures and make it all look so easy that you wonder why you didn’t think of it that way.” Others describe him as “a terrific barrister, who is very level headed and knowledgeable,” and remark that “his beautifully crafted written advocacy is the best I’ve seen.” In recent years he has undertaken notable work relating to the UK rail franchising system and contracts surrounding energy infrastructure. Giffin’s deep knowledge of the law as it relates to local authorities is well known, and in 2020 he secured a victory in a Supreme Court case concerning the management of public sector pensions. He has also cultivated a strong reputation for his special expertise in the complementary fields of education and community care.

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