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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

Jonathan Crow QC: 4 Stone Buildings

Jonathan Crow QC is well summed-up by a source who says, “he is as good as you will find in London, and his background as 'Treasury Devil' gives him an astonishingly versatile repertoire.” His is an admirably broad-ranging commercial practice, and he is star-rated in our guide in some of the most competitive fields of the Bar. Market sources remark on his masterful advocacy, saying “he has a great style, his thoughts are well marshalled and he gets to the point quickly.” Another source says he is “a great wordsmith” in the service of his “forensic” intellect. His written work comes in for similar praise: “his opinions are just superb, they're clear, incisive and well-reasoned,” according to one of his peers. “No one is more respected by the court than he” in matters before the Chancery division and proceedings concerning complex questions of company law. He is also top-rated with regard to financial services, public law and insolvency, and is highly sought-after for civil fraud and offshore cases. Recent instructions have seen him appear before the Supreme Court in the dispute between JSC BTA Bank and Mukhtar Ablyazov, which concerned the interpretation and application of the standard form freezing order. He also played a leading role in Ecclestone v HMRC, in which the Revenue sought to unwind a £1 billion tax settlement. His talents are neatly encapsulated by an interviewee who said: “he's intellectually brilliant and manages to make complicated issues seem unbelievably simple and straightforward.”

Bankim Thanki QC: Fountain Court Chambers

Bankim Thanki QC is, in the words of one source, “the doyen of banking and regulatory litigation” and is sought-after by solicitors for his “calm, analytical advice and impeccable judgement.” He has a practice of impressive breadth, and is top-rated in five practice areas as defined by this guide, and highly rated in a further five. His particular appeal derives from his marriage of striking intellectual acuity with a reassuring and personable manner. "He's a lovely man with a huge brain and tremendous encyclopaedic knowledge of banking law - clients love him," says one instructing solicitor. His advocacy style is light on aggression – sources point to his “understated” court performances – but is no less tough for it. One source says, “he is bulletproof – his arguments are amazing and his instincts are second to none.” As for his written work, he is “able to transform the most complex of arguments into straightforward and eloquent submissions.” He is considered to be at the top of the field in banking and finance, commercial litigation and civil fraud, and is one of the finest aviation lawyers in the country. He is also highly recommended for cases concerned with insurance, the travel industry and professional negligence, and is an experienced arbitrator. He recently appeared in the first trial in the Financial List for Barclays in a test case addressing the construction of LMA standard terms. One market source speaks for many in saying Thanki is “an outstanding legal asset on big cases who is just an exceptionally nice person and really good to work with. It's that combination which sets him apart.” 

Alan Steinfeld QC: XXIV Old Buildings

Alan Steinfeld QC is, by universal consensus, “an intellectual giant - his memory is extraordinary and his knowledge of the law is second to none.” Instructing parties find this celebrated chancery silk “incredibly supportive” and remark on his “outstanding judgement.” One says: “I use him when I want someone tough, versatile and clever.” A leitmotif in references for him is his remarkable facility for concision. “He's very clear in his thinking and great at drawing the strings of a case together; he'll distil what we've spent hours talking about on half a sheet of paper.” His advocacy also places him among the very best - “he is a master in the courtroom, who has a fantastic rapport with judges and explains matters in a lucid and relaxed manner.” He is “truly outstanding on appeal”, and it is often noted that “judges defer to him on points of law.” Steinfeld is ranked in the first tier for commercial and traditional chancery, offshore, partnership and trusts, and he is also highly recommended for complex disputes concerning company law and insolvency. Many years success in civil fraud and professional negligence cases make him a first port of call for solicitors with practices in those areas too. His recent work includes shareholder litigation arising from Lloyds' 2008 takeover of HBOS and the defence of a USD1 billion claim following the failure of a US hedge fund incorporated in Guernsey. This “fantastically intelligent and charming” silk remains one of the most sought-after and respected figures at the bar.

Mark Howard QC: Brick Court Chambers

Mark Howard QC is “one of a handful of of real superstar performers in the courtroom,” admired for his “exceptional analytical and strategic skills coupled with his expertise as an advocate.” His consummate mastery of the art of court advocacy is the most common and compelling theme brought up by his peers when discussing him. He “is very good at getting to the key points and identifying the winning and losing arguments, and he also reads the court and judges very well.” He further enjoys notoriety for being a “ferocious cross-examiner who can tear apart the most confident and well-prepared witnesses.” Opposing counsel salute him as “a force of nature,” and admire his “unflappability” and “clinical” analysis of the problem put before the court. Sources also stress the importance of his “clear and effective submissions on points of law” in determining his team's fortunes in any given matter. Another market commentator says, “in addition to his well-known qualities, I would like to add that his client management skills are excellent.” Howard is star-rated by this guide for banking and finance and commercial disputes, and is also at the top of tables for civil fraud, energy and natural resources and professional negligence. He is also highly recommended for competition, insurance and offshore cases, and for international arbitration. His recent work includes acting for Ukrainian businessman Gennadiy Bogolyubov in Pinchuk v Kolomoisky & Bogolyubov, concerning the ownership of a commodities business. As summarised by one solicitor, “he is really strong in court and a very strong analyst and examiner - one of the first you would look to if you need a heavy hitter.”

David Pannick QC: Blackstone Chambers

Lord Pannick QC is “one of the most brilliant minds at the bar” and a leading light in adminstrative and public law, civil liberties and humans rights. His reputation in these areas is second to none, and his expertise is considered to be “unparalleled.” Instructing solicitors say that “he lives up to his considerable reputation by demonstrating legal and client relation skills of the very highest order” and add that he is “knowledgeable, focused, practical, immensely experienced and clear in his views.” He is known for his versatility and can turn his hand to a wide range of matters, including European law, immigration, professional discipline, media and entertainment, sports and telecoms cases. Sources are consequently broad in their praise, with one simply saying he is “excellent at everything and one of the cleverest guys around.” He is known for his ability on his feet, and is praised as a “stellar advocate who is extremely authoritative in court” and someone who “captivates people.” Recent work includes acting for MGN in a Court of Appeal case to determine the amount of damages to be awarded to victims of phone hacking. Pannick by name but not by nature, he is praised by instructing solicitors as “very assured” and able to remain “incredibly unflustered in difficult circumstances.”

Hugh Sims QC: Guildhall Chambers

Hugh Sims QC is one of the foremost advocates on the Western Circuit, and is considered by market commentators to be "an absolutely brilliant advocate with an exceptional brain” who “lives for the court." Sources agree that he “wins the trust of judges” and “has a style of presentation that judges like very much, ” whilst maintaining “an excellent mixture of being both academic and user-friendly.” He is popular among instructing solicitors, who appreciate that he “works very, very hard to make sure that the service levels are always up to standard” and praise his “ability to easily present his advice to the client” and “talk at a level clients understand.” His facility for reading an audience is highlighted by one source, who comments that he is “very good at speaking directly to people and adapting the way he addresses different parties in order to get the best for the client.” Sources are also quick to highlight his commercial and tactical awareness. He has made his transition to silk “seamlessly,” according to peers, and is considered by instructing parties  to be “one of the best commercial silks on the regional circuit, despite only having been appointed QC in 2014.”  His typical work load is a blend of commercial chancery, partnership, company, insolvency and professional negligence cases. He recently acted for a lender in its professional negligence claim against an accountancy firm, arising out of the due diligence report for the purchase of a US medical homecare company. An exceptional all-round performer, Sims is “great on paper, great on his feet and very good to put in front of clients.”

James Eadie QC: Blackstone Chambers

It is no surprise that James Eadie QC remains the UK government's go-to counsel for the defence of controversial legislation and policy, given that some consider him “the best advocate at the Bar.” He has advised the government on a catalogue of landmark civil liberties, human rights and immigration cases in the Supreme Court and ECHR, and has also appeared in several of the major public inquests and inquiries of recent years. His work as Treasury Devil also sees him advising on data protection matters, as evidenced by his appearance in a Court of Appeal case brought by a number of MPs concerning the compatibility of DRIPA with EU law. Market commentators are full of praise for his courtroom advocacy, saying “he has good judgement and doesn't take bad points, which is why judges know they can rely on what he says.” Sources report that “everything he does is done with real flair and ability,” and that “he makes things sound reasonable that others couldn't.” He commands universal respect among his peers, with one commenting: “There is no one to beat him – the court wants to hear what he has to say. It makes you want to scream sometimes because, even if you disagree, you can't argue with the quality of the argument and the beauty of how it is expressed. You have to be at the very top of your game with James.”

David Perry QC: 6KBW College Hill

“Wonderful to work with and incredibly hard working,” David Perry QC is universally admired for his high level criminal law practice. Not only is he an exceptional advisor on POCA matters, he also maintains a broad general and financial crime practice and advises on a wide variety of high profile cases. A “phenomenal advocate,” he attracts a wealth of praise for his appellate work and regularly appears in criminal courts in various overseas jurisdictions, with recent experience of complex matters in both the Cayman Islands and Hong Kong. Sources describe Perry as “the smartest guy in the country” and joke: “He has three brains!” Despite his reputation as a formidable intellect and “one of the best barristers at the Bar,” he is also known to be “very down-to-earth and very easy to deal with.”

Nigel Giffin QC: 11KBW

Nigel Giffin QC is a hugely respected silk with an enviable and wide-reaching reputation. Described as "undoubtedly outstanding" by his peers and "a master tactician with excellent advocacy skills" by an instructing solicitor, Giffin retains his position as a leading public procurement silk. According to sources, his "encyclopaedic knowledge of procurement" is just a part of his broad knowledge of public law more generally. He regularly handles high-profile cases regarding the decisions of local government bodies, including those concerning education and social services. Though he consistently works on complex and high level cases, Giffin is still able to “simplify things for the client,” say sources. In fact, this talented silk has such a breadth of knowledge and skills that one source goes so far as to say: "He is my favourite barrister. He is a really good all-rounder, who is very user-friendly, and very easy and pleasant to deal with. He has a very lean but precise style so everything he writes is absolutely perfect and no longer than it needs to be." His recent work includes successfully acting for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in its dispute with the London Borough of Bromley concerning the ownership of Henry Moore's Draped Seated Woman sculpture.

Paul Chaisty QC: Kings Chambers

Paul Chaisty QC has an impressive seven rankings in this year's Chambers guide and remains one of the top barristers active on the Northern Circuit. An accomplished commercial litigator, he handles an array of complex business disputes, including partnership cases. This celebrated polymath is also an expert in property litigation, professional negligence cases and insolvency matters. One interviewee described him as "world class" whilst another said, "he is the most formidable advocate and most creative lawyer I have come across." Not only is Chaisty admired for his advocacy skills, he is also considered "very good at written work and keeping things quite simple." His recent work has included several multimillion pound cases and he is regularly called upon to appear in the BVI and the Bahamas. "He gets straight to the point," says an appreciative source, who continues, "at QC level there is a very expensive hourly rate but he is really good value because he will get to grips with something very quickly and give a very quick opinion."

Michael Brindle QC: Fountain Court Chambers

The "outstanding" Michael Brindle QC is a highly distinguished practitioner who is widely viewed as one of the top commercial barristers in the country. The breadth of his expertise in banking and finance disputes is impressive and he has recent experience of substantial professional negligence claims in the financial services sector. He is noted for his extensive work for the FCA and his substantial international practice. Brindle is particularly commended for his "formidable" advocacy, with one source noting that "he is fantastic on his feet" while another says: "He has a very, very charming and persuasive style of advocacy." Also of note is Brindle's sheer level of experience at the London Bar, which causes one source to comment: "He's been there, seen it, done it and won it - there's nothing he hasn't seen."

Antony Zacaroli QC: South Square

An exceptional silk highlighted for his mastery of a variety of areas. He is “a superb insolvency lawyer,” who is “fantastic on the chancery side,” and “one of the brightest silks at the banking and finance bar.” He is also highly adept at handling company law and financial services matters. Sources marvel at his outstanding technical ability, his “very clear and impressive written work,” and his brilliant” advocacy, which renders him “the first choice of many.” He is also noted for being “unsurpassed in terms of his responsiveness and his ability to work seamlessly with the other counsel and solicitors on the team.” Sources are quick to highlight his involvement in some of the most complex and high-profile cases of recent years, which include the Waterfall II proceedings and the litigation arising out of the collapse of the Icelandic bank Landsbanki. In the words of one source: “He is excellent - I don't think I've worked with anyone who is any better.

John Howell QC: Blackstone Chambers

The “absolutely superb” and “incredibly clever” John Howell QC is lauded for his “deeply impressive grasp of very complex legal points,” and, as such, is someone instructing solicitors “would involve in anything complex – anything going to the Supreme Court or of huge importance otherwise.”  Sources marvel at his “fantastic command of the facts and the law,” which leaves him “always thoroughly prepared for anything which may be thrown at him.” He is a leading light in the field of public law, with a particular emphasis on local government matters. In the words of one source, “he is superb at anything to do with local government- - there is no point going anywhere else.” He is also said to have a “fantastic reputation for environmental law work.” Renowned as a  “great advocate,”  he is routinely sought out to advise on very high-profile work, recent examples of which include appearing in the public inquiry into the 2010 Great Yarmouth Harbour Revision Order application. Sources universally agree that "he is extremely intelligent and has an immense ability to carry the court. His general air of authority is unlike anyone else: he is on a plane above others."

Philip Jones QC: Serle Court

Philip Jones is a highly respected silk who is “at the top of his game.” He is commended for his “wide range of ability – he handles a real cross-section of work and does it all brilliantly.” He is considered a “complete heavyweight in the commercial chancery area,”  and also offers strong expertise in the areas of company law and partnership. He is appreciated by instructing solicitors for his “calm and confident manner. - he puts the lay client at ease and is very good at drawing out the most significant points of an argument and commanding the attention of the court.” They also draw attention to his “excellent grasp of the commercial realities of each possible outcome.” Peers are also highly complimentary, and agree that "he is really solid as an opponent. He's absolutely delightful and a very safe pair of hands." Jones is regularly sought out to act in international matters including proceedings in the British Virgin Islands High Court and Court of Appeal, and he recently defended Monaco-based accountants and service providers against a negligence claim following the collapse of an investment fund in the Cayman Islands. “He has encyclopaedic knowledge and a great intellect, but he treats everybody in the room as his equal,” enthuses one source.

Paul Girolami QC: Maitland Chambers

“Time and time again people are impressed by Paul Girolami.” He is a “big name” among solicitors and peers alike, and those that instruct him declare that he is “at the top of our list,” and “one of the best company law silks at the Bar. He is very good at presenting technical matters to the higher courts, and also has a good understanding of offshore trusts – that makes him a terrific choice.” “Someone who must be one of the best chancery silks available,” he “is ideally suited for complex fraud claims," because “he is possibly the cleverest silk at the London bar.” Commentators describe him as a “particular favourite,” because of the strong mix of skills he brings to the table: “He is exceptionally gifted. Very engaging, committed and inclusive, he's a brilliant orator and one of the most able and nicest silks one could ever work with.” Girolami is acknowledged for his strong ability to handle cases with international elements, and was recently instructed to act for one of the defendants in the Libyan Investment Authority's USD1.5 billion action against Société Générale concerning alleged bribery.

Dinah Rose QC

A celebrated public law and human rights barrister who is widely viewed as the first port of call for difficult, high profile cases. She is renowned for the breadth of her expertise with one peer labelling her “a star who is fantastically brilliant at everything that she does.” She has a reputation as a leading court performer with one instructing solicitor saying: “I can't speak highly enough of her ability in terms of presentation to the court; she's formidable in an approachable way and she really gets the trust of the clients.” One peer says of her: “she is a very forceful advocate who is quite phenomenal.” Outside of the civil liberties and human rights field, Dinah also excels as an advocate in areas as disperate as employment, telecommunications and professional discipline. Her recent work includes advising journalists from The Guardian on challenging the Attorney General's refusal to publish letters from Prince Charles to government ministers.

Pushpinder Saini QC: Blackstone Chambers

A multi-talented silk who is able to provide high quality advice to clients on a diverse range of matters. His areas of expertise are manifold and include public law, media, telecommunications, civil liberties, financial services and sanctions. He is lauded by peers, instructing solicitors and clients alike and is described as "an exceptionally talented counsel” who is “excellent with clients and clear in his advice.” Also "extremely experienced and  someone who demonstrates excellent judgement" he is “strategically brilliant and has all the details at his fingertips.” He is well known for his formidable intellect with one interviewee saying "he is quick to understand the facts and issues in a complex case and adept at identifying points which others miss." His recent work includes advising the appellant in Nouazli v Secretary of State before the Supreme Court. The case concerned the rights of EU nationals facing deportation and whether they could be detained prior to their removal.

Robert Miles QC: 4 Stone Buildings

A pre-eminent company and commercial focused barrister who is described as being at the “top of his game” and “a class apart.” He is “very highly regarded as a banking and insolvency silk,” and is also noted for his “detailed knowledge of complex financial products.” His excellence is best summed up by one instructing solicitor who explained that “Robert is exceptional. He has incredible judgement, he is excellent on his feet, is very measured and is willing to call a spade a spade.” That same source continued: “he's very good with clients, inspires confidence, and he excites them by being enthusiastic about their case. He's very willing to give an opinion and he's happy to stick his neck out.” “Good to work with, he takes responsibility for things, and the buck stops with him.” He regularly works on high profile and high value cases, as exemplified by his recent representation of the Icelandic bank Kaupthing as it sought to defend claims of conspiracy and malicious prosecution launched by Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz.

Clare Montgomery QC: Matrix Chambers

An undisputed leader in her field who is described as “the doyenne of the criminal bar.” Her expertise extends to a range of areas and she is lauded for her multi-faceted practice and skill set. She is called the “stand-out unbeatable superstar of the extradition world” and a “top player in the field” of financial crime. Montgomery is famed for her incredible intellect and is variously described as being “overwhelmingly clever” and “the biggest brain at the Bar.” Her evident intelligence is matched by her superlative client focus and she is recommended for her ability to give “easy to digest, no nonsense advice.” She returned to the UK in 2015 after spending significant time in Hong Kong representing property magnate Thomas Kwok in his appeal against corruption charges.