This is the first year that the Legal 500 has produced rankings for the Australian Bar. The principal rankings are for commercial litigation where outstanding, long-established and newer sets are both ranked. The coverage is national – and in some instances, international – and chambers are ranked for the main legal and business hubs of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth.
In addition to commercial litigation, a number of sets and barristers are also listed for specialisms: competition, construction, environment/planning, IP, labour and employment, TMT (media), tax, and white-collar crime (for more specifics as to the kinds of work undertaking in these practices, please view the relevant editorial attached to our rankings).
The Australian legal system has the familiarity of being historically based on the English system and, in general, chambers are managed in a similar fashion to the English clerking system. However, in the State of Victoria, chambers are organised under the umbrella of ‘Lists’ and as such, their commercial and organisational management is somewhat different, although barrister contact is still largely through their set.
It is also worth noting that, again, due to historical ties, senior barristers may have the suffix 'QC' (Queen’s Counsel) or 'SC' (Senior Counsel). The rules on this vary from state to state but, generally, there has been a move away from 'QC'.
Members of the Australian Bar handle a range of hefty, high-profile work in the resources and energy, construction, environment/planning, finance, media, and related tech areas. Controversial or politically sensitive cases often attract international headlines. Examples being litigation involving Adani and its Carmichael coal project or the commission of inquiry into institutional responses to child sexual abuse and the financial services and banking commission.
Arbitration and class actions form a notably large part of the Bar’s work. Many sets have an arbitration/mediation centre as much of these types of work take place in Australia. On the international front, there are a number of SCs/QCs who are well known for undertaking work in the major global arbitration hubs, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and London, while some also sit as arbitrators.
The leading SCs/QCs and those at the junior Bar can go toe to toe with the best that the London Bar has to offer, and subsequently several senior counsel with international practices are associates or door tenants with London sets. For example, John Sheahan QC (Banco Chambers) is an associate member of South Square, while Allan Myers AC QC (List A Barristers) is a member of Keating Chambers.