The increasing blurring of the lines between the Chancery and commercial worlds can be seen in the Commercial Litigation rankings, where traditional Chancery sets are growing in prominence. Equally, commercial sets that were once defined by the contractual claims they fought, are now just as likely to be found on major shareholder disputes – as demonstrated by the many oligarch litigations that have dominated the past two decades. There is inevitably much overlap between these rankings and the other more specialised categories within the London Bar section, particularly those broader areas of civil dispute that have a significant bearing on the international world of commerce and business, such as Offshore, Company and Partnership, Fraud: Civil, Insurance and reinsurance, and Banking and Finance. (Exceptions would include Construction, Property Litigation, Intellectual Property, or Product liability, where the distinctions and skillsets are clearer, even though the values in dispute are often extremely high). What distinguishes Commercial Litigation as a section, is the identification of commercial barristers whose oral and written advocacy, market reputation, and overall experience, transcends one strict category. Their unifying trait is that they are the first choice for more general, market-defining civil cases that a company, bank, or entrepreneur, simply cannot afford to lose.
Firms in the Spotlight Commercial litigation
Chambers of Lord Grabiner QC
One Essex Court is a pre-eminent commercial set of barristers’ chambers in London. Members provide specialist legal advice, support and advocacy services worldwide, and the barristers’ expertise covers all areas of arbitration, litigation, regulation and dispute resolution.View Profile...
Commercial litigation in London Bar
3 Verulam Buildings is a 'go-to set' for high-end commercial disputes and boasts 'numerous quality operators', and 'the juniors, in particular, are first-rate'. Clients also appreciate the 'conducive environment', 'very friendly and supportive staff' and the 'free training programmes to client's in-house counsel in order to build their capacity for handling commercial litigation, which makes this chambers different from other sets'. Members have been kept busy with a string of high-profile mandates, including Phones 4u Limited v Vodafone Group, in which Ewan McQuater QC and Adam Kramer are representing Vodafone. Another key case is Manning & Napier v Tesco PLC, where Peter De Verneuil Smith QC and Philip Hinks are among those acting for the claimants.
Brick Court Chambers is a 'first-rate set' that is 'excellent from top to bottom' and possesses 'almost universal quality'. Despite having 'the bench strength to deal with the biggest and most complex of cases', the set hasn't rested on its laurels, recently recruiting several strong junior barristers, including James McClelland and Charlotte Tan, from Fountain Court Chambers and Twenty Essex respectively. Major recent highlights included the Lloyds Banking Group shareholder litigation, where Helen Davies QC and Tony Singla successfully defended the bank. Seven members were also involved in Privatbank v Kolomoisky and others, including Mark Howard QC, Alec Haydon QC, Richard Blakeley, and Ben Woolgar.
Essex Court Chambers is 'top of the pile' with 'fantastic counsel at all levels'. Clients add that the set is 'a market-leader when it comes to the production of know-how and has first-class administration'. The 'great strength in depth' is demonstrated by David Foxton QC's departure to become a judge, and the availability of other tier one silks to step into the breach. Complex international disputes feature heavily, including the $1bn Avonwick v Taruta, in which Nathan Pillow QC and Anton Dudnikov are among those representing the Ukrainian businessman, Sergey Taruta. Paul McGrath QC is also leading David Davies and James Sheehan in Tatneft v Bogylubov/Kolomoisky.
Fountain Court Chambers is 'rightly among the leading commercial sets' with 'an abundance of talent and depth'. The barristers 'are at the top of their game' and the set is commended for having 'done a huge amount in recent years to promote and recruit women, making them one of the most gender-diverse sets at the commercial bar'. A recent highlight was Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales LLP v (1) Amber Fund Management and (2) Lambert Smith Hampton Group in which Anneliese Day QC and Natasha Bennett are representing Amber Fund Management. Charles Bear QC and Ian Bergson achieved a notable success in the Supreme Court in One Step v Morris-Garner.
One Essex Court is 'obviously an absolutely stand-out commercial set' with 'a string of leading names – from the most junior to the most senior member, you know you will have your best case presented by members of this set'. The set is praised for 'its reputation in complex, multi-jurisdictional commercial litigation' of all kinds. Notable highlights include Autonomy and others v Michael Lynch, in which Laurence Rabinowitz QC, Conall Patton QC and Emma Jones are representing the claimant. Michael Fealy QC is also representing the Danish Customs and Tax Administration, SKAT, alongside Jamie Goldsmith QC and several juniors, in its massive fraud claim against over 60 defendants.
7 King's Bench Walk is 'very strong at both leader and junior level' and 'counsel are frequently involved in the biggest commercial cases'. The 'high-quality chambers' stands out for the 'quality of its barristers and the co-operative and commonsense attitude of the clerks'. Numerous members, including Jonathan Gaisman QC, Alistair Schaff QC, and Benjamin Parker, were involved in the $1.2bn Single Buoy Moorings Inc v Zurich Insurance plc and others, the largest maritime claim to hit the commercial courts. Gaisman was also involved in the Brillante Virtuoso case – Suez Fortune Investments & another v. Talbot Underwriting & others – alongside Richard Waller QC and Keir Howie.
Blackstone Chambers 'has become a commercial litigation powerhouse, adding to its already stellar reputation for public law work', and is praised for its 'incredible strength in depth with a roster of juniors who are bound to be future stars'. Clients also report to 'have consistently found both barristers and clerks to be down to earth and approachable and commercial in outlook'. Noteworthy cases include PCP Capital Partners LLP and Anor v Barclays Bank, in which Tom Weisselberg QC and Robert Weekes are among those representing the claimants. Other significant matters included Arcelor Mittal v Essar Steel, the enforcement of an arbitral award that involved Weisselberg, Anthony Peto QC and Andrew Scott.
Maitland Chambers is a 'fabulous set' with 'a raft of excellent Counsel at all levels, but particularly mid to senior juniors'. Clients have appreciated how the chambers is 'good at keeping in touch with their instructing solicitors and they run a very good seminar (now webinar) programme' and overall 'the set has been fantastic, even during Covid'. Key cases include United Company Rusal PLC v Crispian Investments Limited and Whiteleave Holdings Limited in which a team of five members, including Christopher Pymont QC, David Mumford QC and Watson Pringle are representing United Company Rusal. Pymont is also leading Benjamin John in Tugushev v Orlov.
Serle Court is an 'absolutely top-class set for commercial chancery and civil fraud work' where the barristers are 'of a universally high quality, from bottom to top'. Clients also note that it is 'striking how well they work together as a cohesive team'. Notable cases include Glenn v Watson, in which Elizabeth Jones QC is leading a team of seven members, including Justin Higgo QC and Paul Adams. Another highlight is Rusteem Magdeev v Equix Diamonds DMCC & Others, where Jonathan Adkin QC and Adil Mohamedbhai are acting for the defendant, Equix Diamonds DMCC.
Twenty Essex is 'a very reputable commercial set' which seems 'to have an expert in every field of commercial law', and is particularly noted for its strong expertise in international trade. The set fields a strong selection of 'very able' barristers, including senior silks and up-and-coming baby juniors. Notable cases include Halliburton v Chubb, in which Charles Kimmins QC and Luke Pearce led the LCIA's intervention to the Supreme Court concerning the high profile arbitration award. Philip Edey QC also led Andrew Fulton in the $5bn dispute, Fundo Suberano De Angola and Others v Jean-Claude Bastos De Morais and Others.
Clients are 'spoilt for choice' at Wilberforce Chambers, which has 'an abundance of talent at all levels'. The 'excellent set' is 'always responsive and helpful', and marries strong practices in trusts, offshore and professional negligence, with broader commercial disputes. The set's capacity for handling high profile cases was demonstrated with AHAB v SAAD, in which Thomas Lowe QC and John Wardell QC respectively acted for the defendant and claimant. Alan Gourgey QC also successfully represented Gazprom in Naftogaz v Gazprom, by resisting a Commercial Court application for the immediate enforcement of a $3bn arbitral award.
XXIV Old Buildings is 'one of the leading sets of commercial and Chancery chambers' and noted for its 'strength in offshore and international cases'. The set has several 'first-class silks and excellent juniors at all ends of the experience spectrum' who represent 'fantastic value'. Clients also appreciate the 'fantastic training programmes'. Significant mandates include the liquidation of the Herald Fund, one of the largest Madoff feeder funds, in which Francis Tregear QC, Michael Black QC and Bajul Shah were all involved. Robert Levy QC and Hugh Miall have also been representing over 100 claimants in Ward & Ors v Savill & Ors.
4 New Square has 'quality barristers from top to bottom' and is 'clearly a set that is expanding and becoming ever-more well-known', particularly beyond areas such as professional negligence, where it is a market leader. Members are increasingly called upon to act on multi-jurisdictional cases, which stems partly from its growth in ancillary areas such as international arbitration. Highlights on this front include LIC Telecommunications SARL v VTB Capital, in which Graham Chapman QC is leading George Spalton. Another major case has been Deripaska v Chernukhin, where Justin Fenwick QC and Lucy Colter are representing the Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.
4 Stone Buildings is 'an excellent set with a good balance of silks to juniors'. Clients also note that 'their barristers do a good deal of actual court work, unlike many'. The set's background in company law and insolvency matters, has over the past decade blurred into much larger commercial cases. A blockbuster example was Autonomy v Lynch and Hussain, in which Richard Hill QC led Tom Gentleman. The case also involved Robert Miles QC, before he became a judge. Several members, including John Brisby QC and Alastair Tomson, are involved in a dispute concerning the property investor Glenn Maud and the ownership of Santander's headquarters in Madrid.
Quadrant Chambers is 'an excellent set' with 'good strength not only in the core areas of shipping; aviation and oil & gas but also in commercial disputes generally', as well as 'real depth of expertise in contractual matters and also IT'. Clients appreciate how the barristers are 'down to earth, intelligent, commercially minded and helpful'. Significant cases involving several members include Damazien Global Investments Limited v (1) Salamanca Capital Limited and (2) Rupert Hayward, where Robert-Jan Temmink QC and Max Davidson are representing Mr Hayward. In West Ham United v E20 Stadium LLP, Paul Downes QC led the West Ham team, including Joseph Sullivan.
South Square is a 'first choice chambers for high quality and complex mandates', and a 'go-to set for offshore insolvency and commercial litigation'. Members are unmatched when it comes to the intersection between high-end insolvency, banking and fraud cases, as has been demonstrated by their ongoing involvement in the Lehmans' litigation. Significant cases include Deutsche Trustee Co Ltd v Bangkok Land (Cayman Islands) Ltd in which David Allison QC led Stephen Robins. Several members were also involved in the dispute concerning the Debenhams CVA, with Tom Smith QC, Jeremy Goldring QC and Richard Fisher QC among those acting for the retailer.
4 Pump Court offers 'consistently excellent service and expertise, backed by top rate clerking'. The set does well to merge its strengths in more specialised areas, such as IT, construction, insurance, and shipping, with the broader commercial litigation sphere. Multijurisdictional disputes typically feature high on the agenda, and Stephen Cogley QC and Alexander Wright recently worked together on a major claim in the Russian energy sector. Nigel Tozzi QC led a team from chambers, on behalf of the Indian banks, in State Bank of India and 12 others v Mallya, while Nicholas Vineall QC represented Bank Mellat in the high profile Bank Mellat v HMT Treasury.
Gatehouse Chambers is a 'dynamic and proactive' set, 'which has been especially apparent during the Covid-19 crisis'. Several clients praise the 'excellent training programmes in various areas'. The versatile commercial set draws on strengths from across several areas, including insolvency, insurance, franchising and Chancery disputes. Clients also note the set is 'one of the most human and engaging, with counsel who live in the real world'. Major mandates include the SKAT Litigation, in which Nigel Jones QC and Laurence Page are representing Sanjay Shah. David Lewis QC and Emily Betts acted together in the shareholder dispute, Andersson v Kamran.
Enterprise Chambers is praised for its 'fantastic range of members' all of whom are 'personable and approachable'. Clients appreciate the set's 'very able barristers, particularly at the senior junior level'. The members are highly experienced in commercial chancery matters. Notable cases include Serious Fraud Office v Smith & Others, in which James Pickering QC (who just took silk) is representing the liquidators. Jennifer Meech represents fashion designer John Richmond, who faces claims for €54m by the liquidators of a company of which he was a director. Another highlight for Niall McCulloch was representing Brazil's state of Mariana in a £5bn claim against BHP following a dam collapse in Brazil.
Erskine Chambers is 'an excellent set for corporate law issues and company disputes', fielding a selection of 'very professional and very good to deal with' barristers and clerks. As well as company law issues and shareholder disputes, the set also offers strong capabilities in related areas such as civil fraud. Stephen Smith QC has a standout reputation and led a team including James Potts QC and Patrick Harty on Mezhprombank v Pugachev. Other highlight cases included Interactive Technology v Ferster, in which Andrew Thompson QC and Nigel Dougherty were part of a sizeable team from within chambers.
Littleton Chambers is 'a quality outfit with a strong reputation for disputes emanating from Russia and the CIS'. The set has 'an excellent spread of experience and availability' and is noted for its 'good range of talent with some strong mid-level juniors'. Major recent cases include Allergy Therapeutics Ltd v Inflamax Research Inc, where Charles Samek QC and Ashley Cukier acted for Inflamax, and Marc Delehanty was part of the opposing team. Rupert D’Cruz and Alexander Halban, both noted for their Russian language ability, are also representing Valeriy Korotkov in AOS Holdings AG & Ors v Valeriy Korotkov & Ors.