How much do commercial QCs earn?
firstamongequals 03 Jun 21 12:43
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My parents have recently become friendly with one who moved in nearby in possibly the most massive house on the street in their (admittedly rather expensive) corner of London. Easily 6 mil, I am told (although gossipy exaggeration is a real possibility). 

Guess I'm just being nosey really but is this normal or even possible? I knew some barristers did very well as a relative is one, but I always assumed they were also exaggerating when they said that a few of the leading silks at the commercial sets can sometimes earn about 4 mil in a good year. It just sounds too far fetched. 

There are one or tax bazzas who might earn figures approaching that, but not general commercial/chancery.

The bar is not exactly well known for its commitment to social mobility in practice

I would guess that inheritances and the BOMAD may have contributed to the £6 million purchase price

Top QCs at OEC, Fountain, Essex, Brick etc will be on £2-2.5m, sometimes more.  

£2m  just about doable for top chambers we struggle to see how they can earn more than that

I know a bazza  who only does corporate advisory work and whose net worth is circa £150m mostly from reinvesting the huge amounts of fee income he couldn't physically spend.  He's not even a silk.

I would be immediately suspicious of anyone telling you they were worth £150m  - genuinely super wealthy people tend to not broadcast their assets

It's not that unusual. There was another bazza recently who sold the contents of his wine rack for £8m

Think about the proportion of your own net worth that is your wine collection Vs the value of your home. 

Guy, he didn't tell me that himself but I've seen some of the investments

That was Ian Mill, was it not?

Always had a good taste in wine.

The bar council reported on legal futures website there were 125 barristers who billed more than £1 million and 200 that billed more than 500. 4 million would be wholly exceptional and would be the preserve of a couple of tax silks in an extremely busy year. A very busy “magic circle” silk doing com lit / arbitration might bill a 1/1.5 in a year. You can only do so many trials in a year , and most settle well before any trial ...

 

remember there are a fair few sets whose charge out rates dwarf the so called MC sets, think 7 KBW , Wilberforce, Maitland and Erskine to name but a few .

But Bailey your area is infinitely more interesting and exciting by a billion miles .

brief fees can skew things particularly at the upper end of the bar but

assume 1,500-2,000 hours per year

a commercial silk will be between £350 and £1,000 an hour, with most in the £450-650 bracket

gives you a range of £500k-£2m

obv people have good years and bad years but anyone averaging around the £1m mark is doing very well. Only superstars will regularly do better than that.

Heff, how much dolla do you boss? Can you buy us a pint, guv?

not as much as the equity partner at a good silver circle firm who lives opposite us, duckster

but certainly enough to buy you a pint, which I would do with pleasure

Pretty much what Heff said and for obvious reasons there has been an ever increasing trend to deliver the brief later and later . US clients hate the split profession and hate the brief fee regime and getting authority to brief counsel to attend a 3 week trial is very hard work. TBF the brief fee thing should go in com lit cases , that said even busy top end chambers are being quite novel and competitive in this regard 

Assuming he had cash for say 20% then he'd only need to be earning £1m or so a year to get a mortgage to cover the other £4.8m.

yes, but jamiestone is also right

the bazzas with the nicest houses are independently wealthy

3m is possible for a few top comm lit and arbitration silks in a good year. But very hard to do consistently without killing themselves. 

Because I assume random people are the same sex as me unless told otherwise.

Not sure this is a thing anymore but it used to happen. Clerk would double book a Bazzas diary and get two briefs delivered then sit and pray one cracked , and if it did the Bazza in effect gets double bubble. Extremely risky strategy but if it works you can see how a top silk can get a bit nearer to the sims being touted here. 
the lawyer used to publish average RPB of the MC sets and from memory it was about a million a year . Not sure how accurate that is if the Bar Council say only 125 Bazzas bill more than 1 million which is about 15 Bazzas each in the top 8 com lit /chancery sets...

In what way Heff , I assumed they were incredibly exaggerated. I’ll stick with the Bar Council figures.

By the time you're earning £1m a year it's unlikely you'll need a 4.8m mortgage.

Sucker I do a fair few mortgages in that bracket as with current interest rates they take the view you're better investing your cash in something with a return and instead using someone else's cheap cash to pay for your house.

£1 - 2m is fairly usual for a decent silk at a decent set. Some are in the £2 - 5m range

The OP question is s bit like asking ‘how much money does a business make’ Depends how it is run. 

Herr those in the £2MM-5MM range are unlikely to be your " knock about" com lit/arbitration specialists though are they? Probably more tax , planning, company specialists?

My friend works at KMPG, they briefed a senior junior 15 years call or so, at one of the two leading tax sets to advise a corporate. 50 page advice , a day in con. That will be 100k please.

And even then is probaly no more than a couple of dozen or so

I would say we have 2 or 3 ‘golden’ QCs in our set - absolutely the top in their specialism, insane and competitive workaholics and multi-taskers, plus such a reliable source of work that they are able to get the best juniors in chambers to produce work at the drop of a hat.  I recently was the junior on a really demanding urgent injunction that went to court on a Sunday night.  I was astonished to find that my QC was in court opening a lengthy trial on the Monday morning - who on earth says yes to doing the injunction in those circumstances? The same guy sometimes gets up early before a full day in court to draft opinions in other matters. Books three hotel rooms every half term when he goes away to the Maldives or wherever - one for him and the wife, one for the kids, one as an office he is going to spend the entire holiday in.  It’s rare for someone to have the ability to work that hard, with such focus, for long hours and with no end in sight.  It’s seriously impressive and almost inhuman.  But there’s a few who can manage it and they make an absolute fortune.

My friend works at KMPG, they briefed a senior junior 15 years call or so, at one of the two leading tax sets to advise a corporate. 50 page advice , a day in con. That will be 100k please.

Given that I've seen rather cursory tax reports of 8-10 pages from the Big 4 costing £10-15k, with 4-5 of those pages being boilerplate that does not change from report to report, that sounds like pretty good (relative) value for specialist advice actually requiring skill and thought.

Indeed celeb , downside is so many collapse and fall dead without notice . I must have read of about 6 or so in the last year or so . Who wants to go on hols and book a room for an office . Madness 

Books three hotel rooms every half term when he goes away to the Maldives or wherever - one for him and the wife, one for the kids, one as an office he is going to spend the entire holiday in. 

sounds miserable

Heffalump03 Jun 21 13:38

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not as much as the equity partner at a good silver circle firm who lives opposite us, duckster

but certainly enough to buy you a pint, which I would do with pleasure

 

yeah Heff, but not every silver circle partner works for Macs.

As someone who has only ever briefed Counsel in pretty small-fry ‘knock-about’ litigation, how soon before a fixed 3 week Commercial Lit trial at the RCJ would Counsel be expected to be be briefed?

2 weeks?

 

That sounds pretty crap for that silk tbh deadcelebrity.

Assume Pannick and Grabiner highest earners?

Jeez, how old is Grabiner now? He was one of the "top" silks when he came and gave a pompous talk to the law students 20 years ago when I was still studying. Haven't the other people of his vintage retired now?

Sumption retired , Pollock passed away, Goldsmith coining it in at Debevoise, Pannick smashing it although not as a pure com lit/arb specialist . Not seen Grabs reported as much probably semi retired, who have I missed.

Yeah utterly miserable existence to work constantly but just making the point that If your hourly rate is £1,200 and you are an in-demand workaholic with a scary ability to keep working you will tend to make boatloads of cash.

Yeah utterly miserable existence to work constantly but just making the point that If your hourly rate is £1,200 and you are an in-demand workaholic with a scary ability to keep working you will tend to make boatloads of cash.

Fairly safe to assume that they love their work more than their wife, children or holidays. Remember the people at uni who were constantly working, wanking off the tutors and having extracurricular law discussion groups? These bazzas love it more than that. 

 

" certainly enough to buy you a pint, which I would do with pleasure"

laugh

fooking hell Grabiner is 76 , I can’t imagine he does much trial work now.

@ JC Denton I would put Christopher Butcher QC at least in that bracket . Silk at 13 years call , fellow of all souls , often called sumption ii I see he has now been a judge since 2018, very strange .

Marshall Hall03 Jun 21 18:45

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As someone who has only ever briefed Counsel in pretty small-fry ‘knock-about’ litigation, how soon before a fixed 3 week Commercial Lit trial at the RCJ would Counsel be expected to be be briefed?

2 weeks?

As early as possible. Not just for prep, but you will struggle to find anyone decent with a clear diary if you are as late as that.

for a 3 week trial, at least 6 weeks in advance. but bear in mind if you're instructing someone that late he or she is not going to do anything to sort out any problems like whether the case has been pleaded properly or whether you have adequate evidence

Thanks, sozza I should have said it was on the assumption that they had already been engaged during the case in pleadings, cons, and the like.

I always try to get the brief to retained counsel for my knockabout cases a clear week before, and tell the oppo in advance, that so they know the brief fee will be incurred.

Once the brief in a comm lit case is delivered, are clerks willing to negotiate a discount if it settles, say a week beforehand?

for a significant trial you often agree that liability for brief accrues in stages

30% 6 weeks before, 60% 4 weeks before, 100% 2 weeks before etc

Assuming it’s the same counsel that has been retained throughout there is no reason why the brief can’t be delivered 10 or so days before trial , they won’t learn anything new about the case they didn’t no before . Of course they would want you to deliver the brief 8 weeks before, as there is still a chance the trial might crack and they get the fat juicy brief fee , probably along with another from a different client to be heard at the same time . Of course then if both trials stand up, everyone is fooked and your brief is returned to someone else in chambers whose diary is clear and they can take the case at short notice . Inevitably such available person is shit .

The last 2 week hearing I did (just before 1st lockdown), counsel wanted 6 weeks to prep and a staged brief just as Heff suggested.  Leader and junior were working full time for those 6 weeks (one or other of them would email or call several times a day).  They'd been involved for at least 18 months (dispute has been running in various guises for 7 years), but you can't just rock up on 2 weeks notice on technical issues with that volume of documentation even if you have the legal arguments and analysis nailed.  You need to know the documents inside out.  There was a bit of lay evidence, but it mostly turned on 4 different experts on each side, each with reports (and supplemental reports) running to hundreds of pages.  Brief for the Silk (top 10-15 in the real property world (as opposed to L&T) ) was £150k and the junior £85k.  Total trial cost with refreshers and disbursements for both was about £325k.  All fees were negotiated down by 30-40% from where the clerks started.  Silk's notional hourly rate is £850.

I'm involved in a big prof neg claim defending someone at the moment.  The silk there is on slightly over £1k an hour (and is worth it - v impressive), but I was told by someone on the case of a prof neg silk who charges £1800 p/hr and doesn't do a brief (I don't know the anticipated length of trial, but presumably 4-6 weeks plus) for less than 7 figures.

Did they name that Prof neg Silk? Seems very high at 1800.

[email protected]'s message of 12:27

one sometimes gets seduced into thinking he knows what he's talking about and then, wham, there's the reference to Hull university

what a load of nonsense

a prof neg silk who charges £1800 p/hr and doesn't do a brief (I don't know the anticipated length of trial, but presumably 4-6 weeks plus) for less than 7 figures

I have no idea who that could be. I suspect it's actually a big hitting commercial silk who'll turn his/her hand to prof neg if the case is big enough. No one at the usual prof neg sets would be charging that much.

You can search the land register in a few months to see and also see if he has a mortgage (he probably does). He might be on £1m and borrowed £4m or something like that.

There are guys out there charging round the £2,000 mark but in my area at least it’s not the super busy whizz kid QCs but the godfather types who are a bit past it but have a reputation as legends in their particular specialism. They charge masses because  they don’t want to work all the time and they genuinely think they are twice as good as someone who has been made silk in the last 10 years. Rely heavily on juniors to do their actual work without acknowledging this to the solicitors in the slightest (not that I’m bitter or anything). 

And yeah the premise of this thread is weird- it’s not surprising that someone consistently earning £1m pa would be able to afford a £6m house with a mortgage and a massive wedge of equity from their previous property, no need to posit a £4m annual income.

1800 quid for a prof neg silk, not even Fountain Court would charge that and 4 NS certainly wouldn’t . I doubt even Sumptions hourly rate was anywhere near that .

What Heff said re the prof neg bar. Probably one of the Fountain Court folks dabbling.

 

Brief for the Silk (top 10-15 in the real property world (as opposed to L&T) ) was £150k and the junior £85k.  Total trial cost with refreshers and disbursements for both was about £325k.  All fees were negotiated down by 30-40% from where the clerks started.  Silk's notional hourly rate is £850.

 

Sounds OK value to me - did you win...?!

I didn't know the silk - I only deal with prof neg where it's relevant to my niche area, so the prof neg is a bit of a sideshow, and normally I'd be claimant rather than defendant (this one is complicated and messy in terms of relationships, with claims in both directions, hence the poacher turning game keeper).  I think the silk at £1800 probably was Fountain Court, but the name didn't mean anything to me, not being a pure prof neg bod.  I got the impression they were more than dabbling towards retirement, but I genuinely don't know any more than the anecdote.

On the 2 week hearing, yes we mainly won, but it's only one of a number of engagements.  I think we're currently winning and confident we'll win overall, although a win in this context is much more about mitigating and controlling risk and cost; it's not a simple damages claim.

Tony G is still working and sharp as a razor.  

Both he and Pannick are utterly great to work with in my experience.