London: commercial sets
Just as the solicitors' profession has a 'magic circle' of law firms, so too does London's commercial Bar. While the precise composition of this elite group may be up for debate, Brick Court Chambers, Essex Court Chambers, One Essex Court, Fountain Court and Blackstone Chambers would all qualify for inclusion. What is beyond doubt is that there are many highly successful barristers' chambers in Central London - a large proportion of them concentrated in and around the four Inns of Court.
Barristers tend to be very familiar with their peers and rivals, as they regularly compete with them for work or square off across the courtroom. Even within a specialist area, sets will have a particular reputation, or their size and style will mark them out from others. A good example is construction law, which has two acknowledged frontrunners: Keating Chambers and Atkin Chambers. Keating is bigger and probably acts for construction companies more often in disputes. Atkin is smaller; its reputation is more closely associated with representing parties in dispute with construction companies, and some suggest that it has more of an academic bent than Keating. As you get closer to making a decision about your pupillage applications, insight like this becomes important.
There are multiple areas of specialisation, even within the commercial Bar itself: commercial contract disputes, banking and finance, shipping and international trade, tax, intellectual property, professional negligence … the list goes on. Some of the top commercial sets pay pupils handsomely (a few of them up to £60,000) and usually allow some funds to be accessed during law school. Your academic and other credentials will need to be impeccable to pass muster here: look at the biographies of junior members of a set for guidance on what its recruiters are looking for.
For a profile of a barrister who is part of a commercial set, see Tim Chelmick of 4 New Square.