Selborne Chambers, the property and general commercial set launched six months ago under the leadership of former Hardwicke Building heavyweight Romie Tager QC, was considered something of an experiment. In recent times only two other sets besides Selborne have started from scratch – Matrix and Ely Place. Selborne was the result of a bulk departure from Hardwicke and a group lateral move from 29 Bedford Row. Also, Tager was putting into practice his belief that solicitor-clients were increasingly looking for chambers that focused on practice areas rather than being multidisciplinary.
Despite the set’s focus on property and commercial, it also handles a variety of other work – asset tracing, fraud, professional negligence, development and housing and landlord and tenant – which spin off from its core work. Practitioners in these areas are much in demand at present, and the set’s fraud arm means that it is more likely to receive international instructions.
Offshore centres are beginning to provide work too, particularly in the Caribbean, where Tager has received his first British Virgin Islands case, in which a shareholder dispute has evolved into an application to wind up a company. Such work is good training for Selborne’s juniors. The chambers was also instructed on a £240m asset freezing case involving Brazil, Switzerland, Hong Kong, the US and the UK.
Such work may not be great shakes for the magic circle sets, but for tenants used to mainly domestic instructions, it represents a positive step. However, although it hopes to develop ‘professional contacts’ in mainland Europe, its focus will be on jurisdictions practising English law.
While international work features prominently on Selborne’s strategic radar, marketing itself in the regions hardly features at all. Currently, any provinces work stems from London instructions that lead to cases before regional courts. In London it receives no magic circle work, content to stick to its medium-sized client base, which includes longstanding clients Mishcon de Reya, Dechert and Jeffrey Green Russell.
Keeping small means that the set can afford to cherry-pick from applicants. The original group, besides Tager, included the highly-rated property commercial practitioner Philip Kremen and five others, plus seasoned ex-Hardwicke clerk Greg Piner. Since then some impressive silks have joined, including the former head of 29 Bedford Row Peter Ralls QC, a respected general commercial practitioner with arbitration experience, and Ajmalul Hossain QC, who boasts rich international connections with substantial Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) work on his CV. The set, which now numbers 16 tenants, is planning to hire two juniors of 5-10 years call and one of 15 years.
Selborne has ruled out hiring a chief executive and has no committees running the show. All decisions are made informally and with consensus. The set would not say to what extent tenants contribute to the running of the chambers, although it did say that they are higher than other chambers, because they currently account for both running and start-up costs, the latter being paid off over three years.
The Lawyer 24 February 2003