Yet more drastic action forced on criminal sets by the legal aid cuts.
Argent Chambers will be no more — in name, at least — from next Tuesday after it announced that it is to leave its premises and move in with mixed civil and crime set Goldsmith Chambers on 6 May.
The new combined outfit will be called The Chambers of Anthony Metzer QC at Goldsmith Chambers. While headed by former Argent chief Metzer, it will drop the Argent name and be based at Goldsmith’s current offices in the Temple.
The merger will see all 35 of Argent’s barristers, plus its four pupils, move to the new site. Argent’s culture of flexible working will apparently help everyone fit into the building. One voluntary redundancy is believed to have been made among the set’s support staff.
Argent senior clerk Michael Martin told Legal Cheek that the tie-up had been forced by the legal aid cuts, which have left the cost of Argent’s premises prohibitively high. He added that the set’s situation was very different to that which faced Tooks Chambers, the set headed by high profile silk Michael Mansfield QC which was forced out of business last year. Martin explained:
“We are not doing a Tooks. We are very busy in terms of work volumes, but the reduction in fees from legal aid work has obviously hit all criminal sets. The issue is that the building we are in is too expensive. We should have got out of it 2-3 years ago.”
“But things have never got out control. Following previous merger discussions that didn’t come off, we met and merged with Goldsmiths in six weeks.”
Barristers and clerks have spent the week clearing out possessions from Argent’s current Bell Yard premises, as Legal Cheek spies spotted.
Like a host of other criminal chambers, Argent is not offering a pupillage this year, nor is it taking on mini-pupils. But it currently has four pupils on its books, and Goldsmith Chambers has three, adding up to a whopping seven wannabe tenants. Nevertheless, Martin insisted that the set’s current pupils would not be affected by the changes.