Britain's highest paid barristers command fees of up to £1.5m a year

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The Independent Online

Britain's richest barristers earn as much as £1.5m a year, according to a table of legal rankings to be published today.

Britain's richest barristers earn as much as £1.5m a year, according to a table of legal rankings to be published today.

Tax specialists are at the top of the list, charging an estimated £900 an hour in fees for advising some of the best-known companies on their tax-avoidance strategies.

Graham Aaronson QC, Michael Flesch QC and David Goldberg QC, are, according to this year's Legal 500 of leading barristers and solicitors, the highest earners at the Bar. They are closely followed by three commercial silks, led by the Labour peer Lord Grabiner QC, who are each estimated to have earned £1.25m last year. The other two are Gordon Pollock QC and Jonathan Sumption QC.

Teresa Sandon, editor of the annual rankings, which will be revealed tonight before an audience of 500 lawyers, said: "The specialist tax Bar has always offered the greatest potential rewards and has suffered less from the recent slowdown in litigation."

They can afford to charge the highest rates because they use their "financial wizardry" to save companies huge amounts in tax, she added.

Later this month a second legal table, published by Chambers & Partners, is also expected to name these six barristers as the Bar's biggest earners as well as a handful of other silks who belong to the exclusive "million-a-year club".

One silk expected to be named for the first time as a member of the club is George Carman QC, libel barrister to the stars, who announced his retirement last month after being diagnosed as suffering from prostate cancer. Although it has been often suggested that Mr Carman's practice was worth £1m a year, this is the first time he has been included.

Now much of Mr Carman's work is up for grabs and other libel lawyers are being approached as possible candidates to replace him in a series of high-profile cases due to start later this year and next year.

Ms Sandon estimated that there were no more than 15 barristers who received £1m in fees each year.

Today the Legal 500 makes clear that earnings at the Bar vary considerably and that it is the reputation of the barrister that counts the most. "A corporate tax junior of seven or eight years call [experience] can make as much, if not more, than a reasonably successful criminal silk. Top-flight silks at the commercial Bar earn four or five times as much as less successful ones," Ms Sandon said.

Hourly rates also vary from just £20 for a newly qualified barrister in criminal law to £900 an hour at the top end of the tax Bar, according to the Legal 500, which does not take account of deductions for tax and chambers rent.