Tom Adam QC

Year of Call: 1991 Silk: 2008

Clerk: Julian Hawes

Tom Adam QC

Year of Call: 1991 Silk: 2008

Clerk: Julian Hawes


“Undoubtedly one of the most brilliant legal minds of his generation.”
- Chambers & Partners 2015

“Commercial, user-friendly and a delight to work with. He has terrific judgement and is an accomplished advocate.”
- Chambers & Partners 2015


Tom Adam QC took silk in 2008 after 16 years at the Bar and has acquired a reputation as a powerful trial advocate in a broad range of commercial work. It comes as no surprise to learn that a silk who regularly attracts adjectives such as “steely”, “tenacious” and “robust” won a boxing blue, as well as more conventional academic prizes, when at Cambridge.

Tom is widely acknowledged as a market leader in complex professional negligence and professional disciplinary matters, and is regularly called upon to defend the Magic Circle firms of solicitors, leading members of the Bar and the Big Four accountants.  He has acted in many cases in the public eye:  for the successful solicitors in The Football League Limited v edge ellison (2005), for the successful auditors in (the now notorious) Stone & Rolls v Moore Stephens (2009), for Harbottle & Lewis when attacked by Rupert Murdoch in the phone hacking scandal (2011) and for Freshfields in the Takeover Panel proceedings relating to Vallar plc/Bumi (2015). 

Professional disciplinary matters require a delicate touch and Tom has years of experience in dealing with the SRA, the FRC, the ICAEW and other regulatory bodies on behalf of blue chip clients. (He was himself a regulator for some years, sitting on the Bar’s Professional Disciplinary Committee.)  These matters are obviously confidential but Tom has become a “go to” adviser for professionals faced with the threat of disciplinary action in complex cases.

Tom is also one of the UK’s leading insurance/reinsurance lawyers ("He's a really properly excellent insurance litigator. He's dead good." - Chambers & Partners 2014), with a depth of experience going back to the Lloyd’s litigation of the 1990s and handling cases worth billions of dollars, often in arbitration.

In addition to his commercial practice Tom has a real expertise in the law of privilege and is regularly instructed by The Law Society to advise and appear in privilege cases in which the Society is intervening, given their significance to the profession as a whole.  This includes the two leading House of Lords/Supreme Court cases, Three Rivers No 6 (2005) and Prudential v Pandolfo (2012).

practice areas

Tom Adam (named by one source as “undoubtedly one of the most brilliant legal minds of his generation” - Chambers & Partners 2015) has a broad-based civil practice dealing with substantial commercial disputes of all kinds. Although he has a busy advisory practice for many well-known clients, he relishes advocacy in all its forms and has a reputation as a powerful trial advocate. It comes as no surprise that a silk who regularly attracts adjectives such as "steely", "tenacious" and "robust" won a boxing blue when at Cambridge.

Tom writes and lectures on professional negligence law for insurance brokers (Chapter 10 in Professional Negligence & Liability), and the law of privilege.


Professional experience

Tom initially qualified as a solicitor, completing articles in 1990 and doing one year PQE (in the Blue Arrow fraud trial) at Macfarlanes. However, he had decided that what he enjoyed most about litigation was advocacy, and took pupillage at Brick Court Chambers in 1991. He was offered tenancy in 1992 and took silk in 2008.

Although he regards it as important to maintain a wide practice in order to stay in touch with as broad a section of commercial activities as possible, Tom has various niche areas of specialisation in banking/corporate finance, professional negligence and insurance/ reinsurance.

Banking/corporate finance

  • Following the nationalisation of Bradford & Bingley in 2008, claims were threatened by shareholders who had bought shares in a rights issue only weeks before the collapse. Tom acted for both the bank (in effect the Government) and its board of directors in successfully rebutting these claims. This involved analysing the underlying reasons for the bank's failure (its involvement in the sub-prime mortgage market) and advising on some unexplored areas of financial services law.
  • The insolvency and restructuring of British Energy led to a complex suite of banking documents in relation to one particular asset, a power station in the UK. Tom has acted for British Energy (and then EdF) in a series of successful disputes, at first instance and on appeal, over the construction of the various interlocking banking agreements.
  • In 2014 Tom conducted a 5 week Commercial Court trial (Renaissance Capital v African Minerals Limited) defending a mining company against multiple commission claims (exceeding $120m) from a Russian investment bank on numerous transactions. 
  • Other recent banking work has included defending a major UK bank on allegations relating to adequacy of its discretionary portfolio management for high net worth individuals, advising a medium-sized Gulf bank on its position in relation to a complex series of frauds, and advising a major Swiss bank about the terms of a state credit default insurance.

In addition, Tom's professional negligence practice for (and occasionally against) the "magic circle" firms of solicitors regularly crosses over into high value banking transactions.  For example:

  • In 2006 he acted for a firm being threatened with claims arising out of the Russian banking crisis of 1998
  • In 2007 he acted for a firm which was being sued for contribution by an investment bank after a corporate finance transaction had gone wrong.
  • In 2008 he advised a firm in relation to claims being threatened arising out of the collapse of Enron
  • In 2010 he advised a firm being threatened with claims arising from the collapse of Lehman and the form of a Prime Brokerage Agreement under which assets of almost US$1bn were being held
  • In 2010-2011 he acted for Credit Suisse in relation to its well-publicised claim against Linklaters arising from the drafting of a forward sale agreement as part of a complex scheme for the refinancing of Parmalat's Brazilian subsidiary.

Professional negligence

Tom is regularly instructed in professional negligence disputes involving the leading firms of accountants, insurance brokers and solicitors. His broad commercial experience enables him to get to grips with transactions in all sorts of different commercial spheres and to make an accurate assessment of where strengths and weaknesses lie; he has appeared in some of the highest profile cases in recent years. Significant past and present cases include:

  • Stone & Rolls v Moore Stephens at all levels including the House of Lords. In this landmark case, which sharply divided judicial and academic opinion, Tom's auditor clients faced a claim for negligent failure to detect that their corporate client was being used as a vehicle for fraud by its owner and controller. They succeeded in having the claim struck out on the basis that the company itself had been guilty of the dishonest conduct which it was said the auditors should have detected, and thus could not mount a claim.
  • Tom was heavily involved in the summer of 2011 for Harbottle & Lewis in relation to the allegation by Rupert Murdoch that they made a "serious mistake" in relation to the phone hacking scandal; this encompassed dealing not only with News International itself but also with Parliament and the Leveson Enquiry.
  • MCashback v Nabarro LLP - Tom defended Nabarro LLP against a very heavy negligence claim (put at about £125m) relating to the conduct of underlying litigation between 2006 and 2009.  The case was set down for a 6 week trial in the Chancery Division in November 2014 but settled in about June 2014.
  • The Football League v edge ellison: following the collapse of ITV Digital, the League sued its solicitors for failing to advise that a parent company guarantee should have been obtained on the original sale of broadcasting rights. This has become a leading case on the line between legal and commercial advice from solicitors.
  • SocGen v RSA and others: Societe Generale claimed against its insurers, with claims over against its insurance brokers (for one of whom Tom acted), after $500m of gold bullion went missing in Turkey.
  • Credit Suisse v Linklaters: this claim, well covered in the legal press, arose from the collapse of Parmalat. Tom acted for Credit Suisse in its complaint that it had been badly advised on Italian law by Linklaters.
  • Guy Hands & O'rs v Baker Tilly & Another: Tom defended a member of the tax Bar in a group action relating to a tax avoidance scheme.
  • Reed Employment v Robson Rhodes - Reed is the well-known temporary employment business.  In 1998 it entered into a tax scheme on the advice of its then accountants, Robson Rhodes; ultimately this was challenged by HMRC and litigation followed.  Tom is acting for Reed in a claim over against Robson Rhodes; the quantum could exceed £100m.
  • In addition, Tom is regularly instructed by the Big Four accountants to defend both negligence claims (usually in audit but also in advisory matters) and professional disciplinary proceedings.


Tom's practice has included a substantial amount of insurance and reinsurance work from the moment he joined Chambers. Most of this has been undertaken in arbitrations, especially in the reinsurance market, and is therefore confidential but in the last decade the value of the large number of insurance/reinsurance arbitrations in which Tom has appeared could conservatively be valued at well in excess of $2bn. Tom is also instructed from time to time as an expert in English law on insurance/reinsurance cases in other jurisdictions and as an arbitrator in insurance/reinsurance disputes.

Outside arbitrations, cases include:

  • Advising the Football Association on the insurance position in relation to a career-ending injury suffered by a well-known international footballer while on England duty
  • Rendall v Combined Insurance Company of America (reinsurance claim for Aon Corp for losses arising from the attacks on the World Trade Center)
  • Midland Mainline v Commercial Union (Hatfield rail disaster business interruption insurance)
  • HIH v New Hampshire (CA) (film finance)
  • Mander v Commercial Union (broker's misuse of binding authority)
  • The Capricorn ("loss of hire" insurance)

Tom’s current reinsurance/insurance work includes an arbitration relating to the reinsurance of financial risks arising from a portfolio of guaranteed annuity retirement policies, and an inherent vice dispute relating to a submarine electricity cable.

Other commercial litigation

Other commercial cases include:

  • Acting for the London Stock Exchange in relation to the flotation of Rosneft in 2006. Yukos was alleging that Rosneft had, in effect, stolen its assets and was seeking to prevent the flotation proceeding; this was the largest IPO which had ever taken place on the Exchange.
  • Obtaining a mandatory injunction for specific performance of an obligation to release an aircraft mortgage over a fleet of military helicopters in 2011.
  • Acting for the claimants in an expedited trial relating to allegations of fraudulent misrepresentation in a joint venture investing in land in Bulgaria.
  • A commodities arbitration relating to the supply of steel under New York law (UCC).


Tom is regularly instructed by The Law Society in relation to questions relating to privilege. He appeared in the House of Lords when the Society intervened in Three Rivers DC v Bank of England (No 6) on the scope of legal advice privilege, and in both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in Prudential v Pandolfo on whether advice on the law from accountants attracts legal advice privilege. He also advises the Society from time to time on other, confidential, matters.

In 2009 Tom appeared in Pride v Institute of Animal Health, successfully applying for extensive economic loss claims arising from the national foot and mouth outbreak in 2007 to be struck out.

Directory Quotes

A selection of comments about Tom since he took silk in 2008:

  • "He's got a really excellent style in court, he's very good with clients, and he gives robust, clear advice." "A good cross-examiner with great knowledge of the case." (Chambers & Partners 2018)
  • "Very, very good at advocacy and he manages expectations very well." "He is bright, intelligent, responsive and easy to work with." (Chambers & Partners 2018)
  • "A superb analyst and excellent to work with." "He has got a really excellent style in court and is very good with clients. He gives robust, clear advice." (Chambers & Partners 2018)
  • "First-class with excellent experience in this area (commercial litigation)". (The Legal 500 2017)
  • "A wonderful team player and an outstanding performer." (The Legal 500 2017)
  • "A robust advocate, who adapts his style expertly to the case in hand." (The Legal 500 2017)
  • "He provides clear thinking and pragmatic advice." (The Legal 500 2017)
  • "He continues to impress on large complex litigation, and he's the first choice for challenges to existing law." "He has a great ability to break down complex issues." (Chambers & Partners 2017)
  • "His cross-examination is sublime and a joy to behold. Also, despite being diabolically bright, he is a good person to work with and helps get things done." "Gets stuck in and enthuses clients with his committed approach." (Chambers & Partners 2017)
  • "A superb analyst who is excellent to work with." "He is very clever, incisive and effective." (Chambers & Partners 2017)
  • "Very bright, able and user-friendly, and a good advocate." (The Legal 500 2016)
  • "He gets stuck in and enthuses clients with his committed approach." (The Legal 500 2016)
  • "One of the greatest legal minds of his generation." (The Legal 500 2016)
  • "He has great qualities, and is bright and good in court." "Tom did a very good job at trial - he was good on cross-examination and took on board a lot of background facts." (Chambers & Partners 2016)
  • “Highly regarded by instructing parties and peers alike, with one source naming him as "undoubtedly one of the most brilliant legal minds of his generation."” (Chambers & Partners 2015)
  • "Commercial, user-friendly and a delight to work with. He has terrific judgement and is an accomplished advocate." "Clearly had a grasp of the detail that was second to none. A very good advocate who was very good on cross-examination; he knew where he was going tactically." (Chambers & Partners 2015)
  • "A superb analyst and excellent to work with." "He is bright, hard-working, lateral thinking, and he has a good sense of what argument will work with a particular judge." (Chambers & Partners 2015)
  • “A compelling advocate, who is persuasive and agile in oral argument.” (The Legal 500 2014)
  • “Very bright, robust, hardworking and interested.” (The Legal 500 2014)
  • “Enthuses clients with his committed approach.” (The Legal 500 2014)
  • "He's a really properly excellent insurance litigator. He's dead good." (Chambers & Partners 2014)
  • "He gets very directly and quickly to the key issues, does everything with panache and a great sense of humour." "A clever and punchy barrister, he doesn't shy away from detail, and is extremely clear in his thinking." (Chambers & Partners 2014)
  • "Ferociously bright." "He always knows the documents in a case inside out." (Chambers & Partners 2014)
  • "Another favourite of solicitors for complex cases of some magnitude is the "exceptional" Tom Adam QC, who has a breadth of knowledge that enables him to take on an impressive range of substantial claims." (Chambers & Partners 2013)
  • "an "extremely responsive" young silk, who is a strong trial advocate with a powerful command of the facts in a case." (Chambers & Partners 2013)
  • "unbelievably bright" (Chambers & Partners 2012)
  • His clients love him since he is‘enormously incisive and hugely clever', and also appreciate that he has a ‘great sense of humour'." (Chambers & Partners 2012)
  • "Not only is Tom Adam QC‘very entertaining and easy to work with', he also ‘quickly gets to grips with complex issues so you can be assured he will think right around a problem'." (Chambers & Partners 2012)
  • "‘without a doubt the most capable brain of his generation." (Legal 500 2011)
  • "Tom Adam QC has ‘a razor-sharp mind'." (Legal 500 2011)
  • "a rising star at the Insurance Bar" (Chambers & Partners 2011)
  • "hugely talented individual and a complete joy to work with" (Chambers & Partners 2011)
  • "Always able to think his way around a problem, he is an asset to any team." (Chambers & Partners 2010)
  • "As ‘one of the most brilliant junior barristers of his generation', Tom Adam QC is ‘expected to become one of the established silks of the future'." (Chambers & Partners 2010)
  • "Tom Adam QC is praised for his ‘steely drive', and is also noted for possessing ‘bountiful charisma'." (Chambers & Partners 2010)
  • "throws himself into a case with a robust style that makes him an effective advocate." (Chambers & Partners, 2009)
  • "Brightness and self-confidence"; "he always comes through at trial." (Chambers & Partners, 2009)
  • "superb knowledge of insurance law" "excellent relationships with solicitors." (Chambers & Partners, 2009)
  • "a tenacious advocate, equally at home in court or before an arbitration tribunal.  Observers are impressed by the ‘conviction and emphasis with which he delivers his points'." (Chambers & Partners 2008)
  • " ‘Bright, industrious and witty,' he ‘really adds value.' " (Chambers & Partners 2008)
  • "One of ‘the first choices for a case involving auditors in a big financial institution', Tom Adam is ‘a barrister it is hard to find fault with.' Extremely confident and a quality advocate." (Chambers & Partners 2008)

Tom takes pride in the fact that these comments illustrate that he is a team player, with whom clients and other professionals can easily establish a good working relationship. He treats litigation as a team sport rather than a solo event, and regards one of the key skills for a modern silk in complex cases as the ability to ensure that contributions from all involved are as fruitful as possible. Having been a solicitor himself he understands what his professional clients need, and he knows that his lay clients want comprehensive advice in common sense language. He never forgets that the law is a service industry.

Education & Qualifications

Trinity College, Cambridge; BA 1987 (Lizette Bentwich Prize).

Boxing blue 1987.

Charles Grant Tennant Prize for light verse 1984 and 1987.

Married; three sons.

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