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One of the country's longest-established sets of commercial and international law chambers, 20 Essex Street built its excellent reputation in commercial law in the 1930s when Sir Henry Willink QC and Sir William McNair QC were members. At that time the set was based at 3 Essex Court, Temple. Chambers first became associated with public international law in the 1950s when Sir Arnold McNair (later Lord McNair) and Sir Hersch Lauterpacht became door tenants. Both practised actively at the Bar and were later judges of the International Court of Justice (Lord McNair becoming President). In the 1960s the set's dominant position was such that the Lord Chancellor took the unprecedented step of dividing the chambers into two.

More recently, we have developed strengths in European Union Law, the law of the World Trade Organisation, competition law and the law of human rights. In 1994 chambers moved from 3 Essex Court to 20 Essex Street.

Over the years a number of members have become judges: the late Sir Alan Mocatta, the late Sir John Megaw, the late Lord Roskill, the late Lord Donaldson, Lord Lloyd, the late Sir Christopher Staughton, Lord Justice Rix, Lord Justice Moore-Bick, His Honour Judge Hallgarten QC, His Honour Judge Havelock-Allan QC, Lord Justice Gross, Lord Glennie, Mr Justice Plender, Lord Justice Hamblen, Mr Justice Males, Mr Justice Stephen Morris and Mr Justice Andrew Baker.

Members of chambers have written or contributed to many leading textbooks covering areas of chambers' expertise, including voyage charters, time charters, insurance law, arbitration, competition law, the Rome Convention, European Union law and practice, anti-suit injunctions and general average.

Chambers and its members have achieved regular successes in the Chambers and Partners awards, including awards for UK Commercial Chambers of the Year 2005 and Client Service Set of the Year in 2006. Members of chambers were part of teams which won the Lawyer Award for Pro Bono Activity of the Year in 2006 and the Bar Pro Bono Award in 2008.

In 2006 chambers was awarded The Queen's Award for Enterprise, for outstanding achievement in developing and marketing the services provided to overseas clients. In January 2010 chambers opened an office in Maxwell Chambers in Singapore, a project which had been initiated by the Singapore Ministry of Law to provide a centre of excellence for arbitration in Singapore.