How have the top legal firms done in the past year? Chambers and Partners has just published its version of the legal Oscars – here's a rundown of who's in the limelight.
the verdict is IN on the legal performers of 1999/2000. Six-thousand-and-eighty-three interviews later, Chambers and Partners has published its annual definitive peer review of the legal profession.

The battle-hardened veterans are still pre-eminent. Looking at the London firms, Masons ("the brickies' firm") has maintained its pre-eminence, although it took a knock with the departure of Philip Capper for Lovells.

CMS Cameron McKenna, another of the big hitters, is also flourishing in joint second place. The "almost regal" Ann Minogue, otherwise known as "the voice of the employer", is praised for her drafting skills. On the contentious side, Caroline Cummins redresses the balance by acting for the contractor as often as the client.

Rowe & Maw, the other silver medal winner, received "truly overwhelming endorsement". What the interviewees liked was the main players' intellectual insight. "They don't just operate the machinery," was a typical comment. John Rushton was tossed a bouquet for his "reliability and intellect" and his "lovely touch".

Included in the third rank are the two best known boutique firms, Shadbolt & Co and Fenwick Elliott. Both of these are the creatures of charismatic leadership: the "remarkable and energetic" Robert Fenwick Elliott and the "sheer class" that is Dick Shadbolt. Also applauded is Building columnist Dominic Helps, mysteriously described as a "John Bull character". Of the two, Shadbolt & Co gets the more fulsome praise: it is a Reigate firm that can compete with the best of the City, and one key legal player described it as "the most interesting firm out there".

Moving on to the environment in which these firms operate, how have they adapted to the new non-adversarial age? The consensus seems to be that they've done well, especially in London, where many of the top companies were actively involved in laying the ground of legislation – although perhaps not so well in the provinces.

Victoria Russell, chair of the Society of Construction Law and a partner in Fenwick Elliott, encapsulated the general view that adjudication is doing well, and deservedly so. "We have had to reinvent ourselves and some have found it difficult. But I welcome the change. I think adjudication is fantastic." But some firms may have benefited more than others. As one lawyer said: "All the top firms have made the jump. They had to with clients demanding an end to the long-winded adversarial system and claims consultants on the sidelines, but my impression is that some have done better than others. Masons, of course, Fenwick Elliott, Shadbolt and Rowe & Maw spring to mind. Merricks in Birmingham is a provincial firm that keeps popping up." But the shift to quick-fire adjudications, and the occasional ambush, has led to casualties. As barrister Rudi Klein, chief executive of the Specialist Engineering Contractors Group, notes, the decline in litigation has led inevitably to an increase in mergers. The latest is that of Hammond Suddards, which has linked up with the Edge Ellison team to form Hammond Suddards Edge.

Another question is whether the league is a fair reflection of what is going on. Some lawyers have reservations. As one (not, perhaps, unbiased) solicitor said: "The top listings are okay, but aficionados have their doubts about the lower categories. I would have reservations, for instance, about big firms further down the list.

I'd compare firms like that with a Lotus seller at Harrods: why buy there when there's a real specialist down the road?" John Redmond, another contributor to Building, had some cautionary words about the listings for the South-west where he works, having recently moved from Laytons in Bristol to Osborne Clarke.

He said: "Overall, the survey is quite up to date and catches the flavour of what is going on. But lawyers are poached and things change rapidly. It would be a mistake to read from the top because firms specialise in different areas, so to an extent it's horses for courses."