Tenancy at one of the big commercial sets may eventually earn you more money than God, but there’s one thing the Blackstones and Brick Courts of this world can’t buy. That’s the kind of public profile offered by Doughty Street, one of the few barristers’ chambers with name recognition outside the world of law. Partly this is to do with the media-friendly nature of its work – human rights, public law, crime and other actions pitting individuals against the state – as well as the independently high profile of many individual tenants, from fashion-forward founder Geoffrey Robertson QC to Instagram’s most-followed lawyer Tunde Okewale. But few would deny that it’s tabloid favourite Amar Clooney who brings that extra pinch of celebrity stardust.
Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions turned politician, maintains a door tenancy here – he’s, ahem, not the only member who’s become close to Labour – as does Liberty’s Martha Spurrier. Other big names include joint head of chambers Edward Fitzgerald QC, whose past clients include Lauri Love, Abu Hamza and Silvio Burlesconi; and lifetime human rights campaigner Helena Kennedy QC. Toiling alongside the celeb lawyers and 34 QCs are over 100 juniors tackling issues across the public law spectrum, from prisoners’ rights and police actions to housing and mental health.
Candidates looking to join this set are sifted for intellectual ability and “dedication” (activist left-wing human rights lawyers should definitely apply) followed by two rounds of interviews. Successful pupils get three supervisors over the 12 months, which is further divided into a first six months shadowing, researching and preparing briefs and a second six on your feet. Two baby barristers a year get this opportunity.
As you’d expect, the chambers makes a decent fist of diversity: only rival human rights powerhouse Matrix has a better gender balance among juniors, and one third of Doughty Street QCs are female (this is good for the bar).
Doughty Street insiders say that the set “lethally prepares its juniors”, with weekly advocacy classes and frequent internal presentations, although we’re also told that “more training about the practicalities of what solicitors and clients want would be useful, instead of a pure focus on law and advocacy”. The work is “always challenging; never boring – and you get to feel like you’re making a real difference”. Despite the chambers’ sheer size — it has even opened branch offices in Manchester and Bristol — everyone seems to gel: “you genuinely can walk into any room in chambers to discuss something you’re stuck on without being judged or patronised”.
The social life here is so-so – it’s been described as “a thinking not a drinking set”. Another insider refers to its “scholarly, academically brooding” atmosphere, but facilities are modern. Builders were hard at work last time Legal Cheek popped by, with Doughty Street aiming to emulate the “professional working spaces sported by magic circle firms”.