Research: 77% of rookie tenants at top 30 chambers went to Oxbridge

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By Alex Aldridge on

Top end of the junior bar is dominated by Oxford and Cambridge — to a far greater extent than leading law firms


Oxbridge graduates are dominating the recent intake of the leading barristers’ chambers in a way that hardly gives a look in to outstanding candidates from other universities.

Legal Cheek research has found that a whopping 77% of the newest tenants of top 30 chambers attended either Oxford or Cambridge at undergraduate or masters level. And for 13 of those sets — including “magic circle” quartet of Brick Court, Blackstone, Fountain Court and One Essex Court — the figure is 100%.

Our study — which comes as the new Legal Cheek chambers Most List is launched — considered the educational background of the five newest tenants at the 30 English chambers with the highest overall revenue. It illustrates just how different the entry requirements are for the top end of the bar to that of leading City law firms.

Last year a study found that just 21% of trainees at 24 big London corporate law firms were Oxbridge-educated. Even the firms that had significantly more Oxford and Cambridge alumni than average — the highest proportions were found at Hogan Lovells (44%), Herbert Smith Freehills (39%), Withers (38%), Ashurst (35%) and Allen & Overy (33%) — recruited far more widely than the leading chambers.

There were some exceptions to the rule in bar top 30. 7 Bedford Row and Matrix Chambers only had one Oxbridge graduate each among their five newest tenants. At the former, the remaining four slots have been taken by graduates of SOAS, Kent, Sussex and Bristol. While Matrix awarded the tenancies to graduates of Bristol, UCL, Durham and — in what Legal Cheek believes to be a first for a leading barristers’ chambers — ex-poly Lincoln University.

Least Oxbridge — by educational background of the five newest tenants


Other top 30 chambers to buck the trend and recruit relatively widely included Exchange Chambers, No5 Chambers, 3 Paper Buildings and Serle Court, where only two out of five of the newest tenants had attended Oxbridge. Hardwicke, Kings Chambers and Landmark also had more open-minded hiring practices than most, with three of the five newest tenants at each having gone to Oxford or Cambridge. Students considering having a punt at these sets should bear in mind that the vast majority of these tenants, whether or Oxbridge or not, got first class degrees.

Overall, according to Bar Council figures, 32% of barristers are Oxbridge-educated. This wider figure gives an indication of how differently smaller-billing common law and criminal chambers recruit. But it is these sets, of course, which are suffering most from cuts to legal aid.

The moral of this story? If you haven’t been to Oxbridge and don’t have a first, perhaps become a solicitor …

Which chambers are most-Oxbridge dominated, are most diverse and pay the most money? The Legal Cheek top 30 chambers Most List has all the answers.