Chambers Most List 2016: More money flows to the expanding Oxbridge elite

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By Alex Aldridge on

79% of rookie barristers at the top 50 chambers went to Oxford or Cambridge


Being elitist is a central tenet of any top barristers’ chambers’ business model. How else do you get magic circle solicitors to come to you when they have a problem unless your set is stacked full of legal super brains?

But the reality of that commitment to recruiting the very best is brought home by a glance at the 2016 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List, which reveals that a whopping 79% of new tenants in England’s top 50 sets have graduated from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Indeed, there are 20 chambers without a single graduate of any other university among their newest members, and a further 17 boasting four Oxbridge graduates out of their five most junior barristers.

Only six top 50 chambers — Henderson, Matrix, No5, 7 Bedford Row, St John’s Chambers and St Philips — have fewer Oxbridge new recruits than non-Oxbridge ones.

The findings mean that, taken as a whole, the top 50 chambers in the Chambers Most List — which is released today — are more Oxford and Cambridge-dominated than the top 30 chambers which we surveyed last year, across which Oxbridge graduates made up 77% of new tenants.


What is more, these centres of legal nerdery are paying more than ever, with Atkin Chambers this year vaulting to the head of the Most List as it smashes the £70,000 pupillage award for the first time in bar history.

The construction and engineering-geared outfit, which has a relatively compact 27 juniors and 17 QCs, is now paying pupils an almost obscene £72,500.

The 20% pay rise takes Atkin — whose name Legal Cheek would like to think is a tribute to Lord Atkin of Donoghue v Stevenson fame — above 2015 top-payer 2 Temple Gardens, where pupils are still being required to scrape by on £67,500.

Meanwhile, a host of the chambers who used to pay youngsters £60,000 have quietly nudged up their awards to £65,000. One Essex Court, Essex Court Chambers, 7 King’s Bench Walk and Stone Chambers are among those to have made this move. And slightly further down the ultra-elite pecking order Outer Temple has ruffled feathers by upping its pupillage pay by an incredible 40% — from £43,000 to £60,000.

For the thousands of jobless Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) graduates trapped on the outside looking in, the rises will be enough to make them despair. But for wannabe barristers who are currently studying undergraduate degrees at other Russell Group, and even non-Russell Group, universities, there is a ray of hope.

The Chambers Most List Oxbridge figures include all levels of degrees — with a barrister deemed to be Oxbridge-educated even if they only did a masters at good old at Cantab or Oxon.

As they compiled the data our researchers noted that while most of these elite barristers had made it to Oxford or Cambridge the first time around, a fair proportion got in there as postgraduates.

But, be warned, even such relative chancers had stellar CVs that abounded with first class degrees, scholarships and prizes. A consistent theme across them all was success in mooting competitions — i.e. winning them, often repeatedly, frequently on some kind of international scale, rather than just making the quarter final of some internal university debate.

So if you are not the sort of legal superhuman whose very presence would calm a stressed out Slaughter and May partner — and you don’t fancy earning the minimum wage at the crumbling legal aid bar — perhaps resign from the mooting society and start furiously applying for training contracts.

The Legal Cheek Chambers Most List: 2016 edition is now live.