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Former Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti to join top commercial set 39 Essex Chambers

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From human rights to big money barristering

Image via Womens Prize for Fiction

Human rights champion Shami Chakrabarti is to join leading commercial chambers 39 Essex Chambers as a door tenant, three months after stepping down as director of respected campaign group Liberty.

The London School of Economics law grad became director of Liberty in September 2001 (one day before the 9/11 terrorist attacks), and enjoyed 12 years at the forefront of the organisation.

With Chakrabarti, 46, at the helm, Liberty has tirelessly campaigned through a period of history categorised by attempts to undercut and undermine civil liberties. Bids to impose compulsory ID cards were thwarted by the campaign group, as were controversial plans to revolutionise stop and search powers.

But now it’s time for the formidable lawyer to pass the baton to Doughty Street junior barrister and human rights campaigner Martha Spurrier, who just today was announced as Chakrabarti’s successor.

The former director announced her resignation in January, but kept very quiet about what her next venture would be. But, today, it was revealed by The Lawyer (registration required) that Chakrabarti is going to be returning to the bar.

This is perhaps unsurprising, given her career history in advocacy. Chakrabarti was called to the bar in 1994, and started working as a barrister — doing her pupillage at 39 Essex, where she seems to have maintained connections — before joining the Home Office two years later.

Still, despite her beginnings as a commercial barrister, Chakrabarti’s practice area turnaround may raise eyebrows. Far from a human rights set, the 84 juniors and 42 QCs at 39 Essex Chambers represent some of the world’s biggest corporations.

The chambers offers a pupillage award of £52,500, and is home to Justine Thornton QC — wife of former Labour party leader Ed Miliband.