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Revealed: The best barristers’ chambers for training

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The results of the Legal Cheek Pupil and Junior Barrister Survey are in

We asked more than 500 junior barristers, including pupils, at over 60 leading barristers’ chambers about their experience of training at the bar.

Were they nurtured or left to fend for themselves? Was the work they were given to cut their teeth on the sort that would lead them one day to the Supreme Court… or the Online Court? Was the training they received worthy of exclamation marks, or did it just leave questions?

The results of the Legal Cheek Pupil and Junior Barrister Survey are in — and the highest-rated chambers, in alphabetical order, are…

Brick Court

For the 0.01% who make it beyond the magic circle set’s pupillage application process, the good news is that on the other side exists a surprisingly nice world of gentle gigantic intellects keen to help another one of their kind thrive.

Predictably there are no touchy-feely training programmes, with “learning taking place by doing”. But do you really need much formalised help when you’ve got an IQ of 200 and you’re at a chambers that contains more QCs than most large towns?

Do Brick Court rookies have any complaints? “Solicitors sending through documents on a Friday evening”, apparently. Fortunately the set’s members are brilliant enough not to let it spoil their weekends — some of the time, at least.

Read Brick Court’s full chambers profile.

Devereux Chambers

“There’s nothing that can really prepare you for practice except practice itself,” one Devereux rookie tells us, although they concede that “pupillage was excellent”.

The supportiveness of the members of the multi-specialist set is one of the factors that makes training here so good, we are told. Self-employed they may be, but apparently Devereux bazzas make “a great team” and “help each other rather than helping themselves”. Another insider reports:

“Most people are very willing to have a chat when I’m trying to work out an answer to a difficult point, or just commiserate after a hard day.”

Devereux’s pupillage programme is one of the more organised at the bar, with formalised assessments and advocacy exercises conducted before real judges. There’s also an informal element to the training which sees barristers of varying levels of seniority pass on their pearls of wisdom to pupils. It’s worth noting that Devereux, which boasts 11 QCs and 39 juniors, doesn’t pit its pupils against each other — if they are good enough, all are offered places as tenants.

Read Devereux’s full chambers profile.

Doughty Street

OK, so we hear that famous tenant Amal Clooney doesn’t come into chambers as much as she used to, but as a worthy wannabe Doughty Street pupil you’re probably not the type to be swayed by the shallow world of celebrity.

Instead, you want first-rate instruction from top human rights lawyers who also happen to be really nice, no? Well, you’ve come to the right place. As one insider tells us:

“You genuinely can walk into any room in chambers to discuss something you’re stuck on without being judged or patronised. From staff to other barristers, it has a genuinely supportive atmosphere.”

Another adds of the set’s members: “I love them all”.

The work is also pretty great. It’s “always challenging”, we are told, and “never boring”. What’s more, “you get to feel like you’re making a real difference”. The money, however, not so much… Legal Cheek understands that in spite of the respectable £40,000 pupillage award, remuneration is a bugbear at the legal aid-slanted glamour set. “Better pay” would be appreciated by those not fortunate enough to have found global megastar spouses.

Read Doughty Street’s full chambers profile.

5 Essex Court

Civil law set 5 Essex Court — which is well known for its police law and civil inquiries work — has one of the most intensive formal pupillage and junior barrister training schemes at the bar. Among other things, there are weekly in-house talks for rookie members of the set and a specialist course delivered by ‘Inner Temple advocacy grand fromage’ Alastair Hodge, a 5 Essex member.

But it’s the friendly vibe that elicits the most effusive praise in the Legal Cheek Pupil and Junior Barrister Survey. A “genuine open door policy” where “even the silks are willing to help” equates to “many hours a week of free advice”. What’s more, the clerks “are brilliant too” and see rookies as “individuals, rather than diary fodder”.

The downsides to life at 5 Essex? The boiler and radiators in the set’s “old” Middle Temple building can be “temperamental”, we hear. But hey: “We are not a gilt-edged set with a corporate feel. That is part of our attraction.”

The social life is also apparently pretty good, even if the workloads can be high. “Members of chambers will go out together for a drink most weeks,” we are told. Plus headline-grabbing instructions — such as Deepcut Inquests, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the Tunisian Shooting Inquests — mean that “even at the junior end it is common to have one’s case appear in the national papers.”

Read 5 Essex Court’s full chambers profile.

Exchange Chambers

Northern superset Exchange Chambers offers one of the most civilised introductions to the bar around. Rookie barristers get variety, their own caseload (rather than just little pieces of huge cases that some London sets give their young) and a standard of living that those in the capital can only dream of in their early years.

With more than 150 barristers (among them 17 QCs) split between Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds practising in everything from commercial law to serious injury, public law and crime, Exchange can feel almost law firm-like at times.

But its members remain as stubbornly barristerial as you’d find in the Inns of Court. When we asked one how much support they could expect at work from colleagues, we were told to “Get a grip”!

Fear not, though, this is among the friendliest sets out there, with a training regime that includes “lots of things that they can’t teach you in law school”. A culture that avoids mollycoddling its young, but provides thoughtful instruction and backup when needed, allow pupil and junior barristers’ “initiative and dedication to make the difference”.

Read Exchange Chambers’ full chambers profile.

Hardwicke

With its internal bike racks and table tennis table, Hardwicke could almost be mistaken for a generously venture capital-backed Shoreditch start-up. It’s the location in Lincoln’s Inn, and the occasional wig laying around the open plan office, that gives the game away.

Still, this is no traditional barristers set. Pupils are not played off against each other in a brutal race for a single tenancy, while a supportive culture that “seems less hierarchical than most chambers” helps to ease the transition from baby barrister to tenant. In contrast to bar school, “pupillage was useful”, one of the set’s younger members tells us. A chambers colleague’s penchant for baking cakes is also highly valued among Hardwicke’s young.

The work is slanted towards high-end commercial law, but there’s a fairly wide range of specialisms among Hardwicke barristers, so pupils get a fairly broad grounding. It’s a hard-working place, but not obsessively so. “The junior end socialise a lot” apparently, and “there are a lot of business development events”. The networking sessions — which junior barristers are encouraged to attend — often have a diversity theme, with Hardwicke’s corporate responsibility programme one of the most well-developed at the bar.

Read Hardwicke’s full chambers profile.

Henderson Chambers

Don’t expect huge amounts of formal training at Henderson (although what there is is apparently “excellent”). Instead, this hotshot-filled commercial set concentrates on fostering a nurturing environment where big brains can develop happily. An insider tells us that there is “an unbelievable amount of support, encouragement and advice is available from virtually all members at all levels.”

Work is apparently a nice balance between “complex led work” and “simpler cases which offer the opportunity for trial advocacy”. Henderson members — who number 12 QCs and 36 juniors — are currently instructed in the Grenfell Tower Fire, the VW Emissions litigation, Nigerian oil spills and the Seroxat group action.

What’s more, this is one of the few chambers to offer an international secondment, with pupils given the chance to spend four weeks in the Turks and Caicos Islands during their second six. No wonder they are happy!

Read Henderson Chambers’ full chambers profile.

Littleton Chambers

As with most elite chambers, pupils shouldn’t expect a lengthy induction period. “I was thrown in at the deep end right away on complex and interesting employment disputes,” one of Littleton’s juniors recalls, adding: “But my work was always judged against realistic expectations.”

Getting those expectations right is one of the set’s big strengths, insiders tell us. The secret to its success in this respect seems to be found in a closeness among Littleton members. Reports an insider:

“Far more than I might have expected from the reputation of the bar — people make a real effort to engage with me and see how I’m settling in, as well as answer any legal questions I might have.”

Another gushingly adds: “It’s not a case of asking you to passively and politely watch and learn from the best (although your supervisors will also be that): across the board chambers proactively helps you to develop as a budding barrister (and a human).”

The feedback is also apparently pretty good. “Right from the start I’ve received very detailed feedback and constructive criticism, helping me learn as quickly as possible.” Excellent pay and a decent social scene round off one of the bar’s best training experiences.

Read Littleton Chambers’ full chambers profile.

Radcliffe Chambers

Rapidly expanding Radcliffe now has so many members that it is split across three different sites in Lincoln’s Inn. Indeed, the chambers, which is becoming one of the bar’s top Chancery sets, is so busy these days that it has relaxed its old one pupil policy and is now hiring two a year.

Those who begin their career here get a lot of attention, with Radcliffe’s members following a longstanding policy of seeking to help mould “the best qualified barrister possible”.

One recent completer of the process tells us:

“Radcliffe took an excellent collaborative approach to my pupillage. I had the benefit of Radcliffe only taking one pupil in my time, and the focus of chambers was to make me the best possible barrister for the commencement of my tenancy.”

This is also a sociable place, with daily chambers morning coffee, afternoon tea and ad hoc drinks. But it’s the work that has the juniors here most excited. There’s an “incredible variety both in terms of practice areas and scale of disputes means you get hands on at a very early stage and have plenty of room to grow.” Another adds: “Chancery work is as intellectually stimulating as it gets.”

Read Radcliffe Chambers’ full chambers profile.

Serjeants’ Inn

Alongside all the ‘learn on the job’ opportunities that come with starting out at a set containing some of the best medical law barristers in the land, Serjeants’ Inn also gives its rookies lots of formal training.

There’s the legal stuff, naturally, but also tech and IT training and even wellbeing courses. Juniors seem to like it, describing the sessions as “useful” and “imaginative”.

This takes place in one of the most collegiate chambers at the bar. “Sharing of knowledge” is encouraged and young barristers are encouraged to approach “down to earth” QCs and other experienced colleagues “who can give very sound advice/feedback”.

The high profile work — which recently saw members act for Great Ormond Street in the Charlie Gard case — “is tough but never dull”, and “is always sensitive and often public”. Some think this may account for the close bonds among the set’s members.

Read Serjeants’ Inn’s full chambers profile.

2 Temple Gardens

2TG is one of the few chambers to operate a pupil mentoring scheme, in addition to its standard pupil supervisor system. The aim of the scheme is to encourage “positive relationships” between pupils and barristers at all levels of experience — and once you’re buddied up, you get to keep your mentor indefinitely.

This may account for the “friendly” vibe of 2TG, which despite its whopping £70k pupillage award — double what most City law firm trainees earn — has a reputation for being one of the nicer commercial chambers.

Amid all the big money rolling in from all sorts of major international banking cases, it’s still got an old school vibe, with facilities befitting of an ancient building on Middle Temple Lane. One member gently asks for “more heat in my room in chambers”. A great view of Middle Temple Gardens and a lively social scene makes up for the occasional icy drafts.

Read 2 Temple Gardens’ full chambers profile.

The winner of the Best Chambers for Training will be announced at the Legal Cheek Awards, sponsored by BARBRI, on Wednesday 14 March at Landing 42 of the Cheesegrater. The full collection of shortlists is here.

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151 Comments

Does not know Katie King

Hardwicke

“The work is slanted towards high-end commercial law”

Is it bollocks. If it was one of the high flyers in “commercial law” (whatever that is) it would have a better silk/junior ratio than 9/74.

(24)(17)

Anonymous

We are sorry that you are not satisfied with the silk/junior ratio, however, we are unable to change this for you.

(11)(2)

Anonymous

If there is any other way that I can help, do let me know.

(4)(2)

Anonymous

Correct. Hardwicke is a reasonable general civil set.

(16)(0)

Anonymous

I am unable to help you at this time.

(0)(2)

Anonymous

2TG would hardly be considered a set of commercial chambers either…..

(15)(0)

Anonymous

I am sorry to hear that you feel that way.

(0)(0)

magiccir

what does it do? I know it pays the highest pupillage award, beyond that I don’t know much.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

PI, travel, some commercial.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

2TG is a common law Set, where most people do Personal Injury work.

(17)(4)

Anonymous

It’s a mixed commercial/civil set. They do have barristers who specialize in commercial work.

(2)(5)

No./

No. Those who specialised in commercial work have just joined Quadrant.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Good to see that none of the dodgy sets that pay the support staff less than London living wage appear on this.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

I have always been impressed with Hardwicke personally.

(24)(13)

Anonymous

Agreed. Modern face of the bar.

(15)(5)

Anonymous

By which you mean they are OK at PR? Fine.

(13)(7)

J

Exchange is very much “sink or swim” with friendly barristers generally but an expectation that you should really already know what you’re doing without having to ask around for help.

(10)(2)

Anonymous

That seems to be a reflection of what the article says:

“Colleague support… ‘get a grip’.”

“Avoids mollycoddling.”

Oldskool

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Fast-track and jury trials in second six, though.

You won’t get that in London.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Of course you’ll get fast track trials in second six in London. Unsure about jury trials.

(1)(0)

Henderson Chambers is not a...

…”hotshot-filled commercial set”.

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Henderson is full of common law hacks.

(17)(5)

Anonymous

It’s a silly survey because the pupils at X Chambers have not also done pupillage at Y and Z Chambers, so the comparative value of assessments is pretty limited; only the most glaring of differences would be shown up.

(22)(1)

Anonymous

You have to hand it to Hardwicke, the one thing they do well is PR. How many junior members have left in the last year or two??

(21)(2)

Anonymous

One thing would be pupils should look at before accepting pupillage is an old directories spanning the past three-four years to see how many departures there have been at the junior end, that gives a pretty accurate reflection of the success of the chambers and the volume of work and quality of practice development within chambers. Some chambers bend over backwards and pay huge awards to look successful to their competitors but once you’re in them they are turd at developing their members’ practices.

(9)(0)

Anonymous

Tenants simply don’t leave happy, busy, well run chambers on the other hand mismanaged chambers will have a steady stream of arrivals and departures.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

That’s sound advice. Check for the briefless bods who head offshore, where careers die.

(19)(14)

Anonymous

The problem with departures is that they trash the reputation of the sets they leave behind. It’s all done behind closed doors and with a knowing smile or raised eyebrow and then before you know it Chambers is all over the media.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

That’s a bi-product of the free movement of workers. It’s amazing what you learn from new members of chambers about their old chambers, the tenants in them and what goes on behind closed doors. Kavanagh QC has nothing on real life chambers’ dramas. It’s also one of the reasons in the past why members did not move between chambers and chambers rarely recruited established practitioners, everyone had too much to lose by former members’ running their mouths.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Ahh, the spectre of former tenants. Their memories are long and their reach is longer and you never know where they are going or what they are going to do next.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Sign you must have applied to a shit set when their ex-members have to go to an entirely different country to find employment, where their careers die. Maybe best not accept an offer of pupillage there, unless you fancy the life of a postbox on a rock in the middle of the sea.

(13)(0)

Anonymous

Worse still if they have to go in-house.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

There is much to be said for “freeballing”.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Do QCs practise offshore?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Only failed ones.

(10)(1)

Anonymous

Although it’s not unusual for some commercial barristers, juniors and QCs alike, to sometimes practise/be called to the Bar in places like Cayman/BVI, whilst also continuing to practise in London. One can hardly say that their practices are dying when they do that!

(1)(4)

Anonymous

Yes, but if they join a firm in such places and work there permanently, it’s because their practices have tanked in the UK. It’s the mark of failure.

(11)(2)

Anonymous

Failed in London, tried Dubai.

Anonymous

It’s the mark of greed. 250k basic tax free for an associate, 800k basic tax free for partners, out of all reality to the effort you have to put in in London to clear the equivalent after tax.

Anonymous

Agreed. You don’t find any of them have left Brick Court, OEC, Essex Court, Blackstone or Wilberforce to practise on a rock.

Anonymous

London juniors in self-employed practice are banned from appearing in the BVI.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Cause they’re sh1t?

Anonymous

No QC with a decent busy London practice can be arsed traipsing off to the arse end of nowhere to appear before the equivalent of a DJ or Registrar.

(8)(1)

Anonymous

Also, look at the CVs of the silks. At my set, since it bumped up the pupillage award to top whack, most of the recent juniors have Oxbridge firsts. Few of the silks or senior juniors are Oxbridge, let alone Oxbridge Firsts so there’s a real reluctance on the part of the major firms to bring in the silks; usually the silks will be the third or fourth choices of the major solicitors and will be briefed if the first and second choices at the magic circle are not available or if the clients haven’t the funds to use a magic circle silk. As a result most of the juniors end up dissatisfied with the quality of workload in chambers and disappointed that the high level of pupillage award which is on a par with the magic circle sets doesn’t reflect in the quality of work in chambers when compared with what their peers at the magic circle sets are doing.

(11)(2)

Anonymous

The grass is always greener…

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Basically the commercial and chancery bars are like private schools, if it’s not Eton or Harrow (OEC, EC, Brick Court, Fountain Court, Blackstone for commercial, Wilberforce, Serle and Maitland for Chancery, erskine And south square for insolvency) you may as well save your time and money. Briefing a barrister from second, third, fourth tier commercial and chancery sets is a waste of money, they have all of the ego of a magic circle commercial and chancery practitioner but none of the talent, quality or ability. They are more likely to royally fu{k up a case for the client and then you’re left instructing another barrister from the magic circle to put it back on track. I’ve instructed C+P Legal500 second-third tier sets before, never again. Have a look at their case profiles, most of the cases they act in they end up on the losing side.

(11)(2)

Anonymous

I’ve seen teams from second tier chambers all get binned and replaced with magic circle teams.

(2)(2)

Anonymous

Offshore lawyers are failures. People only move to Cayman, BVI etc when their careers have tanked. So if you fancy working in a graveyard of ambition, among people who are only there because things haven’t worked out for them professionally, go ahead. Plus, you have to put up with the ignominy of knowing that the onshore legal community looks down on you; and that the practical reality of your professional life involves a limited diet of work involving the winding up of hedge funds, that most of your cases (if heard in the UK) would be before a circuit judge in a district registry or a registrar, that the local judiciary are pretty hopeless and would (at most) be district judges in the UK, and that you are treated by the onshore lawyers as a post box, with all the strategic decisions, drafting and advocacy being undertaken by the lawyers in London or wherever. It is just as well you pay no tax in Cayman: nobody would bother living or working there if they had to pay tax, and the extra money is viewed as – literally – compensation. The simple truth is this: offshore lawyers earn money out of all proportion to their actual abilities and professional standing. To command the equivalent income in London of a partner in a Cayman or BVI firm, you would have to be a leading Commercial or Chancery Silk, or a partner at a Magic Circle, Silver Circle or top US firm. In other words, you would be at the very top of the profession, working at the forefront of the most complex cases and in the toughest, most competitive environment. Rather than providing a back office function for litigation and deals in a post box jurisdiction, surrounded by other mediocrities.

(20)(8)

Anonymous

Awwww, did you get dumped by an offshore firm?

(13)(0)

Anonymous

It only ever makes sense to move offshore if you come from a second or lower rate set, then you at least are accustomed to being surrounded by mindless mediocracies who have an overblown sense of self. Magic circle set people never move offshore. However, those barristers from second and third rate Chambers that do move offshore then get the opportunity to work with barristers from the magic circle law firms and sets and supersets like Wilberforce, South Square, Erskine, which they would never get if they remained at second or third rate sets which are rarely instructed by the magic or even silver circle firms.

(12)(1)

Anonymous

Wot is it with the amount of Aussies, kiwis, Saffas and Northerners at offshore firms?

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Because they are rubbish.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Mate of mine was in second tier chambers in London, couldn’t stand the people around them, wasn’t that shook up by the law either. Went offshore and at 10 years call is earning 700k basic. Anything difficult comes in they just ping it off to Wilberforce or South Square.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Little wonder that nobody takes offshore lawyers seriously.

(1)(0)

Genuinely curious

Serious question for pupils and tenants:

If you do pupillage at a good commercial set, but do not get taken on, how good are your chances of getting a 3rd six or tenancy at another decent set (e.g. another commercial set or a mixed commercial / civil set)?

What about if you do pupillage at a very good specialist set, eg tax, defamation, or IP?

Thanks a lot in advance.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

If you do pupillage at a good commercial set (say of the Serle Court calibre), and do not get taken on, you have very good chances of a 3rd six at one of the sets mentioned in this article (Hardwicke, Henderson, 2TG are all the exact sort of places you’d go for a 3rd six). Also sets like 7BR, Hailsham, 9GS, No5, 1 Chancery Lane would be doable.

A specialist pupillage is much more difficult. You’ll get a Third Six somewhere that does Civil work but probably not somewhere you’ll want to be for very long (4-5 Gray’s Inn Square, Lamb Chambers, Invictus, Thomas More Chambers etc….)

It is one of the risks of doing a hyper specialised pupillage. Pupils who don’t get taken on at one of those sets are probably better off going to a solicitors firm for a few years and then trying to jump back to the Bar if they still want to make a go of it.

(12)(1)

Genuinely curious

That is extremely informative, thanks for your time. Any further perspectives gratefully received.

(4)(0)

Mark

I am a tenant at Falcon Chambers, a specialist property set. Of the last two pupils I had who didn’t get a tenancy here, one of them got a Third Six and is now a tenant at Atkin Chambers. The other got a Third Six and is now a tenant at Selborne Chambers. So a pupillage at a specialist set of chambers isn’t quite the kiss of death that one of the earlier posts suggests.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

I don’t particularly agree with the previous post as it suggests you trade down at the top commercial sets/ I agree with Mark. Top commercial sets all have relationships with one another and if for some reason they are unable to offer you pupillage you will get picked up by another. I’ve seen people move to Wilberforce etc very fluidly.

I think it’s difficult for those outside that bracket e.g. a Crown Office Chambers.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

You sound like someone who could give me a reliable response to my query.

I am looking to do commercial work, but I know that the “top tier” commercial sets may reject me on the initial paper sift, simply because I did not get a double first in my undergraduate degree.

(I got a good 2.1, and I did very well one year, winning a prize; however, final year is the most important at Oxbridge. I also have a Masters degree (Distinction)).

So my question is this: what are some “silver medalist”, as you put it, sets which do good quality commercial work, which I could apply to, with more realistic prospects? I thought that 2 Temple Gardens and Henderson were good bets, but reading some of the comments on this post (which, I know, should sometimes be taken with a pinch of salt!), I’m not so sure that they do a lot of commercial work.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

You are going to struggle at any commercial set with a 2.1.Not because you aren’t going to be a good barrister, but because the competition is so intense.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

If you look at Selbourne, not traditionally a top tier commercial set – mostly property. Look at the people they have taken on in recent years and see if you measure up.

Anonymous

That’s spot on. Interesting that the top earner at the Commercial Bar, Mark Howard QC of Brick Court, got a 2.1 from Nottingham. And another Brick Court star, Mark Hapgood QC, also got a 2.1 from Nottingham. Today, neither would even be interviewed for pupillage at a top tier commercial or Chancery set, let alone Brick Court.

Anonymous

That’s spot on. Interesting that the top earner at the Commercial Bar, Mark Howard QC of Brick Court, got a 2.1 from Nottingham. And another Brick Court star, Mark Hapgood QC, also got a 2.1 from Nottingham. Today, neither would even be interviewed for pupillage at a top tier commercial or Chancery set, let alone Brick Court.

Anonymous

What about the “less glitzy” commercial sets, though, like those which one ‘Anonymous’ poster lists below, e.g. Quadrant, Keating, 4 Pump Court.

I know that one of 4 Pump Court’s court’s current pupils has an (Oxbridge) 2:1. I also have an Oxbridge 2.1, with one college prize for a good First one year.

Anonymous

But property experience was directly relevant to Atkin (a construction Set) and Selborne (a Chancery Set which specialises in property).

(6)(1)

Anonymous

Would you say that applies to somewhere like Erskine or South Square? Assuming not as both do general commercial litigation

(3)(0)

Anonymous

This.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I’d be surprised if you dropped as far a 4-5 Giz/Lamb Chambers. I note that 24 Old Buildings have just taken on two third sixers.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

The set that doesn’t pay its support staff the London living wage.

(2)(1)

The Bar Necessities

I’m surprised to see Doughty Street on that list. I had gathered they had a rather distasteful practice of offering their pupils 18 month fixed-term tenancies. The fixed-term tenants then had to apply for full tenancy and make a business case for their getting a full tenancy.

To leave juniors with that level of uncertainty for two and a half years rather makes me doubt the set’s commitment to their pupils. Perhaps they don’t do this any more (although having checked their website, this is still down as a possibility), but I do wonder how a set that does that to its juniors could end up on a list of the best sets for training pupils.

(19)(0)

Anonymous

At one point, rumour had it that Doughty tenants were really struggling to keep the set’s coffers healthy. Perhaps the fixed-term tenancy is more about protecting more senior members, especially in view of LASPO’s effects on Doughty’s areas of expertise. I admit, I’m merely spectulating!

(0)(0)

Real barrister

This article is beyond ignorant. I know of more than one very able candidate who has been rejected from some of the supposedly friendly sets above because they did not fit with the set. The standards at most of the above are brutally exacting and you will be quietly told to pack your bags if, unknown to you, some senior is underwhelmed. The Bar is not like any other industry, in that a lot of places happily cast off those they have trained, instead of re-evaluating their own training. Be warned: most sets are old school. The amount of pupils not being taken on at their first sets should indicate what it’s really like.

(11)(1)

Anonymous

At one of the above you will be asked not to apply for tenancy to save you the embarrassment of being rejected. As a sweetener you will also be promised a glowing reference.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Any hints?

(0)(0)

Mr x

My pupillage was dreadful and I think one senior bod disliked me and that was it. No matter what I did and how well I did it I was destined not to be taken on. There was no real training. No advocacy. No timely marking of drafting if at all. I spent some of my time (months not days) pen pushing…clicking photocopy or print on the printer. I think training at pupillage stage needs to be reviewed. In the end I got a third six and tenancy somewhere else and doing tonnes more interesting work.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

This sounds absolutely shocking! Was this at the London Bar? Can you give any further indication as to where you were – size of set, specialisms, etc.?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Commercial chancery?

(6)(0)

Anonymous

There’s no point being in a set where you don’t fit in with the pre-existing cohort. Lots of barristers at the commercial and chancery bar are extremely prejudiced and only recruit in their own (limited) image. You can tell how bad things have become when even the senior judiciary recognize that there’s a systemic problem.

(6)(0)

Mr S

As someone who went through pupillage at one of the above sets some years ago, and did not get taken on there, the article and comments make for interesting reading.

My advice is this. If a senior bod “takes against you”, I think you have to ask yourself why.

Ultimately, they’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt. If you don’t meet their standard, that’s because you’re not good enough, not that you’re God’s gift to the Bar and they have some unexplainable and irrational prejudice against you.

I worked incredibly hard for one of my pupil supervisors, (we had one for each area of law), but could never attain their exceptionally high standard. I felt like an idiot half of the time, and thought that perhaps I was not cut out for the Bar after all.

It would have been quite easy for me to claim that this supervisor, who is now a silk, had “taken against me”, but the reality was that this person and chambers had incredibly high standards and were looking for outstanding counsel to be tenants. My abilities simply did not meet that standard.

In my final pupillage review it was acknowledged that I had worked extremely hard but that my abilities had just fallen short.

I then went to another Chambers, which was a well-respected set, as a third-sixer. I excelled there and was quickly offered tenancy. I’ve been very happy at the Bar ever since.

It is easy to blame others for our own failings or personal shortcomings, especially when we are trying to be the best, but blaming others is not the way to achieve your goals.

To use a couple of sporting metaphors, sometimes it’s better to be playing well in the Championship than struggling in the Premiership.

There’s no shame in being a silver medalist.

(28)(2)

Miss WYXZ

You sound like someone who could give me a reliable response to my query.

I am looking to do commercial work, but I know that the “top tier” commercial sets may reject me on the initial paper sift, simply because I did not get a double first in my undergraduate degree.

(I got a good 2.1, and I did very well one year, winning a prize; however, final year is the most important at Oxbridge).

So my question is this: what are some “silver medalist”, as you put it, sets which do good quality commercial work, which I could apply to, with more realistic prospects? I thought that 2 Temple Gardens and Henderson were good bets, but reading some of the comments on this post (which, I know, should sometimes be taken with a pinch of salt!), I’m not so sure that they do a lot of commercial work.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Forget Blackstone, 20 Essex, One Essex, Brick Court, Essex Court, Fountain Court, Serle Court, Maitland, South Square and 3VB.

You need not stoop so low as 2TG, which is a common law set where you will spend your time doing knock-about work, but the following commercial and chancery sets would look at you: Quadrant, 4 Pump Court, Radcliffe, 24 OB, 4 Stone Buildings, 5 Stone Buildings, Enterprise, New Square, Selborne. The building sets (Atkin and Keating) are also not that fussy (the work is more fact-based than legal), and you would get in to either, in principle.

(15)(3)

Miss WYXZ

Thank you for this. I expected all of the sets you listed, but am slightly surprised at South Square – are they in the same elite bracket as the rest?

(2)(4)

magiccir

I am an MC solicitor and I would say South Square are definitely an elite set.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

How “elite” do you think Erskine and Matrix are?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I’m assuming this is sarcasm.

(0)(3)

Anonymous

Erskine certainty is. Matrix not so sure.

(7)(0)

Miss WYXZ

Just out of interest, what is your background? Are you a pupil or a tenant in a ‘top tier’ commercial set?

(0)(0)

magiccir

I am not sure I agree with that list. We have instructed counsel from Quadrant, 4 SB, Atkin and Keating (all great sets) and they all have impressively scary CVs.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

They have more mixed CVs. Not as much emphasis on getting an Oxbridge 1st; some were not undergrads at Oxbridge but did a postgrad there (whereas the stellar Sets expect the prestige of an Oxbridge undergrad degree and aren’t fooled by obvious degree laundering via a BCL or LLM); and some at Keating went to places like Kingston, Leeds, Sheffield, Keele and Leicester – bods like that wouldn’t get a job making tea at a top commercial or chancery chambers.

(12)(6)

Anonymous

Where do you practise, if you are a barrister or pupil?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

“obvious degree laundering via a BCL” – surely (a) you mean ‘the’ BCL and (b) you can’t really be serious.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

There are actually two institutions who award a BCL: Trinity College, Dublin and Oxford. And yes: an undergraduate degree from, say, London, followed by a postgraduate degree from Oxbridge doesn’t make you Oxbridge. You went to London. Your intellect is determined where you did your undergraduate degree. And it is much, much easier to get into Oxbridge at postgraduate level.

(14)(8)

Anonymous

I have to agree. It’s annoying when you ask someone where they went to uni and they say Oxford. You then ask when they were there and their reply of a year reveals they were only there for a postgrad. You then ask where they were before and they say Manchester. So the answer to my original question was Manchester, then……..

Anonymous

I have to agree. It’s annoying when you ask someone where they went to uni and they say Oxford. You then ask when they were there and their reply of a year reveals they were only there for a postgrad. You then ask where they were before and they say Manchester. So the answer to my original question was Manchester, then……..

(8)(10)

Anonymous

Just because they didn’t go to Oxbridge, that doesn’t instantly make them stupid….

(10)(2)

Anonymous

It means they are by definition intellectually second tier.

(9)(19)

Anonymous

Obvious troll is obvious.

Anonymous

As a Cambridge grad (in the sense expected by commenters above), I disagree with this. Some young people applying to Oxbridge don’t make it over the hurdles, for a whole host of reasons (including those who might have been made an offer, but then didn’t get the A-Levels). This doesn’t mean that they were intellectually inferior in any way.

However, I think it’s important to bear in mind the academic *training* that Oxbridge grads have undertaken. This is what top barristers’ sets are most focused on. No matter what the press says, students who survive/thrive at Oxbridge still require a LOT more intellectual rigour than students at any other university – including the top London ones. “Elite” sets do not easily forget this.

Miss WYXZ

Well I’ve just looked on Quadrant’s website, and one of their recent tenants (called 2012) has a 2.1 LLB from Dunelm university, which I haven’t even heard of…..

(9)(4)

Anonymous

Exactly. That person wouldn’t even get an interview at the magic circle sets or top chancery. Why should they? The people instructing those chambers often have Oxbridge degrees. An MA (Cantab) is hardly going to ask a BA (Dunelm) for their opinion on the law, when they could go to Brick Court and get a view from their intellectual equal.

(10)(12)

Anonymous

A glance at the cv of Brick Court’s most junior tenant shows what drivel assertion this is
http://www.brickcourt.co.uk/people/profile/aaron-khan

(3)(0)

Anonymous

He got the highest mark in his entire year-group…

Anonymous

He was very lucky with a degree from Bristol, considering he is far less bright than his fellow junior tenants and the many solicitors from City firms whose instructions he wants. And his judgment is to be questioned in putting his university out there so obviously on the website. He would do better to keep quiet about it and hope nobody asks. It’s actually rather silly of Brick Court, as they seemed to have caved in to some of the diversity lobbying.

magiccir

That’s the – exception – look at the rest. I randomly selected 10 juniors at Quadrant and not one, bar the most recent tenant had less than a first. Many also have a distinction on the BCL. I am not trying to dissuade you from applying, you should, I just disagree that their profiles are, on average, radically different from somewhere like say South Square or Maitland.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

But there are many who are not Oxbridge at undergraduate level. That seems to be the point being made. And it is entirely correct.

(9)(2)

Anonymous

That was precisely the point being made. And the very fact that Quadrant even accepted someone with a 2:1 from Dunelm says something about their selection process, i.e. that they do not blindly reject non-Oxbridge/non-first-class-BA applicants. Such a person would never get a foot in the door in Blackstone etc.

a&oTC

Just to add my two cents, I am a trainee at A&O. Luckily I did well at undergrad (double first from Oxford plus a small prize) and I was rejected without interview from one of those ‘second-tier’ commercial sets.

I asked for feedback and was told that my application was good but there were simply equally as impressive applicants who had also done minis at that chambers. I am not convinced those chambers are (on average) any less selective than the MC sets.

(10)(3)

Anonymous

Had you set your heart on the Bar and thrown yourself into mini-pupillages, pro bono, mooting, etc? Or were you speculatively applying to barristers’ chambers and MC firms at the same time? It’s always tricky to know what balance should be struck with minis!

(1)(1)

a&oTC

I’ve done quite a bit of mooting (Jessup), FRU and volunteer at Islington Law Centre. I definitely don’t think they were intimidated by me, I think there are just many good applicants! Overall, I’ve had 6/8 first round invites so far from commercial/chancery sets so I am not too disappointed.

Anonymous

The reality sometimes is some second rate sets are intimidated by your background and work on the basis that (1) you’re more magic circle set material and will either be offered and accept pupillage in such a set in which case they will waste a pupillage offer and end up with a second or third choice candidate so instead the screen you at that point (2) you’re too much of an obvious threat to those on the recruitment panel who want to surround themselves with their intellectual equals or inferiors not superiors (3) you’re too clever for the mainstay of their work and will not be fulfilled. One of my contemporaries was told to leave their pupillage set as they were far to brainy and would not be fulfilled by the type of work they could offer at the junior end, they are now at a magic circle set and are going great guns.

(2)(10)

Benny Goodman

This is not true.

Anonymous

Are you a female???

(0)(1)

Real barrister

This is totally foolish dribble. A very common move for barristers at less prominent sets is to move to the more highly ranked sets after five or ten years of actually doing the job. This explains why tenant applicants often have less impressive academic records than pupils. The main thing it shows is that it is nonsense to suggest someone is just suited to a given level. This is plainly wrong, as barristers regularly move sets after a few years. Pupillage is a flawed approach to recruitment, and seems to entrench a view that how you started in life is where you should end up. Chambers are businesses and take a far more commercial approach to established practitioners. All the BS of academia is gone by the time the question is only: can you do the job, and what can you earn?

I have no doubt that some pupils don’t meet the requisite standard in time, but that is a reason to provide more training and more time, and to review the quality of the training. The moral of the story is that starting at a set where tenancy is more likely is a much better start to your career, since you can always move to somewhere you wouldn’t have interviewed at after five or ten years provided you have good billings in the area the more highly ranked set practises in.

(14)(0)

Anonymous

This. A junior from Henderson recently moved to Matrix for example.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I have no view on the arguments you make, Real barrister.

But I do want to say what a joy it is to see a grammatically correct and articulate comment posted on Legal Cheek. There are relatively few of these, but they are more common on threads attracting comments from barristers than solicitors.

Go figure.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I strongly suspect that many/most of the comments on here are not from real barristers….

(5)(1)

Anonymous

With respect, barristers rarely move from a second or third tier set to a top level one; and the top chambers do insist on excellent academics from tenant applicants who are not Silks. The reason for this is obvious. As a Junior at 3 Nowhere Buildings with a degree from Southampton, you might have a very busy practice, but this is probably because the solicitors instructing you are at your intellectual level and frankly do not know any better. If you applied to a top Commercial or Chancery chambers, the Set would be worried that you would be unable to impress the more sophisticated solicitors from City practices, and that you would lack the ability to be an effective Junior to the Silks.

(11)(5)

Anonymous

Lateral movement is more common.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Never believe what you read in the directories either, which are mostly exercises in mutual backslapping. A better guide is to do a search on the case reports against barristers’ names. Then you’ll see (1) how often they are in court (2) what the volume and quality of work is like (3) whether they are instructed by serious powerhouse firms or by high street no names and (4)how successful they are before the bench. If barristers are repeatedly found in the reports losing cases that’s often a sign that they need the work even though it’s a losing case. Successful barristers don’t need the work and therefore will give an opinion on the merits and not act if they think the case is a loser. Unsuccessful barristers will take on any case in order to get the work in through the door and try to build their practices.

(7)(2)

Anonymous

@ Anonymous, 6.21 pm:
This is not quite how it works. I speak as someone who headed-up recruitment at a “second-tier” commercial set and then moved to a top-tier set some way through my career.

When sets are recruiting pupils and junior tenants, academic qualifications matter. But that is not because of snobbery or because intellectual ability is all that a set is looking for. Sets are looking for people who are likely to be successful barristers. Success at the bar depends requires a number of different skills (or combinations of skills). As pupillage and tenancy committees do not have a crystal ball, and so can’t judge whether someone will in fact develop those skills in practice, they have no choice but to look at academic results, as they are a reasonable indicator of three of those skills: a basic level of intellectual ability, commitment and a capacity for hard work. Other things may demonstrate relevant skills as well, e.g. excelling in sport or any other activity. That’s why you are asked about your non-academic achievements.

When you are looking to move during the course of your career academic results matter far less. This is because there are far more reliable indicators of your skills as a barrister. Earnings are a fairly crude indicator of your success and so will be important. But most important is your professional reputation: probably the most important factor will be references from members of chambers who have been against you, from judges and from solicitors, especially those already known to the set in question.
The bar is full of brainy people who cannot perform the barrister’s most basic function, persuading judges in court. They may have great academics but they do not flourish. There are as many people with very ordinary academics who have that magical ability to hold the court’s attention and to take the judge wherever they lead. They do flourish and they are in demand when they want to move.

The advice I would give to someone applying for pupillage at the commercial or chancery bar is to apply to the best sets you can. Starting in a top set can be really important. If you do not get tenancy, second-tier sets will look more closely at your application for third-six pupillage if you have come from a top set. They just will.

Also, it is far better to start in a better set than to attempt to move later in your career. The big difference is who is sending you work and who are building contacts and relationships with in your early years. Big firms have bigger work, with more at stake in disputes, and bigger budgets for counsel. This will make a big difference to your earnings but also to your profile, as in most areas in this field it is the big cases that get noticed and make the headlines.

If you have a 2:1 from Oxbridge, you are easily clever enough for any commercial or chancery set. On the whole, the biggest difference between the top sets and the second-tier sets is where the work comes from. Most barristers working in the commercial or chancery field are clever enough to do any work. Some may figure things out more quickly than others but most people will figure it out in plenty of time to get the job done. Every set has very talented/skilful advocates (and also some less talented/skilful ones). But, when a solicitor has a big case with a lot at stake, he or she is more likely to instruct someone from the top-tier set. This is simply because they cannot be criticised for instructing someone at “the best” set. No client wants to feel that they are taking a chance on someone who may not be the best. As there is a limited supply of top-level work, this mechanism ensures that the top sets maintain their position in the market. And it is worth noting that the market shifts when there is a glut of high-value work, like the Russian work in the last decade or so that made the careers of some people at second-tier sets, who have since moved up.

So: apply to the best sets you can. If you don’t have a first, concentrate on the other parts of your CV that show you have the potential to develop the skills a barrister needs. Concentrate of the language you use in answering the questions on the form. Be concise (unlike this post), be punchy, convey the maximum information with the fewest words. Use short words over long ones. Demonstrate that you know what they are looking for and why you have it or think you could develop it. And, finally, apply to a few second-tier sets as a fall-back.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

As someone junior at a second tier commercial set, this is a very insightful comment.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Once you are senior, nobody cares about your academics. The only really relevant indicator of success is how much money you earn. And the ability to persuade judges is over emphasised. A barrister is only as good as his case, and cases win themselves. You can be as eloquent as you like, but you will never be able by powers of advocacy alone to turn a meritless case into a winning case. Were it otherwise, the system would be absurd and corrupt, and contrary to the rule of law.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

This is the first sensible post I have read on this thread indeed maybe that I have ever read on legal cheek.

(2)(0)

MissXYZ

Anonymous – it was very kind of you to post this. Thank you.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

This precisely.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

There’s a barrister in my set, 2.1 from Cambridge wouldn’t have got a look in at the magic circle. Just taken silk in the recent appointments and is now putting feelers out to move up to the MC.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Retired after 50 years
Tough life, full of
petty jealousies, anxiety and stress
Watch out for the knives

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Agreed. Got out after 12 years. Ridiculous profession.

(5)(3)

Anonymous

It’s a terrible working environment and I love it how the new PR speak is to stress barristers’ personableness and EQ. Almost every Barrister I have ever dealt with has the personality of an amoebae and the social skills of a feral dog.

(17)(1)

Anonymous

Are you talking about the bench or the bar?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

This idea of super set = super barrister isn’t all that accurate. Every set has people who excel at the Bar and those that don’t. Placing people in pigeon holes based upon which set they get in to isn’t all that smart. At the point they are accepted they’ve never actually practised as a barrister (in this country at least) so its a gamble based upon the pupillage committee’s assessment (some of whom may have successful practices and some of whom may not). It isn’t all that clear as to whether that gamble has paid off several years in to practice, as such there’s a lot of movement in the first 5 – 10 years and once people make silk as well (although the latter is perhaps for other reasons).
It’s also a little boring to hear how commercial law is the only intellectually stimulating area of practice. The top people in each area of practice at the Bar are exceptionally bright, commercial law just brings the £ in.

(14)(4)

Anonymous

There is certainly a hierarchy at the Bar. People find their level, based on intellectual ability. The brightest do commercial and chancery work (including tax), because the work is the most intellectually demanding. Followed by (in order of prestige/intellectual difficulty) construction, defamation, and then PI/family/crime at the bottom. PI, family and crime are, frankly, the intellectual equivalent of colouring in, which is why those who practice in those fields have mediocre intellects. That is why you find a concentration of Oxbridge graduates at the commercial and chancery Bar. Those doing other work come in large measure from less good (and in some cases, pretty poor) universities.

(13)(24)

Anonymous

You have also omitted public and employment entirely.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

A lot of public stuff is v low grade. Immigration etc. True that the top notch PL work done at places like Brick Court and Blackstone is very tricky. Again, employment is v mixed. Mostly knockabout stuff in front of the employment tribunal.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Forgive me, but both immigration and employment are tricky and the trickyness of the subject matter is not determined by which Chambers are instructed. So called ”knock around” employment tribunal trials lasting several days/weeks are challenging for any (in)/ experienced junior or silk. The fact the litigation takes place in a tribunal at first instance doesn’t make it low level. The reality is outside the commercial bar you have to stand on your own two feet and early, not 15 years in, sometimes, (not always – just as commercial law isn’t always complex) dealing with complex points of law.

(11)(3)

Anonymous

How do these multi-day employment cases pay?

I’m off to a specialist and highly ranked employment set.

(2)(0)

CrimBo the DimBo

Whilst I agree that crime is not tough intellectually, and I am not much of an intellectual, I know some at the criminal bar who are incredibly bright and excelled academically.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

The law itself may not demand the most of a barrister’s intellect, but I think the most successful practitioners need heaps of emotional intelligence and they need to be clever – clever as in quick, not clever as in bookish/intelligent.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Criminal law has the most complicated rules of evidence and procedure. Criminal practitioners, mostly juniors, argue complex points of law before senior LJs on a daily basis. Frankly, an average criminal hack’s advocacy is light years better than that of any commercial silk.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Assuming a strict causation between intellectual ability and chosen area of law, with no room for other factors affecting choice (personal interests being the most obvious)?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Also, look at the CVs of the silks. At my set, since it bumped up the pupillage award to top whack, most of the recent juniors have Oxbridge firsts. Few of the silks or senior juniors are Oxbridge, let alone Oxbridge Firsts so there’s a real reluctance on the part of the major firms to bring in the silks usually the silks will be the third or fourth choices of the major solicitors and will be briefed if the first and second choices at the magic circle are not available or if the clients haven’t the funds to use a magic circle silk. As a result most of the juniors end up dissatisfied with the quality of workload in chambers and disappointed that the high level of pupillage award which is on a par with the magic circle sets doesn’t reflect the quality of work that their peers at those sets are doing.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

I have seen senior silks at second/third tier sets bring in work and get juniors from their chambers instructed. The juniors have much better academics than the silks, they then edge the silks out and get them replaced by silks from the magic circle, presumably then to try to garner support for any future application to that magic circle set. Absolutely cut-throat. The silks don’t even see it coming.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

I don’t see how anyone can assess what is more intellectually demanding if they have never actually practised in anything other than commercial/chancery. If you look at some of the recent family and industrial disease cases I’d bet they are a bit more complex than a basic exercise in statutory interpretation or construction of policy terms.

(15)(3)

Anonymous

It’s just good old fashioned snobbery. At my commercial chancery set they all look down their noses at other practice areas, however, most of them are a thick as pigshite. Few have 1sts and a lot are masons and trade on their connections.

(12)(3)

Anonymous

9 Stone Buildings per chance?

(5)(3)

Anonymous

Ha. No, Enterprise

(2)(1)

Anonymous

That description of my set does not remotely accord with reality and I do not believe that any member of my chambers would have written this

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Masons?! You have got to be joking.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

At my set people have been known to share work with the member they’re sleeping with at the time. Of course, that must be on the basis of their fine (intellectual) ability.

(0)(1)

Money

How much do you guys think a tenant would you earn at 1) elite sets and 2) second tier sets after 5 years?

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

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