Six top commercial chambers unite to mentor ‘under-represented’ aspiring barristers

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Magic circle sets look to tackle bar’s ongoing diversity problem

Six of the country’s leading commercial law chambers have come together to mentor barrister hopefuls from “under-represented” groups.

Members from magic circle sets Blackstone, Brick Court, Essex Court, Fountain Court, One Essex Court and 3 Verulam Buildings, will join forces as part of a seven-month mentoring scheme that aims to support and encourage individuals to pursue careers at the bar, and in particular, the commercial bar.

The new initiative, ‘Mentoring for Under-represented Groups’, targets women, people from ethnic minority backgrounds, those who have spent time in care or are from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, LGBTQ+ people and those with disabilities.

It is understood to be the first major collaboration between the elite sets to tackle the bar’s ongoing diversity problem. The Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) latest report on the gender, ethnicity and social background of barristers in England and Wales, revealed that the bar continues to be much less diverse than the country as a whole.

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The scheme will run between November this year and June 2021, with applications open until 2 October 2020. It is open to all undergraduates and graduates from groups that are under-represented at the bar, and who do not yet have a pupillage offer.

Successful applicants will be allocated a mentor, who will be a member of one of the participating chambers, with whom they will have between three and five one-on-one meetings. They will take part in a workshop to help with pupillage applications, and, subject to developments around COVID-19, one or more social events with their mentors and other members from the participating chambers.

Brick Court’s Sarah Abram, a competition barrister who is a member of the committee that set up the scheme, said:

“The six barristers’ chambers involved in this scheme recognise that we all need to do more to improve diversity at the bar. Factors like your gender, social background and ethnicity shouldn’t make any difference to your chance of becoming a barrister. All six of the sets want to make it clear that a career as a barrister is open to everyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from.”

She continued: “We hope that the mentoring scheme will help to make a career at the bar more accessible to people from a range of backgrounds, by putting applicants in touch with an individual mentor who is able to give information and advice, and offering a workshop to help with pupillage applications.”

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Almost all discrimination is based on social background. But the powers that be only care about BAME figures and gender percentages. The Bar Council and BSB surveys don’t even get enough answers on social background data to compile figures, and year on year they do nothing about that lack of data because they have other agendas.



What do you want them to do? Force people to provide their socio-economic data, which would be a breach of data laws and basic decency?!



It shows the attitude of protectionism when the sex and ethnicity questions are almost all answered, and the socioeconomic questions are ignored over 80% of the time. The Bar Council and BSB do not address socioeconomic discrimination, they just want to print BAME and sex percentages.


Privileged white male

About time. Privileged white males need to understand that it is their over-representation in the legal sector (and the large numbers in which they are recruited) that is preventing white working class males and females from entering in greater numbers



Hope she sees this bro



OK basic.


Pragmatic aspiring commercial barrister

Would anyone be able to give me some genuine advice? (hard ask for the Legal Cheek comments section, I’m well aware)

I’ve just finished my second year in a non-law subject at Oxbridge and secured a MC training contract this summer, but I want to end up at the commercial bar eventually.

I am hoping for a strong first in my final year and will of course aim for a distinction in the GDL. Nevertheless, even that along with possible qualification into the Disputes department into the same MC firm is far from any guarantee of pupillage into these kinds of commercial sets given just how ludicrously competitive it is.

So, I’m thinking of possibly doing the Oxford BCL/Cam LLM after, say, 3 years PQE (and hopefully getting a year of leave to do it – its been done before at the firm).

If I somehow get a distinction on the BCL, I would subsequently seek to apply to the sets mentioned above along with Monckton/XXIV Old Builings/Maitland/Quadrant/Atkin/Keating etc.

Does anyone have any experience of doing the BCL/LLM after the GDL rather than a law degree? The website is very vague and just says offers to GDL holders are “rare” but still possible with a Distinction grade.

Aware I’m in a reasonably OK position already but want to maximise chances before seeking to apply rather than wasting my time.



This is a fantastically naive expectation. Let me break it to you. When you’re 3 years pqe, earning a nice wedge, having worked your backside off with long hours, sacrificing your health and social life to get an NQ position, and then having done that to win favour with partners in your team to get interesting work, probably with a long term partner looking to settle down, the last thing you’ll want to do is leave it all to study again (at great cost) for an uncertain dream of being a barrister, which, even if you do manage to get a pupiledge, means you’ve turned your back on a six figure salary And your hard work for an uncertain life trying to prove yourself all over again whilst earning a pittance.

Please think about this. I don’t understand why you don’t just apply now if you want to be a barrister instead of going the long way around via taking a TC?



I’m echoing this.

Why on earth did you apply for training contracts in the first place if you have always wanted to go to the bar? It won’t necessarily make it easier for you to even get to the bar, but just adds so many more hurdles and difficulties to jump through.

Like, when they ask at interview, “why did you become a solicitor”, what are you going to say? This just seems way harder than it needs to be. If you really want to be at the bar, either drop the TC now, or resign yourself to just switching significantly later in your career (and not doing the BCL…).


Pragmatic aspiring commercial barrister

Apologies, I did not fully articulate my position in the original comment. Nevertheless, fair points.

1) I’m still not 100% set on disputes/the Bar. Being a capital markets/project finance solicitor in particular seems very interesting and that’s a key reason I’m not committing myself to the Bar right now. I can see myself being very happy as a solicitor but there is this underlying desire I have for the Bar. But not at the level it would need to be to give up a Magic Circle TC.

2) In any case, I would much rather be assured of a fully funded GDL awaiting me after university rather than spending time applying for Inn scholarships etc. Having career worries being set aside in the immediate term allows me to focus on my Finals, and crucially gaining the solid First Class/academic prizes that would put me in a competitive position for the commercial bar in the first place. I would be shooting myself in the foot massively to turn away from a MC training contract at this stage, only to fail to get a First in my Finals and thereby forfeiting my chances at the commercial bar – and effectively returning to square one.

3) I would only take further study if this was part of a leave of absence from my law firm, allowing me to return the year after the Masters degree. I would then apply for pupillage once returning if my Masters performance was high enough (i.e. Distinction). So it wouldn’t be leaving behind a stable job in that sense. I would only quit if I secure a pupillage.

4) Salaries at the commercial bar are hardly a pittance?? A 65-70k pupillage salary would not be a catastrophic drop from the c.110-120k (?) I would presumably be earning at 3PQE (all being well) if staying at the same firm. And if I gain tenancy, according to Brick Court’s website, average first year earnings at the top end sets are 150k and second year apparently jumps to an average of 250k+ (very surprising but that is what their website actually says).


Ex slaughters

Im moving from slaughters training contract and CofA JA straight to the commercial bar (start pupillage in September) without any PQE experience at my old firm. Granted I did law at undergrad but it’s definitely possible to switch to the bar early on. Lots of the other JA’s hadn’t done law and got commercial pupillages with no law firm experience. But if you think being a drone doing nothing much with your brain for a few years PQE is going to be enjoyable when you’ll be comparing it to the bar you’re wrong. Just sack off the TC and do the BCL. If you have top grades you’ll get an inn scholarship.


Ex slaughters

Also, however interesting ‘capital markets’ etc sounds now intellectually /conceptually the reality of the job (at least until partner/senior associate) is being a document monkey doing very little thinking yourself and staying up late every night. If you stay at a firm look at things like tax where you actually do some thinking and leave when it’s still light.

Pragmatic aspiring commercial barrister

Also thought I’d mention that I have an interest in public international law, and am aware how practice of it at the Bar is virtually restricted to experts. So doing the BCL would probably be strategically significant if I am interested in taking that further?

Any advice is appreciated. I’ve seen how some legal cheek comments section contain genuinely informative stuff you can’t really find elsewhere.



You’re mental mate.


Pragmatic aspiring commercial barrister

I’m well aware.



First, many congratulations on securing a TC at a Magic circle firm.

Subject to my advice below, I would wait to see how your training contract goes before you begin to plan your next move (remember, you could love being a solicitor or hate the day to day reality of working in commercial disputes).

Generally, the most important factor in securing a pupillage at a top commercial or commercial chancery set is a strong First class degree from a leading university, ideally with a few academic prizes (e.g. see the sets above, plus Wilberforce, Maitland, 7KBW, 20 Essex, South Square, Erskine, Serle Court etc.) The BCL is beneficial but not essential. The construction sets are generally less picky about academics.

I’d say MC training will be helpful when applying for pupillage. I know a number of former solicitors at good firms who have secured pupillage at those sets (who also meet the criteria above). I’d focus on getting the best grade you can in Finals and reassessing where you stand after that.

Frankly, if you’re absolutely certain that you don’t want to be a solicitor long-term, there’s little point in taking the TC and embarking on what could be a 5 year career ‘detour’ if it’s something you don’t actually want to do (e.g. LPC, 2 year TC, you say you’re looking to move around 3yr PQE).

If you get a First in Finals then you will have a fighting shot of securing pupillage at one of those sets. Of-course the odds are still difficult.

You can always turn down your TC offer at a later stage if you decide you’d rather try for pupillage and many do so (in fact, some do so days before they’re due to start their training contract). You can always apply for an Inn scholarship to cover your GDL fees.

However, “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush” so be certain about your decision before doing so. If you haven’t already, try to do at least 2/3 mini-pupillages at those sets between now and starting the GDL. That will give you a good feel of whether it’s something you want to pursue.

Best of luck and congratulations on the MC TC.


Pragmatic aspiring commercial barrister

Thank you. I will bear it all in mind.

Still not 100% on going into Disputes let alone the Bar. I can still see myself happy as a solicitor working in finance (especially Project Finance) in particular, a key reason why I’ve not sought to commit to the Bar at this stage.

A lot of the commercial sets I’ve seen seem to require people to have formally studied at least some law before doing minis, but I will search around.



Can confirm from personal experience that the BCL with only a GDL is possible.

However, if you have already trained at a MC firm and have a non-law first from Oxbridge and a GDL distinction you won’t necessarily need the BCL to be competitive at those sets.


Pragmatic aspiring commercial barrister

Just wondering how you found the transition to the GDL in terms of pace/content? Did you manage to keep pace with the law graduates?

I understand the GDL is more prescriptive as opposed to the in-depth and wide-ranging academic discussions the BCL would involve. I’m assuming your undergrad degree would have provided the preparation for that rather than GDL studies.



You wrote virtually exactly the same thing on The Student Room, Legal careers section and got pretty much the same response – including (it looks like) advice from two practising barristers.

Part of me hopes to God you do the right fucking thing, but most of me (the part that has committed myself to the Bar from the outset and is desperate to get a pupillage) is as envious as hell. Do you realise just how bladdy lucky you are?! There’ll be no sympathy whatsoever if you crash and burn on this, rejecting a ‘safe’ future for a total gamble. Just the grim, cold silence of regret.


Pragmatic aspiring commercial barrister

Lol that wasn’t me on the Student Room

And yes, I’m completely aware of how lucky i am right now. But I’m not some out of touch snob in case you might think that. I’m a state school educated first generation immigrant who got to where I am by hard work (and the support of a stable family background), not some massive toff who can afford to just throw away a six figure MC salary for some pipe dream at the Bar.

And i wouldn’t dream walking away from it all unless i was completely certain, and it was a pupillage from a top commercial set. And I’m aware there are no shortcuts to that other than hard work. And if I mess up the next few years i’ll have no choice but to forget it all.



Given the attitude in that post, take the dull MC contract route.



How likely are commercial sets going to accept 2:1s from non-Russell group universities? Would years of banking and financial services experience coupled with a masters be enough to stand me with a chance of even getting a pupillage interview?

Looking for genuine advice



You should do stand up with material that good.



High unlikely you’d get anywhere unfortunately. That’s the honest truth. There are great careers to be had at non elite commercial sets though, look at those and be realistic.


Honest Abe

Honesty is basically right, but it does depend on your profile. If you are 40 and have been an MD at Citi or UBS for the last 5-10 years, have completed the GDL and BPTC part-time with a distinction and then outstanding, and then you are lined up to complete an LLM at say LSE/UCL or over in the US where your work experience will be more valued than your class rank in your undergrad two decades ago, then you may have a chance. However if you are still in your 20s or early 30s and have just been doing a job in finance and have no real subsequent academic achievement, then you have 0 chance. Just look at the profiles of the new tenants in those chambers, the only 2.1s I have seen have been from partners at top firms who were global leaders in their practice and moved to the bar. And they almost all had Oxbridge degrees.



Regional inequality is far greater than racial inequality in modern Britain. But we never, ever see measures to address this. Possibly because the decision makers in London don’t care?


Saul Goodman

As usual, the comments have got right out of hand and off point but I’ll tell you this. In 10 or 20 years’ time, the demographic at the commercial bar – mainly male, almost all privately educated and Oxbridge and from privileged monied backgrounds will be the same as it is now. Simples. This is just the usual window dressing and points scoring to show “we are doing something about it” – Not.


Just Anonymous

“It is understood to be the first major collaboration between the elite sets to tackle the bar’s ongoing diversity problem. The Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) latest report on the gender, ethnicity and social background of barristers in England and Wales, revealed that the bar continues to be much less diverse than the country as a whole.”

I dispute the assertion that the Bar has an “ongoing diversity problem” – at least with regard to gender and ethnicity.

If you look at the latest cohort of pupils in the 2020 BSB report, we see that, of that cohort, 54% were female and 19% were BAME (see [4.1] and [4.2] of the report below:

On those statistics, women and BAME individuals are (if anything) slightly over-represented in the figures. They are certainly not under-represented. It thus appears we have reached a point where these groups are (rightly) able to compete for pupillage just as effectively as anyone else, and do not require these sorts of programs.


Anon And On

Exactly. The Bar’s Wokeness has made “diversity” a stick with which the BSB and Bar Council beats the ordinary barrister day in day out. Recently it has risen to a crescendo of insanity; “Counsel” magazine is basically BLM with wigs on – I can’t remember the last time a white person appeared on the front cover in a context other than promoting another piece of self-flagellation in the contents.

Even the Bar has now realised that generalised bleating won’t cut it, as the BAME proportion of the Bar is above that of the general population, if not quite at BBC levels. The latest lamnent is therefore that BAME barristers are not well represented in commercial law. This is correct, but in another thread a few months ago, someone gave the statistics for BAME candidates achieving an Outstanding in the Bar Finals and the number of BAME candidates coming to the Bar with First Class degrees. They were not impressive and readily explain the position.

In the meantime, Bar Council members will happily tour the world extolling the brilliance of English commercial barristers and judges, and trade off a repuatation built up over centuries by [clutches pearls] those who were white and largely educated at Public Schools. The cognitive dissonance is unbelievable for a profession that is supposed to excel in rational analysis.



It’s funny how all these firms and chambers are suddenly interested in diversity post-COVID. Obviously in the current climate business is a lot harder to attract. Maybe they’re suddenly waking up and realising that having the same male pale and stale oxbridge stereotypes only attracts a small demographic of potential clients?



Does anyone know which sets do substantial PIL work? The directories point to Essex Court, Twenty Essex, Blackstone and Matrix. 3 of which are heavyweight commercial sets (which I have no chance of getting into). Likewise, Matrix is quite a big name which I would also expect to require first class degrees (probably from Oxbridge).



There is virtually no PIL to do, even if you include investment treaty arbitration, most of that is done in house by firms. I’d say steer clear of saying you want to do PIL on any application to a chambers, it makes you look very out of touch with the work that really does go on. If you really want to do PIL go to the government legal services.



Depends on what you want to do. Red Lion, 6 Pump Court, Temple Garden Chambers, Garden Court Chambers, Doughty Street, 9 Bedford Row, all do PIL work, but more from the criminal law and human rights angle. 4 New Square and Monckton have some commercial PIL practitioners, like you’ll find at 20 essex street and Matrix. I would say for most of these criminal law chambers, you will need a first class non-oxbridge but redbrick degree, and it will help if topped up with the BCL or something like that. You will be a criminal barrister for the first 10-15 years of your career, earning the low pay they earn in London. Your interest in PIL will have to be maintained either through part time study, lecturing on the side, fellowships or short sabbaticals to UN organisations. You will not be instructed in your own capacity to do PIL work until your 40s likely. When you do, the work will be really interesting but don’t expect to become rich. You may find yourself earning £80-£150k as a 40-60 year old. It is competitive but doable for many of us mere mortals (AAA and LLB Redbrick with prizes), simply because the pay is quite low compared to being a corporate solicitor or Essex Court chambers etc. where they will be earning more than you as a junior tenant. Those guys will deal with the bulk of the inter-state disputes and the investment treaty stuff, you will be dealing with the criminal law, human rights law, cultural heritage, environmental law type work. My advice is to learn a language that will stand out and be prepared to travel to remote parts of the world to slum it working for low pay for a developing country in some regional human rights court.



Do PIL practitioners at Essex Court etc make good money? As much as the commercial practitioners or maybe even more? I speak fluent Arabic which is quite a useful language but unfortunately that just doesn’t mitigate for my lacking grades. It’s a slightly irritating system because there’s so much more to being a lawyer than just good grades or what university you went to. Either way, I think I’m going to try and take the longer route by being a solicitor first and then seeing if I can transfer to chambers and build a PIL practice.



is the PIL work Matrix chambers does more of the criminal/human rights side or is it more similar to the commercial sets?


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