Top commercial chambers to fund criminal pupillage cancelled due to COVID-19

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Keating Chambers stumps up £20,000

One of London’s leading commercial sets is to fund an aspiring criminal barrister through pupillage as the bar continues to assess the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Keating Chambers, a big player within construction law, is on the lookout for a criminal set which has had to withdraw its pupillage offer due to COVID-19. The chambers, which itself takes on three pupils each year, will provide £20,000 in financial support.

“The financial impact of the pandemic has been felt particularly by the criminal bar”, Marcus Taverner QC, head of Keating Chambers, told Legal Cheek. “Commercial sets are in the fortunate position of being hit less hard. We took a decision to provide support for the vital work carried out by the criminal bar in the legal system of England and Wales in these very difficult times.”

Secure your place: The Legal Cheek Virtual Pupillage Fairs 2020

Chambers wishing to be considered for funding should apply directly to the Criminal Bar Association.

The offer comes just days after the Bar Standards Board (BSB) published a report which predicted a drop in pupillage numbers over the next two years as a result of the pandemic, with training spots in criminal and family law forecasted to be hit hardest.

This year’s pupillage recruitment round saw 2,142 people submit at least one application via the Bar Council’s Pupillage Gateway. There were just 206 pupillage spots up for grabs.

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Aspiring commercial bazza

How much can a tenant at up to say 5 years call expect to make at somewhere like Keating?



Keating isn’t a commercial set. They do construction.



How is construction work *not* commercial? It involves arguing about contracts…


Dave Barrister

Yup, construction disputes are famously non-commercial


Loadsa Passport-Stamps

£20,000 a year after three years at Uni, the BPTC and all associated living/therapy costs.

Remember kids, most barristers think YOU are the stupid one if you think £20,000 at the criminal bar is a terrible life plan.



“Top” in a headline is the marker of lazy journalism. Everyone is a “top judge”, “top chambers” etc.



The headline is also wrong, because Keating Chambers is not a Commercial chambers. It is a Construction set. Dave is clearly not a barrister, because he would know that.


Barrister up North

Construction by its very endeavour is a commercial activity.

Keating is a commercial set.

Quote from website “Keating Chambers is a leading set of commercial barristers, chambers…”



Keating is not a commercial set and no amount of marketing jargon changes that.



‘Keating isn’t a commercial set’. First class ignorance…



Bit unfair.

Most practising lawyers (and e.g. the directories) wouldn’t include a pure construction set as a part of their short-hand for ‘commercial set’ (which in everyday parlance is taken to mean broad-base commercial) even though the work they do (construction, associated prof neg) is plainly ‘commercial’ in the sense of relating to commercial matters. Same could be said for e.g. say tax, IP.



Keating’s own website states that “Keating Chambers is a leading set of commercial barristers’ chambers”. Clearly they don’t know their own practice.



Maybe they are hoping instructing sols don’t know their practice!



God, what a bunch of strummers arguing about whether or not Keating is commercial.



Fair point. Seeking to scrape the relevance from all this however is to note that one should be careful when making applications not to put too much store in a chamber’s self-description. I recall an interview at 39 Essex Street where it pretty quickly became evident that they could not in practice offer extensive commercial/arbitration opportunities in early practice (despite their website) and that I wasn’t at all interested in planning/environment etc.

Neither of us particularly at fault but very much a waste of everyone’s time.






First “commerce” means buying and selling things, which construction does not involve (at least principally). “Commercial” chambers have generally all grown out of sets that began on shipping and later energy and natural resources work.

Further, here’s a useful test for those who want to say “commercial” just means “business related” and think that a chambers putting commercial on their website makes them commercial:

What % of Keatings cases are in the *Commercial* Court compared to the number in the Technology and *Construction* Court? Compare that to Essex Court or Fountain Court.



Find myself unable to stay out of this completely pointless dispute, mostly in case any future possible candidates for pupillage are reading. We’re a commercial set on any modern understanding of the term. We do loads of energy and natural resources work and are frequently against Essex Court, Fountain Court, One Essex, 20 Essex, etc both in court and in international arbitration proceedings. We’re often in the Commercial Court (my last 2 major reported cases both in Comm Ct not TCC) but note that both the Comm Ct and the TCC are now formally dealt with as part of the Business and Property Courts in any event. No idea what the actual % is as although am sufficiently tragic to respond to this thread, am not sufficiently so to go off and work it out. Obviously those sets also do stuff like banking which is *always* in the Comm Ct so it would be a bit of an odd exercise to undertake in any event. The directories have a separate category for construction but they also have a separate category for energy – loads of our members are recommended in both (as well as being recommended in international arb, construction prof neg, etc).

Agree re applicants being careful of sets’ self-description but a little bit of research looking at members of chambers’ reported cases and their individual CVs will soon reveal if people are blagging.

Can I also point out what’s really important about this story, which *SHOCK* is not whether we’re a commercial set or just a supremely successful construction chambers routinely doing huge cases about cool contract disputes? The important thing is that it is a scandal and a shame that the govt’s support of the criminal bar has been so totally non-existent that this kind of support is needed. Also, £20k is just above the minimum pupillage funding and reflects what is often offered for a criminal pupillage. The reason this is so low is because of the separate scandal regarding levels of criminal legal aid. Criminal sets can’t afford to offer more.



I think what your set is doing is fantastic, and am sure that any reader with even a basic understanding of the Bar and the pressures that parts of it are facing would agree. Unfortunately, Legal Cheek is the law’s equivalent of the Daily Mail so tends to attract comments from fools who want to fight online all day.



He’s not going to give you a pupillage bro



Commercial sets would rightly pinch their noses at the thought that Construction chambers fell into their category. Commercial work is the toughest stuff the Bar offers. It requires a Rolls Royce intellect. It is extremely intensive in terms of black letter law. Building work is very different. It is mostly fact, and what little law is involved is straightforward and tends to be the same in each case. Because of all this, the Construction Bar is looked down on by Commercial and Chancery practitioners.

Indeed, until only very recently, building work in the TCC was dealt with by Circuit Judges. It was considered too lowbrow to warrant the attention of High Court Judges. Things only changed because of intensive lobbying by the Building Bar, which met with fierce resistance from the judiciary. Many judges and barristers still consider, rightly in my view, that it is a waste of resources to deploy High Court Judges to deal with matters which, in intellectual terms, are the proper province of the Circuit Bench.

So nobody should be fooled. The Construction Bar is not the Commercial Bar.


Lucy Garrett

Re above: LOL!

Lucy Garrett QC (also the author of the post above re pointless dispute)



This really is total nonsense. Most pure “commercial” work hinges upon questions of fact. The legal principles involved – usually contract, tort – are almost always well developed and are generally understood.

Of-course the Commercial Bar (and perhaps more so the Commerical Chancery Bar) is full of practitioners with top intellects but no more than any other area of “commercial” practice, including tax, IP etc.



Sep 16 2020 2:04pm: Spot on. Brickies often falsely claim to be “commercial barristers”. As you say, construction is fact-heavy and law-light. The legal issues are almost exactly the same in every case, and the factual matters are addressed by experts. A classic construction case is about whether a building was built to specification, or whether the right concrete was supplied, or if a contractor is entitled to an extension of time. This is child’s play compared with an international fraud, involving matters of tracing, conflicts of law, restitution and insolvency, which is textbook work for the commercial Bar.


Truth Serum

Cough cough…..fraud is dealt with at the criminal bar. Most of your snobbish friends would not recognise that as commercial work, although a respected team did move to Fountain Court recently. Just makes the point that this ridiculous demarcation of what is commercial or not on this site is just that, ridiculous.



Sep 17 2020 12:48pm: you obviously don’t know the difference between civil and criminal fraud. You are therefore not even a lawyer, and your comments are irrelevant.



Commercial is hardly the toughest the bar has to offer. Chancery (esp. tax) earns that distinction. These commercial people like to think they’re very clever, with their FOBs and CIFs, but they couldn’t tell you the difference between a contingent remainder and an executory devise.



I used to do a fair amount of tax in addition to more mainstream commercial work. I found tax pretty straightforward. The same issues tend to crop up all the time, and it is not as challenging to appear before the tax tribunals as it is in the High Court. Commercial work, on the other hand, especially involving matters of restitution and tracing, is far tougher, particularly when coupled with conflicts of law.


Oxbridge science Graduate

@Anon beginning “…the commercial bar requires a Rolls Royce intellect…”

A ‘Rolls Royce’ intellect? Most wishy-washy degree subjects (e.g. history) – which commercial barristers have – just involve a tonne of reading and arguing your own viewpoint. You aren’t geniuses.



I used to do a fair amount of tax in addition to more mainstream commercial work. I found tax pretty straightforward. The same issues tend to crop up all the time, and it is not as challenging to appear before the tax tribunals as it is in the High Court. Commercial work, on the other hand, especially involving matters of restitution and tracing, is far tougher, especially when it is coupled with conflicts of law.


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