11KBW was launched in 1981 by the then future Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine of Lairg, with one of its founding members being former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The London-based set is best known for its work in the commercial, employment and public law fields, but is expanding into other areas including media and privacy, inquests and sports related law. The set generates an unusually high proportion of senior judges, including the current President of the Employment Appeals Tribunal Mr Justice Choudhury — must be something in the chambers tea which is served every Thursday.
The work available at 11KBW is “almost always interesting, sometimes incredibly so. Even the more mundane moments (and there are some) are not boring”, says one member to the 2021-22 Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey. There is a “fantastic range of work” available at 11KBW, much of which is high profile. An insider reports: “It is varied in terms of practice areas (public, employment, commercial, information/data protection, procurement) and wide-ranging in terms of the nature of tasks (advice, research notes, pleadings and skeleton arguments mainly, and other miscellaneous tasks like draft orders and application notices)”. One member says: “I am in cases that my non-lawyer friends have actually heard of, acting for both claimants and government”.
Headline hitting cases include recent appearances in proceedings relating to the Forstater employment case based on gender critical beliefs, a defamation case involving Tommy Robinson, the leaking of a report into the Labour Party’s handling of antisemitism complaints and an inquest into the death of a young girl in which air pollution was found to be a factor in her death. Previous cases also include the inquest into the Hillsborough tragedy and the Supreme Court’s Article 50 case (on whether parliamentary approval was required before the government could set the formal Brexit process into motion). All in all, 11KBW barristers are involved in some of the most interesting cases around.
Despite such big league work coming through its doors, the 63 members (including 20 silks) remain a down to earth bunch. Respondents to the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2021-22 tell of “an amazingly supportive atmosphere”, where “doors [are] always open and people at every level are happy to chat about work issues and just about anything else”. Rest be assured at 11KBW, “no question is too stupid not to receive a helpful answer” with a “really non-competitive atmosphere between barristers with no rancour between courtroom opponents”. One member says: “People regularly send ‘hive mind’ emails within chambers, asking whether anyone has come across a particularly tricky issue, or has experience of a particular jurisdiction or (more esoteric) type of hearing.”
Are the lives of 11KBW barristers just work then? It seems it depends on the individual. One member tells us: “I mostly work 9-5.30 four days a week. Sometimes that goes wrong, but it’s a good baseline”. Another of a similar tone says: “I once visited a gym near chambers… The personal trainer I chatted with said, ‘God, you have a very unusual lifestyle for a barrister, you exercise, have an excellent diet, and manage your stress’, which made me very happy!”. While others comment on the expected pinch points that go with the territory of life at the bar, the increasingly tight deadlines and solicitors bypassing clerks, means it is “impossible to control the balance satisfactorily”. However, we are told members support each individual’s choices, whatever they are, with clerks appreciating that “primarily, our wellbeing is critical and so we can arrange our lives in the ways that best suit our various needs”.
Set in the heart of the charming Temple, 11KBW is a “beautiful” grade II listed Georgian terrace with views over Temple gardens. The traditional set up is perfect for those who want to share rooms and those who prefer a room of their own, we are told. The chambers underwent a refurbishment in recent times, which now has “everything you could want, but with charmingly creaky sash windows”. Within the planning constraints of a listed building, the facilities are “pretty good, particularly conference rooms and client facilities”. While it is “not as swanky as a modern office”, this is unsurprising with the Inns 19th century buildings not being designed for modern working practices. We are told the set has a “brilliant support team who always have their eyes on the newest innovations to make sure our working is both secure and efficient”. IT support has improved a lot over the years but the set is switching contractors to further improve the service.
11 KBW offers up to four 12-month pupillages with a solid £65,000 award for the year. Pupils rotate between two three-month seats and one six-month seat, with three formal assessments to keep them on their toes. The training is described by one 11 KBW barrister as “first class” while another wishes they had received a little more oral advocacy training.
One rookie offers this overview: “The training is rigorous with a real emphasis on learning through feedback sessions. These happen from the start of pupillage with your assigned supervisor. Subsequently, in the second and third three-month blocks, most feedback sessions are with the person setting the task and a second marker. Markers tend to be senior juniors and silks, so the input is very helpful. The only downside of this approach is it can be hard to cope with the volume of feedback (including differences of style and judgment) and the time lag between work completion and these sessions.”
According to another former pupil: “Pupillage is intensive but supportive. You get lots of feedback. Every piece of work you do is double marked and you get advice from a whole range of members on how to improve. I found it tough, but my work improved remarkably over the period so I don’t regret it.”
Internal training is also provided for emerging areas of law including data breach group claims as well as “useful” training on soft skills such as working the room, wellbeing training and using social media. On the subject of social media, be sure to check out 11KBW’s top tweeter Sean Jones QC.
This set has a “happy” social side, with “usually a group going to lunch in Hall each day, weekly chambers tea is often well-attended, there’s a drinks party once or twice a term, a very well-attended Chambers dinner annually and occasional quizzes”. Despite the lockdowns, the chambers managed some fun with “well attended virtual welcome drinks for new tenants or pupils and a couple of excellent virtual quizzes”. One member shares that several of their colleagues are among their very closest friends. Rather unusually, the set also holds ping pong tournaments.
11KBW recently announced its own new £30,000 scholarship specifically for bar course students from Black/Caribbean/African/Black British ethnic groups. In its commitment to improving diversity and inclusion at the bar, the set has also hosted a webinar for students from black and ethnic minority communities and participates in Bridging the Bar mini-pupillage scheme “for students who, owing to their disability, ethnic background, socio-economic background, education or sexuality, belong to groups which are statistically underrepresented in the profession”. The set requires pupillage applicants to have completed a three-day mini-pupillage with them prior to applying for pupillage, as part of its “rigorous selection”.