11KBW was launched in 1981 by the then future Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine of Lairg and one of its founding members is former Prime Minister Tony Blair
The London-based set is best known for its work in the employment and public law fields, but is expanding into other areas such as commercial, media, human rights, EU and Brexit, sanctions and public international law. It also generates an unusually high proportion of senior judges — must be something in the chambers tea that is served every Thursday.
Yet members remain a down to earth bunch. Respondents to the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2020-21 tell of a “really non-competitive atmosphere between barristers with no rancour between courtroom opponents” amid a vibe where “no question is too small or silly”. Another states: “Almost anyone (however busy) is ready and willing to proffer advice, and if you have an issue to think things through and provide a considered answer. 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.”
The quality of work is “generally very high” during pupillage. 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)”. Former pupils describe it as “exciting stuff” and “very stimulating”. They highlight the “variety on offer” and the “great balance between knotty legal analysis and advice, and court time with witness-handling”.
Members of 11KBW acted in proceedings related to the Liverpool Hillsborough tragedy and subsequent cover up. They represented the government in the Supreme Court’s Article 50 case (on whether parliamentary approval was required before the government could set the formal Brexit process into motion). And they recently acted in a legal challenge against the Parole Board, which decides whether prisoners should be released, on the basis it lacks “objective independence” from the government. All in all, they’re involved in some of the most interesting cases around.
11KBW has 46 juniors and 19 QCs, including some bar heavyweights. It offers three 12-month pupillages with a solid £65,000 award for the year. In the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2020-21, it scores As for training, work, colleagues and facilities, and a B for work/life balance.
A recent refurb has improved the set’s home in the Temple, which now has “everything you could want, but with charmingly creaky sash windows”. Another 11KBW member describes it like this: “The buildings are pretty, quiet, and right by the gardens. The rooms are well-sized with high ceilings, and everyone has access to kitchens, bathrooms, etc. People are not required to share (although some do by choice). The ‘public’ areas (con rooms etc.) are smart and well-kept. The only real downside is that there’s only one, small, shower (perhaps unsurprisingly, 19th century buildings in Temple weren’t designed for modern working practices…) ”
This set has a “happy” social side, with “various evening events (including formal dinners, pub quizzes and ping pong tournaments)”, and “people are generally chatty”.
Pupils rotate between two three-month seats and one six-month seat. They receive advocacy training, with three formal assessments to keep them on their toes. In the words of one rookie, “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 blocs, 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 that it can be hard to cope with the volume of feedback (including differences of style and judgement) 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”.