12 Kings Bench Walk is a leading civil law chambers. Covering the usual suite of personal injury, industrial disease, clinical negligence and employment law, the set also has strength in product liability and travel. The set prides itself on its ability to offer services to both claimants and defendants through all levels of courts. Barristers at 12KBW have received instructions from abroad including the Cayman Islands, Ghana and Bermuda.
The set has a long history, having been founded in the 19th century as a broad common law practice. The modern 12KBW came into being in 1990. It now has premises at both 13 King’s Bench Walk and the Mitre Court Buildings, all within Inner Temple. Former members include Lord Gardiner, the former Attorney General Lord Rawlinson of Ewell and the double Olympic gold medalist Douglas Lowe QC.
Headed up by William Audland QC, 12KBW has over 95 barristers, and has further ambitious growth plans. At the top of the members list, there are 14 silks, all of whom are male. Going down the seniority list, among pupils and junior barristers with fewer than ten years call, 17 are male and ten are female.
Like most sets, barristers at 12 King’s Bench Walk can expect to work between 50 to 59 hours a week. For the most part, this workload throws up some fascinating cases. These include obtaining damages of over €1.1million in a “complex fatal accident requiring interpretation of both English and Spanish law”, representing the respondent in the landmark Swift v Carpenter case based on the calculation of accommodation claims in personal injury and a claim against a district council brought by a pedestrian who suffered life-spinal changes after falling while severely drunk. One of its members, Steven Snowden QC, is the chair of the Personal Injuries Bar Association and is an author of the Judicial College Guidelines for assessing personal injury damages.
One member sums up the work on offer like this: “There is a broad range of personal injury, clinical negligence, industrial disease, employment and travel work available in chambers. As you progress through chambers, the nature and quality of the work advances with you meaning there are always new and interesting challenges”. The set enjoys expanding into new areas and diversifying into fascinating new markets, those recently including artificial intelligence, drones, data protection and sports law. There is also private international tort law work available through the increasing prominence of the international and travel group, with 15 juniors working in Brazil on large scale environmental litigation before the pandemic hit. While the bar does not lend itself to a consistent work/life balance, and many of 12KBW’s barristers choosing to work hard, the set’s clerks are however “very adaptive” and “will work hard to achieve a balance that suits each individual barristers’ needs”.
The set offers up to three pupillages each year, and the training offered is very good. Rookies rotate usually between three supervisors throughout the year, and “work on complex and high-level cases from the outset” with detailed feedback being provided along the way. Towards the end of the first six months, pupils take part in a mock trial, allowing pupils to take on their own cases in the second six months, ensuring they gain significantly more advocacy experience than at other sets. One former pupil sums up their experience as this:
“I certainly felt lucky compared to friends at other chambers. The emphasis was very much on education and development first: assessment is an obvious part of any pupillage, but it didn’t feel like a bear-pit. Supervisors were supportive and there was a strong sense across chambers that people want the pupils to succeed.”
Pupils also receive a junior tenant for a mentor to provide help and support as required. Beyond pupillage, the training is “ongoing and very high quality” with the set putting on seminars which members are encouraged to attend. Help is always on hand for informal support too with leading practitioners in their respective fields being “very generous with their time”.
There is an excellent social life at 12KBW with “something there for everyone” with one member saying it is “probably unsurpassed at the bar”. Members tell of making some of their closest friends at the set but “more importantly, we socialise well together across chambers, including men and women and barristers at all levels of call. We are social without being cliquey. It’s fab”. Colleagues aren’t just there for a drink after a long day in court either, we are told by a significant number of members there is a strong, collegiate and supportive atmosphere with a real team spirit which the set takes a lot of pride in. One happy tenant says: “We are like a close-knit family where we look out for each other and the wellbeing of everyone, members and staff alike”. The set is also “doing a lot of work on wellbeing to ensure a strong support network”. One member who completed their pupillage elsewhere commented that the friendliness of the set is something they know “is not to be taken for granted”.
Situated in the heart of Inner Temple and spread over three separate buildings, 12KBW has an impressive presence in legal London at the end of King’s Bench Walk. As with all old listed buildings in the Temple it is probably more impressive on the outside than the inside but the set has made significant improvements to the public areas and has more renovations in the pipeline. The main building faces Temple Gardens with other rooms overlooking the Thames. Technological and IT support is overall good but the set is “working on achieving excellence” in this department. During the pandemic, the IT team were said to have been “fantastic” meaning members were able to conduct all manner of remote hearings successfully from chambers, and people were able to transition smoothly into paperless practices.
12KBW looks for “first-class” pupils, and desires applicants to be intelligent and motivated. Prospective applicants will need to “demonstrate an ability to relate to clients, an interest in building their own practice and a commitment to providing high-calibre service”. The set usually shortlists around 30 applicants for first round interviews. 12KBW offers three social mobility focused mini-pupillages and says it is “committed to improving access to the profession and enabling excellent students from under-represented backgrounds to embark on careers at the bar”.